Review by Mitch Gerson
I’m sure most of you have read my interview with Ben Heckendorn by now and were as amazed as I was with the Phoenix 2600 and the ingenuity of its inventor.
But, what is it like in actual use?
Is it a cool as it seems?
Read on and find out!
I wasn’t able to provide for Ben a used 2600 (he’ll give you a discount if you have one) but he had recently come across a small supply and was able to give me one of his for only an additional $25.00. The total with shipping came to approx. $350.
It only took about 2 weeks from the time I ordered to receipt. Not bad considering that he’s literally making these to order!
Well, it arrived safely, but I was surprised to see that it was mailed in a shoebox. It was a study shoe box to be sure (AirWalker Sneakers)….but again I didn’t expect it to come in a shoebox. The bubble wrap around the unit was secured well…. so the shoebox is a minor nit pick…but these are my first impressions here!
Box quickly tossed, I was happy to see that the unit itself arrived 100% intact. So shoebox or no…..it did its job just fine.
Unit / First Impressions
My very first impression of the unit was that the shape is very similar to an original Nintendo gameboy. The actual dimensions are approx. 7" long x 5" wide. Overall I thought it looked really cool, but I felt that the paint had a “dry” feel to it. Basically, he builds these using a mold and a form of resin and then hand paints them using enamel paint.
As per his website — “For the Phoenix I made silicone molds that allow me to mass-cast parts using a urethane resin.”
Unfortunately I guess I’m spoiled having just bought the PSP which has a really nice slick/plastic feel….so I think it’s more that it’s not what I’m used to rather than being “bad”. I will say this; it does feel extremely sturdy and very solid in my hands when holding it….and this does not affect the item in any real detrimental way.
Powering It Up
This sucker take 6 AA batteries….which obviously adds to the overall weight. I haven’t played with it long enough to wear out the batteries so it’s hard to tell for sure how much playtime to expect out of a fresh set.
The back door that covers the batteries is not a traditional battery door that you may expect. It’s simply a square piece of plastic held in place by magnets. It’s functional and I guess to be expected from such a unique item that’s literally hand built to order and not mass produced….but a molded one would have been a nice touch.
From a functional standpoint it does what it needs to do and does it well (it, uh, hides the batteries!)
Plugging in a Cartridge
By design and mainly due to physical limitations using reclaimed original Atari’s the cartridge is plugged into the Phoenix at a 90-degree angle to the unit (with the cartridge sticking straight out the back). This does not negatively affect holding the unit in anyway. The only thing you have to be careful not to do would be to lay it down with a cart installed.
Turning it on
A very simple slider switch is all it took to take me back in time. I can’t tell you how much satisfaction I got out of plugging in my first cartridge Atari Combat. There’s something fun about a physical cartridge that you have to slide in. CD’s and DVD’s are great….but there’s still something fun about plugging in a cartridge.
For me, it immediately brought back memories of our first Atari and powering it up for the first time.
While you can’t play combat as a single player I just had to make it the first game to power up the system with.
A tear slightly blurred my vision as I saw the game come to life on the full color screen.
Beautiful. Not much to say here. Ben’s chosen a really nice screen that’s easy to adjust, very bright and colorful. Good choice here.
Excellent. The unit uses a mini speaker that’s loud, clear and works great. He even added in an easy to reach/use volume control that works perfectly.
OK. I’m not totally thrilled with the “feel” of the controls but again they’re 100% functional and work as they’re supposed to. The issue is that the buttons don’t feel “tight”. They seem to “float” a bit but work 100% correctly every time and doesn’t interfere with the game play in any negative way.
For example, if you were to gently push against the fire button for example you can rotate the button under your thumb. I would prefer a tighter fit….but it fired every single time correctly when I needed it to.
If you look at the innards you can see the action buttons obviously are sitting on top of microswitches. So I can see why they’re a bit floaty. It’s a simple result of the design not an actual problem.
You have to remember that Ben builds these units by hand. One-by-one. So Sony’s engineering is not to be expected here!
By the way, as a “bonus” (at least in my eyes!) Ben’s also created a paddle control that works exactly as it should as well. So you can play all of the paddle games too. Works like a charm.
Perfect. I tried out a bunch of classics like Circus, Asteroids, Frogger etc. etc. All of them played flawlessly. The sounds, the visuals are all exactly what you would expect of a full sized Atari.
Is it worth it?
This is literally the only way to have a 100% genuine Atari 2600 Gaming experience on the go. I am totally satisfied with the unit and it’s abilities.
While I would like to see Phoenix 2.0 address some of the minor issues (battery door, paint “feel”, floaty buttons etc.) not one of those issues affected the experience negatively in any real way.
As a very proud owner of unit #9 I expect that I’ll be enjoying my Phoenix for many years to come.
Thanks Ben for a unique and treasure new toy that I hope to pass onto my kids someday!
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