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Though the original Atari 2600 has long been off the market, anyone with an enviable stash of retro Atari game cartridges can still plug in and play…if, that is, they’ve got a working old-school Atari console, or at least a newer licensed platform like Hyperkin’s Retron 77.
Now Atari is rummaging through its retro gaming library once more, debuting a new publishing program called Atari XP that puts its titles right where they really belong: on a good, old-fashioned Atari 2600 cartridge. There’s a catch — but at least it’s a cool one: Atari XP isn’t aimed at reissuing wide-release classics like Asteroids, Space Invaders, and Centipede. Instead, Atari is using the program to give rare and never-released 1970s and 1980s titles their first-ever cartridge debut.
That means under-the-radar games like Aquaventure, Saboteur, and Yars’ Return — none of which ever saw wide release on the original Atari 2600 — will at last be packaged and playable on Atari’s throwback cartridge. Even in their 2021 form, they’ll still be rare: Via PC Mag, Atari plans to release fewer than 4,000 cartridges in both standard ($49.99) and Collector’s Edition ($149.99) packaging.
The idea behind Atari XP, says the company, is to begin making available “collectible, physical games beginning with never-released and rare Atari games from the 1970s and 1980s.” That includes titles “that were completed but never received an official release, or were only released in very limited quantities,” as well as “[g]ames for which physical media has become extremely rare, and therefore hard to find,” plus a “wide variety of classic games that would benefit from small improvements to graphic rendering on modern devices and the smoothness and accuracy of controls.”
As of now, Atari XP’s launch lineup is limited to the three games mentioned above, with Yars’ Return perhaps the highest-profile of the lot. A sequel to the 1982 Atari original Yars’ Revenge, Yars’ Return appeared in 2005 for the Atari Flashback 2 console, bridging a 23-year gap between the original and its space-shootin’ successor.
Though it’s been eclipsed in the competitive present-day console space by Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony, Atari games retain a fiercely loyal fan following, buoyed by a robust amateur community of enthusiast programmers and developers. The Atari XP name itself, says the company, “is a tribute to the Atari Program Exchange (APX), which sold software through a mail order catalog in the 1970s and 1980s.”
Your video game memories don’t have to go back that far, though, to crack open Atari’s well-sealed vault. You can order all three titles (and check out what’s coming next) over at the official Atari XP website.