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LEGO Atari 2600 Review: Satisfying Nostalgia Brick by Brick

Rating: 9/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $239.99
A LEGO Atari set with three 3d levels
Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

Despite being a child of the ’80s, my oldest memory involving video games centers on the Atari 2600. When I was but a youngin’, my family would visit my aunt, who just so happened to own an Atari. And with it, I got my first taste of gaming. The LEGO Atari 2600 recaptured those memories perfectly.

Here's What We Like

  • So much nostalgia
  • The Joystick actually moves
  • Pop up '80s room

And What We Don't

  • Expensive
  • Somewhat fragile

I couldn’t have been older than six or seven when I first held that joystick and tried my hands at the excruciatingly difficult Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back game. I haven’t thought about it in decades; the memory had all but faded. But building the LEGO Atari 2600 brought it all back. If you’re even older than I or someone who deeply appreciates retro consoles, you’ll find lots to love about this LEGO recreation. If you can get through some of the difficult bits.

A Build Process Rated for Adults

I’ve built quite a few LEGO sets at this point (though I have nothing on my wife), and most of them have been rated 18 plus because of my interests. But while LEGO generally does an excellent job of age rating its sets, you can never be sure of the difficulty level for the ones designed for adults.

For instance, the Bonsai Tree and Piano are rated 18 and up, but they weren’t that difficult to build. The Piano is more tedious than anything, as is the Typewriter. On the opposite side is the LEGO Nintendo Entertainment System, a challenging build that may have you redoing several steps if you aren’t careful.

I’m not ready to say the Atari 2600 is as difficult as the NES, but it’s up there. The directions will have you employing multiple advanced techniques to get the quirky angles that comprise the console. Look at the sides and where the power knobs are, and you’ll notice they’re almost triangular. LEGO bricks don’t usually form that shape naturally.

I found myself repeating steps where the instructions weren’t quite clear enough. And the final build is a little fragile in a way I don’t think it should be. I’m rather certain I still got a few steps wrong, most likely when I pulled bricks out to correct a mistake made several pages ago.

Again, I’m not the most seasoned LEGO assembler; my wife introduced me to the wonders of LEGO and can build circles around me. But not I’m not new either, and overall it took me several hours over multiple days to complete the build. I suspect LEGO realized the build came out challenging, too, as it chose to break up the process with little 3D vignettes of game levels.

It’s a great touch, and that marks, in some ways, the best parts of the build process. Frequently little surprises would pop up, and you wouldn’t be sure where LEGO was going with the next few steps until it all came together. For instance, hidden inside the console is a fun retro gaming room scene that pops up when you slide the top of the console open.

Even though I assembled the game room and all the components that make the “pop-up” action happen, my mind still couldn’t comprehend how it worked. It felt like magic, and I had to go back and look at what I did. It’s such a neat little moment, and the process was so fluid I didn’t fully understand what I had accomplished until after the fact. Overall it’s a fun, though challenging, build.

Retro From Start to Finish

Let’s be honest; if you’re interested in the LEGO Atari 2600, it’s because of some sense of nostalgia. And LEGO knows it because there are so many satisfying details that hit you right in the memories. The set could have just been the console and nothing else, but that might have left you a little wanting. So thankfully, that’s not the case.

Throughout the build, you’ll work on cartridges that go with the console and little 3D vignettes from those games. My favorite of the bunch is Asteroids, but that may be because it’s the best known of the three included “games.” LEGO did an admirable job recreating a little spaceship blowing up asteroids, though, and it’s just fun to look at on its own.

The game cartridges are also a nice touch, especially since they fit into the console. But I also like the “wood” case you build to hold the games. LEGO really managed precision with the design as the games fit in there perfectly and yet snugly. You don’t need to fight to get them to slide in, but they also don’t feel wobbly or like they don’t belong.

But when it comes to “accessories,” my favorite part is the joystick. LEGO could have designed a static joystick that just looked good, but I’m glad to say there’s more than meets the eye here. While the button is, sadly, just a static round piece, the joystick does move. It’s satisfying to shift up, down, left, right, and to the diagonals. The mechanism inside is rather clever, too, somewhat mimicking the components of a real joystick.

And as a bonus, you’ll also build a little game room that slides into the console. It’s a lovely piece of ’80s nostalgia, filled with little touches like a soda can, an old phone, a CRT monitor, and posters. If you’re wondering, the “Johnny Thunder” isn’t just a style reference to Indiana Jones. He’s also a call back to the mini-figure of the same name found in several Adventurer-themed sets.

LEGO nailed the “wood” and vented look of the Atari too, and you have to appreciate the number of printed pieces that went into this. The Atari logo, the control panel, and more are all printed pieces, adding to an unusual number for a set. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll escape stickers, which are found on all the cartridges, vignettes, and posters. It’s a shame these couldn’t be printed pieces too, but it already had quite a few, so not too surprising.

Even the instructions are a delight to look at, and somehow harken back to the catalogs of the ’80s.

Should You But The LEGO Atari 2600

At $239.99, the LEGO Atari 2600 isn’t the cheapest set out there. But it’s pretty in line with sets aimed at adults. It’s not quite as interactive as the LEGO NES, but chances are you either grew up with one system or the other (if you grew up with either). I found the NES more challenging to build, so if you’re newer to LEGO, this might be the safer bet.

At its current price, you’ll be paying just under 10 cents per brick which is a tad on the high side but not unexpected for a licensed set. And of course, LEGO announced prices on many sets would go up later this year, so that’s worth keeping in mind too.

Overall, it’s a fantastic-looking set with tons of fun details and concepts. You may learn a few new building techniques along the way. You should buy it if you’re a LEGO fan and a gamer. Especially if you ever played with an Atari—it’ll take you right back to your childhood.

Rating: 9/10
Price: $239.99

Here’s What We Like

  • So much nostalgia
  • The Joystick actually moves
  • Pop up '80s room

And What We Don't

  • Expensive
  • Somewhat fragile

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson is the Editor in Chief of Review Geek and is responsible for the site's content direction. He has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smart home enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code. Read Full Bio »