The Atari VCS will open up for preorders on May 30 (where buyers can get the device at a discounted $199 price), but there's still plenty of uncertainty about Atari's first video game console since the Atari Jaguar released back in 1993. One thing is certain, though, this upcoming system isn't like the other gaming consoles currently in the market. Atari is experimenting and going for something completely new.
While many people have been quick to compare the VCS, which is set to release in Spring 2019, to retro consoles like the NES Classic Edition, that isn't quite the case. Yes, the device will come with over 100 classic Atari titles, but that's just one part of the offering. Atari says that the device is "retro-inspired," and that's exactly why it's launching with a classic one-button joystick reminiscent of the Atari 2600.
Atari is attempting to leverage players' nostalgia into what is ostensibly a modern device. The VCS has been built with a modern AMD processor and will support 4K resolution and HDR in addition to what most people expect from a console in 2018 (WiFi, storage solutions, etc.). They've also said that "a full range of popular modern titles" will be available at launch, although it remains to be seen what exactly that will entail. What's more, Atari is using a Linux operating system so that users can install compatible games of their own down the line. It's not a closed-system with a predetermined slate of games, but more of an open architecture for the future. If done correctly, the VCS could become a haven for independent and retro gaming.
The majority of retro-inspired products are relatively cheap in price (the NES Classic Edition costs as much as a new game at retail), which can't be said for the VCS. It remains to be seen if there's a market for this sort of premium nostalgia, but it will have some major ramifications either way. If successful, Atari's experimentation could lead the way into a whole new type of console. A blend between new and modern, a middle ground that has been missing from the gaming space for decades.
Many of these questions need to be answered before Atari can get people beyond the die-hard enthusiasts to fork over nearly $200 for the mysterious device. That said, this sort of experimentation is a healthy thing for the industry. For so long, gaming has been purely focused on the cutting edge and pushing boundaries. That's a fantastic mindset, and one that has led to many advancements, but sometimes, an industry has to look at the past in order to move forward. The Atari VCS could do just that - a bridge between the old and new consoles.