A new plug-and-play retro game machine doesn’t offer what it promises on its box. Players are feeling burned by what they say is a bait-and-switch, while the maker of the system says it’s all due to last-minute production snags.
The manufacturer, AtGames, has been making all-in-one retro consoles including the popular “Flashback” line for well over a decade. These inexpensive machines are pre-loaded with a bunch of classic games and vary in quality. Last year’s Sega Genesis Flashback HD had a shaky start, where the company ended up sending faulty review units to the press. This year, one of its new machines is having the exact opposite problem: The early review units sent to the press are better than the ones on store shelves.
One of its new machines is called the Bandai Namco Flashback Blast, which contains 8 of that publisher’s most popular games, including Pac-Man, Galaga, and Dig Dug. As the reviews started to trickle out for the Bandai Namco Flashback Blast, something started to seem wrong. YouTuber John Hancock had a review copy which was sent to him by At Games, which he gave a generally good review. Another reviewer, known as Madlittlepixel (or MLP) on Youtube, picked up a version of the console at Walmart, and gave it a very different, much more negative review.
As MLP’s fans pointed the differences in their reviews, he realized that the retail version of the console that he bought at the store included the Nintendo Entertainment System versions of the games, whereas Hancock’s review copy had the games’ original arcade versions. The original arcade versions are considered to be much better than the NES versions, which had to be significantly downscaled to work on the less powerful home hardware of the 1980s. MLP went on to point out that the box for the retail version of the Bandai Namco Flashback Blast uses pictures from the arcade versions, which he felt was misleading to customers.
As fans of retro games picked up on this, they began tweeting at AtGames asking for an explanation (or just outright accusing it of deliberately misrepresenting its product). AtGames began to respond.
“The early review version could not make it to production, even though it was anticipated it would,” read one tweet. AtGames did not elaborate on why the version with the arcade games did not get produced, and as of press time has not responded to an email from Kotaku asking for clarification. But AtGames was also not done tweeting, and some of its responses to fans were strongly worded, to say the least.
“You never heard of companies multi-tracking product development? There have never been changes from earlier versions of products versus the retail release?” it wrote to one user.
“So you’re saying we custom made a special product in hopes of deceiving people because we thought no one would notice a difference like that? I’m not sure I’m seeing how that makes sense versus the reality of a production change,” it wrote to another.
“You clearly don’t wish to discuss things reasonably and don’t wish for the company to help with whatever issue you might have, so I guess you’ll just continue to make one-sided accusations,” it said in response to MLP’s video about the situation.
In a later production run, AtGames said, it will replace the home console versions with arcade versions.
In the process of explaining this, the At Games Twitter account started blocking other users, including another YouTube reviewer, who made a video about it. In several replies to users, the person (or people) running the AtGames Twitter account said that the only people who were being blocked were those who had “cross[ed] the line into harassment.” They clarified in a response to another user that part of their definition of harassment is “repeated use of the word ‘scam’ and words like it.”
So is this a “scam”? It’s plausible that last-minute production issues might have caused AtGames to have to switch the versions of the games it used on the Blast. But since the imagery used on the retail box still shows the arcade versions of the games, it’s not out of the question to say that some consumers might be misled by the advertising.
It seems like everybody involved here could benefit from a little more understanding: customers shouldn’t automatically assume that every change in a product during its production is a deliberately concocted scheme intended to trick them, and AtGames should probably try to listen more and dig in its heels less when it makes a mistake that materially affects the quality of its products.