Recently, while filling a prescription at Walgreens, I came across an unexpected something in the toy isle. Normally anything you find at Walgreens is going to be practically worthless, especially if it is an electronic something, but this really looked like a decent attempt at a cheap gaming alternative gift. I had seen those crappy wanna-be “40 games” Plug & Play, All-In-One, video game toys, and very few actually look like anybody gave a shit in their creation (If you’ll pardon the French).
The Sega Arcade Motion from AtGames has it’s highs and it’s lows, but it just might make you take a second look when you see it on the shelf. I picked one up for about 26 bucks, just to tell you guys about it!
The system is shaped like a Hedgehog head, formed in some surprisingly sturdy blue plastic. I would have been happier if they had put a little effort into painting it to look more like Sonic, but the simplicity is nice too (nothing to get scratched up). The A / V cable is mono channel sound only, which can be really annoying if you don’t have a splitter to divide the cable to both right and left channels. I hooked this in through my old VCR’s ports, and got it to come out of both sides at once, but really? This is an issue that could have been easily remedied with a standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack alongside a standard RCA video port. I would have paid for the difference, and seriously, how much more could it cost to have done it right in the first place? (I have more about this issue to complain about in a moment) The addition of an SD card slot was particularly of interest to me, as I wondered what kinds of sneaky things the Internet would have for me to do with this device. I also really liked the concept of offering post-market software.
It can run on either 4 AA batteries (rechargeable are best), or a DC adapter (I’d suggest buying one if you play a lot), and it is small enough that it can be tucked inside a bag to take anywhere (even smaller if you don’t need the 2nd controller). I can think of many hotel rooms in which I would have loved this thing, if I could have hooked it up to their stupid hotel setups!
The controllers are molded from the same blue plastic as the system, and look like mini Wiimotes. I like the way the controller feels in my hands, but my daughter was getting frustrated that the lettering on the buttons was not well defined. I would try to tell her ‘A’ or ‘C’, but the letters are hard to see, so I filled them in with a light coat of black nail polish. I think that this is a common issue with controllers; Sony took the time to boldly label their buttons, MS has different colors for theirs, why was it so hard to have the foresight to define the buttons?
The top of the controller has a clip on space, reserved for accessories (baseball bat, ping pong paddle..), but really I feel it is unnecessary and it adds a level of discomfort to the otherwise ergonomic controller. I suppose if you are interested in the motion games you would find this setup more practical, but I would recommend either buying the 6 button remotes (sold separately), or getting the unit that comes packaged with them. The button placement is annoying as well, with only four of six buttons, I think someone missed the Sega Generation… Three or Six, Not Four!!!! Having the fourth button causes games that would use the 6 button controller to read it as a 6 button controller, thus making your game 2 buttons short! They could have done dual rows of 3 buttons each, and POOF! Problem solved! The menu button is also awkwardly placed where an average SELECT button would go, I appreciate having a RESET button on the remote, but I would forgo this “luxury” to not have a button my kid will accidentally press, since she can’t see the words “START” or “MODE”. Again, all I can really say is, buy the other controllers/setup.
The last thing that really bothered me was that you can’t use the player two controller unless you are playing as the 2nd player, so if your primary remote breaks, you have to purchase another 1st player remote. I looked around online, and I didn’t see any single replacement parts, though maybe you have to order them directly, who knows? But the device seems sturdy enough to take a few hits before breaking (In fact, I think you would have to really want to destroy it).
The thing was easy enough to set up, just pop in some batteries and plug it into the TV. The controllers are set up as soon as you turn them on, since they operate on their own IR codes they don’t require syncing or calibration. This actually makes me curious to see if my PSP can learn the Pronto codes and pretend to be the controller (If you don’t know what I am talking about, look up IRShell). The manual suggests that you stay within a certain range and angle from the system, but these remotes exceeded the guidelines. It was nice to know that you don’t have to move everything around to accommodate the equipment *cough* Kinect! *cough*
The packaged games are divided into three categories; Licensed Sega titles, individual levels from each Licensed Sega title, and basic homebrew games. Now, the actual Sega games are a nice addition, and truly the only saving grace for this unit, but they aren’t anything we haven’t seen on Xbox Live, or even the Classics collections released on PS2/Gamecube. I can’t really complain since they are all great games, andI am happy to have such a portable unit to play them on. I don’t understand the need for individual levels to be considered “games”, but I do appreciate being able to select the level I start at (makes getting back to where I was a bit faster). Menu-wise, I would have liked to have seen these levels organized in such a manner, as to leave the complete games in one place, and the level selection in another menu category altogether.
Actual Licensed Titles:
- Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (Alex Kidd = The Sega Mario….before Sonic)
- Arrow Flash (Side scrolling flight shooter)
- Bonanza Bros (A great bank robbing arcade classic)
- Columns 1 & 3 (did we really need two?)
- Crackdown (The only thing I can compare this to is Metal Gear, but with a more arcade presentation)
- Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine (A Sonic based game that is just like Columns)
- Ecco (Totally worthy of giving to your children)
- Flicky (since it seems to tag along every time!)
- Fatal Labyrinth (decent little Rogue RPG)
- Ristar (SWEET!)
- Sonic Spinball (SUPER SWEET!)
- Sonic the Hedgehog 1 & 2 (SUPER DUPER SWEET!!)
- The Ooze (This game is hella strange, but fun, just google it)
The homebrew titles sit in their own menu, one you will likely enter only to access the SD card. Most of them have that classic Action 52 feel to them, just generic filler garbage. Many of them could have been better, if only a few things were altered.
- Jack’s Pea (Vertical climbing, jump, jump, jump, LAME)
- Jewel Magic (ANOTHER Columns style game, couldn’t we have had some other tetrisy type game?)
- Curling 2010 (If it has to have the year in the title, it probably sucks, and that it does)
- Plumbing Contest (A pipes puzzle clone)
- Wall Breaker (A fun Tank Wars style game)
- Snowboarding (Very boring, but it looked like it could have had potential)
- Fish Story (I think I am supposed to eat smaller fish till I am bigger?)
- Chess (I doubt I need to explain this)
- Air Hockey (This was actually better than a crap Pong clone)
- Spider (slide the D-Pad around to aim and shoot Spiders, goes on forever)
- Naval Power (Battleship, Meh)
- Mr Balls (AKA Lights Out, I love this game, the name is very wrong, and unnecessary)
- Cannon (take turns adjusting for wind and trajectory, to hit the other cannon)
- Fight or Lose (A Chess Variation)
- Bottle Taps Race (A digital version of an old street game, not bad actually)
- Bomber (Bomberman)
- Checker (NOT Checkers, this is a peg puzzle, jump the pegs, leave one remaining)
- Hexagons (an odd digital board game, I didn’t think it was very fun)
Interactive Sports Games:
The “motion games” are a joke, most of them are barely functioning, and there is no true motion detection. The system has an IR receiver to collect data from the five IR transmitters on the controller and a basic “wiggle switch”. If you don’t know what that means, I can try to explain. There is no real motion detection, it simply reads a floating switch on a spring inside the remote. There are no gyroscopes, no accelerometer, nothing more than a basic “Did the object MOVE” response. Effectively, this makes it an unnecessary step, as the “motion detection” could easily be replaced with a button (Maybe a good use for that X button). I didn’t expect much from a Walgreen’s toy, or for $26 for that matter, but I could have thought of several ways to make these games even better, despite the hardware’s obvious limitations. As is, they look like an after thought, and the resulting mess really pissed me off. I couldn’t believe how basic and hollow the experience was.
With the buttons on the remote, I see no reason why you couldn’t have a better set up. Boxing could have been as good as Punchout!, where you would hold a button for what style punch you wanted to throw; A for a hook, B for a jab, and “Punch” the remote to activate the move. Would that have been so hard? Or, using the D-Pad on Baseball to control an outfielder, and move the remote to simulate sticking your hand up to catch the ball. Or positioning yourself over the plate, or controlling your pitch, or swing, or stealing a base, or SOMETHING OTHER THAN TWO TIMING AND RANDOMLY BASED EVENTS!!!!! It really bothered me how little they planned this. On the plus side, if you are tech savvy, and want to program your own software, the device allows for BIN format SMD ROMS to be played off of an SD card (more on this in a minute). I could see some pretty neat little homebrew opportunities for even a basic level programmer.
The games offered would have been more fun as simple controller games, and not some gimmicky Wii wanna-be-but-not-even-close bullshit.
- Tennis Challenge (it was ok, for a tennis game, but considering it is 2011, couldn’t it be better?)
- Joy of Ping Pong (Isn’t this the same as Tennis?)
- Baseball 101 (NOT Baseball, the game lasted ONE inning, and it’s nothing but pitching and hitting)
- Boxing (used both controllers, and froze several times while I was playing, I wanted to like this one)
- Bowling Alley (Basic, and BORING bowling, couldn’t we have some better animations?)
- It’s T-Time (Golf…but the pun would have been Tee-Time, and it froze after I made par on the first hole)
- Casual Fishing (More agitating than casual, seriously, even Bass Fishing was better than this!)
There are only three games available for download on their website, I assume this is because they haven’t gotten enough of a following to justify spending money on content. I am OK with that, because the system can be used to develop your own games if you wanted to.
- Logic Dial (A basic 15 puzzle game)
- Magic Mushroom (AKA Simon)
- Mirror Mirror (A simple puzzle game)
The device itself is decent enough (and certainly durable) to gift a child, but there are several things I feel (good and bad) need mentioning. The first thing that I found seriously offensive, was the lack of proper sound emulation. Many games had noticeable errors in music and/or sound effects. Now, this may not bother everyone, but I can’t stand it. Sonic had music that I expect to hear in it’s perfection, not slaughtered by faulty emulation. If Sega actually licensed this product, why couldn’t they get the actual Genesis ROM and have perfect hardware emulation? The lack of stereo output was also offensive since no one uses a mono speaker television anymore. For me, audio is one of the most important factors of gaming, and there is no excuse for the atrocity.
The other item I believe needs significant notice, is this unit’s ability to play Genesis ROMS via SD card. I don’t advocate gamer piracy (as I have stated before), but many games will never see a re-release, or came out in countries where emulation is the only way to get a translated ROM file. If you have no idea what I am talking about, maybe you should just pass over this section.
The emulation is visually perfect, but the sound, as I said before, isn’t always accurate. If you don’t mind the less-then-perfect sound, and that you cannot save (so forget about playing Landstalker), this isn’t a bad deal. The device runs pretty long on a set of 2100mAH rechargeables, and it is small enough to tag along almost anywhere. So, even if you hate the pre-installed games, there are hundreds of other games you can find to play on it. Some of my favorites are modified ROMS, with custom levels, or complete reworkings of a title, it really lets you enjoy a particular game engine all that much more.
I can’t say I actually recommend buying this particular set, since the motion titles are worthless, and the controller is uncomfortably designed around that aspect. Unless you are looking to write your own software specifically using the spring switch, this isn’t the one you want. For the same price, you can get one that comes with the Genesis style 6 button controllers, or for about $45, you can get a rechargeable unit that looks something like a Game Gear. This portable unit can also hook up to the TV, and I think (If I read correctly) that it can also use the RF controllers if you purchase a set separately. The games that come on the portable are way better, but I cannot report if the sound issues are still there (I would assume so, since they all use the Firecore emulation). I intend to buy one, and I will likely give this one away. (I can do a review of the portable when I get it.)
These things are pretty well built and speak to a wide audience, whether you are looking for a cheap gaming device, or maybe want to try making your own games, or you are an emulation fanatic, at least one of these AT Games products will speak to you. They may not be perfect, but if you need a budget gift for a kid, or a gamer, they fit that bill as well. I look forward to seeing more products of this nature, I am already eyeing a few wireless SNES devices. ^_^
<I wish I had this stuff as a kid!>