Children of Pong: The Forgotten Early Atari Consoles

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Before Atari hit it big with the 2600, these consoles kept the firm’s home business alive.

When it comes to home Atari game consoles, many people know and treasure the Atari 2600—and a few may even remember home Pong. But between the launches of those two pioneering gadgets, Atari created several interesting dedicated video game consoles that few people remember today. Predictably, many of those obscure consoles were variations on Pong, but a few others will no doubt surprise and delight anyone not familiar with this early period of home video game history.

First, a little background. Atari first released Pong in the arcade in late 1972, and it spawned dozens of imitators, launching Atari and the coin-op video game industry in a big way. Meanwhile, Pong itself had been modeled upon the earlier Magnavox Odyssey (1972), the first home video game console, which played a similar but more primitive game of video ping pong.

After the modest success of the Odyssey (which, aside from pioneering the video sports concept, had proven the home video game market was viable) and the breakthrough success of arcade Pong, Atari developed its own home console version of Pong that first launched in December 1975 through Sears.

After the success of home Pong, dozens of home console ball-and-paddle clones came on the market. That kept Atari on its toes as the firm tried to continually outdo its earlier versions of the game—and to create entirely new home consoles, some of which were based on Atari’s other landmark arcade titles like Breakout, Video Pinball, and Stunt Cycle.

In the slides ahead, we’ll take a look at some of these classic but mostly forgotten consoles from Atari’s early era.

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