Back to the future Nintendo, Lego and Atari 2020/2021 style

With all the lockdowns and change of pace of life it is nice to be able to reflect back on simpler times as a kid in the 1970’s and 80’s. Yes we had to worry about nuclear war, power cuts and strikes but, we had some fun things to play with. What follows contains Lego, Nintendo, Atari and a change of pace in the World.

I like many fellow geeks are a bit of a Lego fan. It was a magic moment in my TV career when I got to talk all things Lego Online, as well as all the other ting in 2010/11 like AR, Cloud, Brain sensing computing, haptics (all on now related on this tag). It was also the episode across the 3 series I had to do the most takes as compliance (shudder) meant I could only say Lego once in the 3 minute ad lib piece. Anyway I digress. For this lockdown xmas Predlet 1.0 had seen Andy Piper friend and fellow geek, tweet about the Nintendo Lego set and suggested to elemming that should be my present. It was a fantastic surprise to see this incredible bit of history represented in Lego. This recreates the iconic NES games console and also has an old school CRT TV, but this one has a scrolling canvas that shows supermario as a games you crank to watch Mario bounce around it. As with all this Lego kits there is detail inside that you just can’t see, but as a builder you feel more engaged with the end result as below. The entire build is here if you want to see some of the internals.

Lego Nintendo build
NES Lego

It took a couple of days to build this, and all the time I was being equally retro in having the complete boxed set of Blakes 7 running on Britbox. This added to a degree of time travel going on here.

I noticed that the “TV” supported another Lego/Nintendo collaboration and spent an Amazon voucher from my in-laws on getting that right away. This was the Super Mario figure and collection of lego to make scenery and bad guys from the game. This Mario though is a digitally enabled bit of Lego. I was surprised just how much he actually does. As a bluetooth enabled device he is able to talk to an iPad app that also has some awareness of what the physical Mario is doing. You build a course of obstacles and then walk and jump Mario around just as we all do as kids with toys, a sort of clip clop effect as they are rocked and moved. I know you have done this ! The Lego Mario responds to movement, and noises play accordingly, walking jumping, falling over all register. Small barcodes on some of the Lego pieces indicate actions, such as the start and end of a level. You stand Mario on the start, the app starts the timer and off you go. It is pretty magical! I mean just look at this video (its quite tricky to play and film BTW!)

Mario Lego (Digitally enhanced)

The integration with the Lego TV puts mario on top of the TV (removing a panel to fit him on) A barcode indicates its that piece of kit and then he reponds to coloured blocks on the top of some of the scrolling screen and joins in with sounds and scores. Again, brilliant! Again difficult to film 🙂

Moving into 2021 and the retro mood continues. A very very long while ago I backed the crowdsourced return of the Atari console with its new VCS reboot. Now for me the Atari 2600 was my second console, the first being a basic version of Pong. The Atari had cartridges and a massive upgrade in terms of graphics and colour. It was following behind a revolution in arcade video games and some absolute classics. When customs and UPS had finally got their act together to release these machines that were sent from the US I took delivery of this.

Atari VCS reboot
Atari VCS

The new look box is an online device with local storage. The setup was very quick. It came with two controllers, one similar to an xbox controller and the other the retro reboot of the traditional one from back in the day.

Atari VCS reboot
Retro stick

There are a few subtle and cool upgrades, most notable the stick is also a dial so you have have the usual set of directions but you can twist it for analogue style controls like a paddle.

Whilst there is a store and services to subscribe to for cloud gaming it is the loaded set of games that is impressive. Its has all the original Atari arcade games and all the home Atari 2600 VCS cartridges. I know there is a lot of emulation and ways to run these on all sorts of devices but there is a polished accuracy to these ports. My two favourites I used to play were asteroids and if I could find it the Lunar Lander cabinet. The latter had a massive great level to pull for thrust on the lander a very tactile and dramatic experience, it is also the one that inspired my first ever paid coding and the theme of my last Lego build of the 50 years of landing on the moon. I fired this one up first.

Atari VCS reboot
lunar lander

It was a great surprise to have the twisting paddle of the stick as the analogue thrust vector. It really took me back in more ways than one.

Then it was onto Asteroids, just as I remember it, though playing that on the home version of the stick is odd as the cabinet was a spread out stick and buttons.

Atari VCS reboot
Asteroids

For those of you who were not there during this golden age, we all wanted to have the same experience at home as in the arcade, which was really possible. The Atari 2600 asteroids looked like this as a cartridge

Atari VCS reboot

However it looked like this as a game. It was not the vector graphics of the arcade but more sprite variant of home machine that made life easier to program. Yes it was in colour, but not quite as good as the “real” thing. Still played it to death though at the time though.

Atari VCS reboot
VCS asteriods

I tried to capture a video of all the cabinets and all the VCS games in the machine. It will certainly take a while to even have a quick go on each. I am sure my generation recognises a good few there.

VCS reboot

I always really enjoyed the Combat tanks and planes on the original Atari home machine to it will be interesting if I can get the family to come and have a game. There are also a stack of 2600 games that we probably never had in the UK, so I seem to have completed some sort of collection.

What was also weird was that I was having a quick look at these whilst the US Inauguration was happening on another screen. The feeling to relief that it went ahead without incident and the removal of that awful gangster and his cronies from the past 4 years swirled around with my feelings of being a kid and starting my gaming and techie journey that has led to this point. All in all quite an amazing journey so far 🙂

PS: I mentioned that some months ago my daughter saw Andy Piper tweet about the Nintendo NES/TV Lego, probably related to the excellent Games at Work podcast, which I listen to by my friends Michael Rowe, Michael Martine and Andy talk all things gaming, tech and biz during my garden orbiting lockdown walks. This connection which prompted the Lego NES to be my suprise xmas gift. Well I tweeted the video of the my Lego Mario, that I bought specifically because I now had the TV set. Andy then very kindly sent me an expansion to the Mario set with Yoshi as it turned out he had an extra one. yay for serendipity, great family, great friends and fun tech 🙂

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