Somewhat unexpectedly, we’ve got our first look at Atari’s new console. The video game company recently showed us a few pictures of the “Ataribox,” and the few details that we do have raise even more questions than we had before. The box has four USB ports, a slot for an SD card, HDMI, and ethernet. A newsletter from Atari (via Polygon) promises that it will play “classic” as well as “current” content and that it will come with “modern internal specs.” What that means, at the end of the day, is anybody’s guess: all three of those phrases come with what you might call a wide degree of interpretation. Here’s a picture of the thing below:
At first blush, the Ataribox would seem to be an obvious attempt to ride the coattails of the mini NES Classic Edition and cash in on what we could now call a retro gaming hardware craze. The more we learn, however, the more it’s clear that it’s something different entirely. This is evident right from the form factor: while the NES Classic Edition sought only to recreate the shape of the original console in a more compact package, the Atarixbox seeks to recreate the feeling of the original console with modern flair. That’s in line with the idea that the machine will also play “current” content, though again that could mean really anything.
My initial hunch is that this is a kind of Android or Windows micro-console in the vein of the Ouya and that Atari is hoping to avoid the pitfalls (get it?) of that console with the help of a classic gaming library and a still-recognizable brand. That’s just a guess, mind you, and it’s also possible that what the thing will do, exactly, isn’t even finalized. Releasing information in this cryptic way is either an effort to get people talking, or it’s because the console is still genuinely in flux. For Atari’s part, it says it’s the latter:
“We know you are hungry for more details; on specs, games, features, pricing, timing etc. We’re not teasing you intentionally; we want to get this right, so we’ve opted to share things step by step as we bring Ataribox to life, and to listen closely to Atari community feedback as we do so,” it said in the newsletter. “There are a lot of milestones, challenges and decision points in front of us in the months ahead. We’ll be giving you lots more information and status updates as we progress, and we are thrilled to have you along for the ride!”
Atari enters into a deeply crowded marketplace dominated by Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo and the wide world of mobile gaming: in short, people do not want for ways to play video games in 2017, and micro consoles haven’t exactly blown up yet. While Atari does have its share of 1980’s nostalgia, it’s not exactly up there with Nintendo when it comes to staying power. Still, it’s possible Atari will hit on the right mix of nostalgia and forward-thinking to ride this thing into the future. We’ll see.