It's easy to think that the only significant new consoles in 2021 are the same significant new consoles that were released at the end of 2020: the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X (and S). One, because they're still incredibly new. And two, because hardly anyone can actually get one, at the moment. (A situation that seems unlikely to change soon, in terms of PS5s at least.)
However, there are actually no fewer than three brand-new, notable-brand consoles releasing in 2021, discounting Nintendo's still-unconfirmed new Switch ('Pro') and any of those dodgy emulator machines (hey, not knocking them, but let's keep things above board here). The twist: all three of these all-new systems are distinctly retro-gaming focused. Yes, every one of them can and will play new games, of varying standards and budgets. But their primary appeal is undeniably old-school. So let's take a look at them, shall we?
In 2020, Blaze Entertainment achieved the wholly unexpected. The British company previously best known for some pretty average standalone retro products, from mini-arcades to plug-in joysticks, released a fantastic handheld console, the Evercade.
Designed in the vein of the classic Nintendo Game Boy and SEGA Game Gear, the console uses bespoke cartridges, each full of licensed games from renowned studios like Namco, Interplay, Jaleco, Atari and Data East, and can also output to the TV using an HDMI lead. It's incredibly comfy to use, adds modern quality-of-life options like multiple save slots per game, feels really good in the hands, and the swappable cartridge format is a fantastic throwback to simpler gaming times. I love it (our review, here).
And in 2021, there's not just more to come in terms of new Evercade cartridges - I'm especially looking forward to a Codemasters collection, featuring Cannon Fodder and Sensible Soccer. Blaze is also releasing a new spin on the Evercade for use in the home, one that plugs into your television and runs at 1080p. And I've got to say, the Evercade VS looks like another very nice piece of kit - and a great alternative way to play the 280 Evercade games Blaze says should be out by the end of 2021 (across its complete cartridge library). Check out the new trailer for the console, below.
Just announced, the Evercade VS will use the same cartridges as the regular handheld console, with the minor exception of the already-released Namco Museum collections, and going forward all cartridges that Blaze releases will work on both systems. And it won't just use one cartridge at once, inside that very-NES flap - users can plug two in, meaning they'll have immediate access to up to 40 games at once, without the need to swap anything. (I've not seen that since the Tiger Game.com, unless you count those early DS models) The VS will have Wifi built-in for easy updates; it has a very neat-looking controller which is slightly reminiscent of both the NES and PC Engine but manages to be its own thing (note the four ports, on the front); and anyone who has a handheld Evercade already will be able to use their portable console as an extra controller.
Saves are stored on the cartridges, not the consoles, so users will be able to take their games from the VS to on-the-go play, which is a nice touch. No online play is promised right now, but Blaze is saying that it's a possibility for the future. Pre-orders for the Evercade VS open on May 28th, with prices starting at £89.99/$99.99 (for the console with one game and one controller) and its retail release date set November 3. A special-edition version in a different colour is noted in the press materials, but there's no clue yet as to what it'll be. If the VS is as good as the handheld Evercade, it's something retro game fans should feel very excited for. Head to the Evercade website for more information and tech specs.
While the Evercade brand is pretty new and largely unknown by the majority of gamers out there, the same can't be said for Atari. One of the grandaddies of the industry - if not the granddaddy - the company's name and famous logo has been a part of interactive play for almost 50 years. And Atari is back in 2021 with a new version of the console that really started it all for them, in the home gaming market: the VCS.
While 1977's VCS - also called the Atari 2600 - was a huge smash across America, it's too soon to really know if the new VCS, which was codenamed the Ataribox, will make a comparable splash. Honestly, the chances initially seem slim. But such is the brand power of Atari - even so long after its last home console, the Jaguar, was discontinued in 1996 - that only a very naive nincompoop would wholly rule out a successful comeback.
But, naturally, the success of said potential comeback won't be measured in comparison to the PlayStations and Xboxes of the gaming world. Atari knows that its new VCS - trailer, above - isn't in that league. Instead, it's positioning the console - which has received some press coverage already, leading to a pretty mixed reception (VGC called it "sorely lacking in killer features"), but has no firm release date just yet - as a digital-only experience using a Linux operating system. It's not something that'll replace your Sony system, but it could complement it.
It's a very modern 'microconsole', then - a PC/console hybrid - which will play games downloaded from the web and allow users to stream them in 4K too. Which means it can run high-demand titles like Cyberpunk 2077, just not all that well. It ships with 100 Atari classics installed and Antstream Arcade built in, offering instant access to thousands of other retro games. (Think Xbox Game Pass, but loads of 8- and 16-bit titles alongside a healthy slice of arcade hits.)
The VCS has had a troubled development, and has already been hit by a number of release delays. It sure looks the part - a very sleek, modernised take on the original VCS, and both its joystick and pad-style controllers appear to be premium products. (I really do love the look of that new CX40-influenced stick.) At the time of writing, pre-orders are available on the official Atari VCS website, and the console plus both controllers will cost you $399.99.
And from Atari, to another name synonymous with the earliest days of console gaming. The Mattel-manufactured Intellivision launched in 1979 as a competitor to the Atari 2600, and wasn't discontinued until 1990, selling over three million units along the way. The Intellivision's phone-like controllers, which could be stored in the console, made it really stand apart from what we today see as the 2600's traditional joystick; and a number of well-received arcade conversions, from Pac-Man to Burger Time to Donkey Kong (yes, Nintedo's games used to appear on non-Nintendo systems - remember, this console predates the Famicom/NES) kept players away from being tempted over to Atari's alternative.
The Intellivision Amico represents a very overdue - well, more accurately an incredibly unexpected - comeback for the veteran brand. Releasing later in 2021, with October 10 penciled in, this home console is looking to cash in on the memories of those who grew up gaming in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It won't stream modern PC games, and it won't exactly deliver the games of the past as you completely remember them. Instead, one of its main pitches is retro reinvention: it's promising several remakes of old games, including Asteroids, Burnin' Rubber, Kung-Fu Master and Pong. Check out the console's trailer, below.
That's part of the proposal. Alongside the 20% of its library that will be made up of these reinvented titles, the Amico is promising that another 20% will be all-new games (including Earthworm Jim 4), 20% will be sports games, 20% puzzle games, and 20% educational games. All Amico games, which will all be exclusive to the consoles, will be family friendly, with none bearing a rating beyond a PEGI 7 (or E for Everyone, in the US), and they'll retail for between $2.99 and $9.99 - which could help this console gain a small foothold in a market still reeling from new-gen games coming in at $70 and more. Certainly, it might appeal to parents looking to keep their kids in new games for a lot less money.
In a wide-ranging interview with VGC, Intellivision CEO Tommy Tallarico argued that the Amico wouldn't go the way of the Android-based Ouya (remember that?), and stands to find success where modern gaming practices have put consumers off. "You have loot boxes, microtransactions, in-game purchases, and that's not the way it was when we were growing up," he said. "So we wanted to take those old-school, retro sensibilities that we all loved, and got us so involved [in video games]." It's a bold strategy, let's see if it pays off for them.
Certainly a striking-looking console, with its original-Intellivision-referencing controller storage (when removed, it rather looks like a foot spa), the Amico is, says its official website, "designed for simplicity". Those controllers are more high-tech than they might appear on first impressions, with touch screens, built-in speakers and motion control functions, and they charge wirelessly; and the console will come in a range of colours to match your own living/playing space. The family-focus model is intriguing, for sure - but it remains to be seen if games that look and play like those you can get for mobiles will make much of a dent in the current market, even as a complementary option for those mainly playing on other devices. The Intellivision Amico will sell for $249 (with six games and two controllers), and is now available for pre-order.
Do you give any of these retro consoles a chance in 2021? Will only one of the three succeed? Is this as exciting as the console wars of old, between Nintendo and SEGA? No, obviously, it's not. But you can share your thoughts on the Intellivision Amico, Atari VCS and Evercade VS with us on Facebook and Twitter.
Featured Image Credit: Atari, Intellivision, Blaze Entertainment
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