Can retro arcade games make a wrist-worn comeback?
Between smartphones, tablets, and handheld gaming systems like the 3DS and the upcoming Nintendo Switch, killing time on bus rides has never been easier. But soon you might be able to fill those hours with some classic Atari arcade games as well – provided you don't mind playing them one-handed on a tiny smartwatch screen.
It hasn't been a household name for many moons, but in recent times Atari has been making efforts to get its brand back on stage. Now it appears the dusty old logo might soon be popping up on a wearable device called the Gameband – a "smartwatch for gamers," developed in partnership with FMTwo Game.
Do gamers really need a smartwatch dedicated to them? Probably not. Do they want one? Apparently so: the Gameband Kickstarter campaign, which set a goal of US$75,000, has already cracked the $100,000 mark with over a month left. So far, five classic Atari titles have been announced for the device, Asteroids, Pong, Breakout, Centipede and Crystal Castles, as well as an exclusive watch-friendly version of the indie sandbox Terraria.
There's no denying the sweet pull of nostalgia – if you don't believe us, just try to order a Nintendo Classic Mini NES – but we can't help but wonder if playing these games one-handed, on a 1.63-inch touchscreen scarcely wider than the finger you're playing it with, is the best way to replicate those old school arcade vibes. With no killer app to really justify their existence yet, even Apple is finding the smartwatch to be a bit of a hard sell.
In the Gameband's current form, we'd prefer to play these games on our easier-to-hold, bigger-screened smartphones, but that could change if the developers make use of the watch's other input methods. The company says that those (like us) who look at the device and say "that screen is too small to play on" aren't thinking creatively enough: ideally, Gameband games could make use of movement, gestures, voice, steps, location and other built-in tech to play in interesting ways.
If that vague promise is eventually delivered on, games designed for smartwatches could carve a new niche, in the same way that mobile games embraced touchscreen inputs incredibly well and exploded in popularity. But when all we've got to go on so far is tiny touchscreen Pong, well, we're not ready to put too much faith in that dream yet.
FMTwo Game says the device will also come with more general purpose apps like a calendar, contacts, weather, alarm, a music player and Alexa voice control. The Gameband is designed to connect to both iOS and Android phones via Bluetooth, and companion apps on those systems will allow it to be controlled and set up.
There's a Micro SD slot for expandable storage, and the watch can be hooked up to a PC via the USB-C connection. That connection apparently allows players to transport game worlds from Terraria from one computer to another, or play big-screen versions of the Atari games through a store front called PixelFurnace. The current lineup isn't very exciting, and it's far from a Steam-killer, but if more stock comes to those virtual shelves this could be one of the device's better features.
Those pledging to the Kickstarter can choose three different designs: a basic model with a black body and strap, a red Atari Edition with the game giant's logo on the strap, or a Terraria Edition, which features a brown and green color scheme inspired by the game. It sounds like all editions have access to the same lineup of games and apps.
FMTwo Game is currently seeking funding for the Gameband on Kickstarter. Early Bird pledges start at US$149 for any edition, with bundles available from $349. The campaign video can be seen below.