Yesterday I finally crossed a big name off of my ‘get’ list, a working Atari 5200, I have long had a busted one that I’ll just keep around for parts now. I don’t intend on buying any games for it or even hooking up to my TV because I still can’t really play it. I suppose that’s the unique thing about the 5200, some consoles are unattainable because of the price of the games, or of the unit itself. The 5200 is unique for a totally different reason, the controllers. Oftentimes a working 5200 controller will set you back 30 or so bucks for a working one and easily double that for a refurbished one if you don’t want to do it yourself. I suppose that’s why more people don’t own 5200's, or if they do they don’t play them, the controllers might just stop working for no apparent reason. There are controller alternatives, the WICO Y-cable and separate key pad seem to be the only officially released alternatives, but they have a similar drawback to the official Atari controllers in that they’re horrendously expensive. At my local game store they sold one of those Y-cables for 50 dollars, just the cable itself for 50 dollars, then you’ll still have to find the keypad as well. People have also made their own adaptors from the Atari 9-pin to whatever the fuck the 5200 has, but there is still that overbearing keypad, it’s almost as if these games weren’t even made for this console in the first place… wait a second.
The solution is simple, buy an Atari 800, or any Atari 8-bit computer, the hardware is identical, buy an SIO2SD drive and get the files. There is an issue with the SD drive route though, you can’t play any cartridge files, no .BIN or .ROM files will work and since most of the 5200 games I want to play were released on cartridge this makes things complicated. But alas, I got lucky. In a thread from last year User DrVenkman posted a folder containing a bunch of .XEX conversions of almost all the Atari 5200 games. (I will attach a download for the sake of posterity, and include a link to the thread). Even though the files are formatted for Atari XE systems I can still run them through an XE loader I have on the SD drive since I have an 800, and since I have the right amount of RAM I can actually play the games. Even better, since the games have been altered to work on an XE system, with a keyboard, they work perfectly with the Atari 800. Now I can play whichever game I want with whatever controller I want, since the keypad issue has been resolved with an entire keyboard.
Alright, so let’s go through this step by step.
:If you want to play Atari 5200 games but don’t want to deal with the horrific controller you should
1. Buy an Atari 400/800/XE/XL
2. Buy an SIO2SD drive
3. Include XE reader (400/800 users only)
4. Add 5200 XE conversions to SIO2SD drive
5. Enjoy to the best of your abilities.
Admittedly this is far more expensive than just buying a 5200, working controller, and a bunch of games, but with this you also get access to the expansive Atari 8-bit library of over 4000+ games all the way up to the XE, 1200 more, if you have enough RAM, and most importantly you can play with whatever controller you want which was the whole point of this venture in the first place.
In my experience convoluted workarounds usually pay off less than if you just did things the way you were supposed to, but not this time.