The 7800 GameDrive and MEGA 7800 were released by RetroHQ several months ago. I wanted to do this review sooner but I was in the middle of moving house and it’s better late than never 🙂 Lets find out in our combined 7800 GameDrive review and MEGA 7800 review.
Table of Contents
7800 GameDrive review & MEGA 7800 review video
7800 GameDrive Overview
This is the back of the cartridge despite the label being on it. The AV Out port connects to a SEGA Megadrive 2 type cable which you can connect to your CRT, or say an upscaler such as an OSSC. Or if you are rich, the Retrotink 4K. I have the OSSC which does just fine, but wouldn’t say no to the Retrotink 4K if anyone wants to buy me one? please….
The front of the cartridge keeps it simple with the RetroHQ logo – a nice touch that reminds you who’s behind this cool gadget. There’s a useful feature on the side: a serial debug port. It’s perfect if you’re into tinkering with software or debugging.
And about the size – it’s pretty much the same as any old 7800 cartridge. It’s not bulky or anything, and the micro SD card slot on top doesn’t need a card larger than 1 GB, since the game files are pretty small. It’s like having a piece of classic gaming, but with a modern twist. It fits right into your Atari setup without sticking out.
MEGA 7800 Overview
Around the same time as the 7800 GameDrive, the MEGA 7800 also hit the shelves, also by RetroHQ. This gadget is a game-changer for Atari 2600 and 7800 enthusiasts. It lets you use Master System and Mega Drive controllers with these classic consoles.
Using it is a breeze. Just plug in your controller, switch on the console, and you’re good to go. The MEGA 7800 is smart enough to figure out what controller you’ve plugged in and adapts it for the Atari console. It’s especially cool for those who noticed the lightgun option – yes, you can use the Master System light gun with it. I’m planning to test out all these features in the review later, so stay tuned for that.
Using the RetroHQ 7800 GameDrive
Back to the our 7800 GameDrive review. Once you have copied over your games, insert the cartridge into your Atari 7800, the correct way with the label facing away from you. And if you are using the AV output, connect your cable and switch on.
You will see the RetroHQ logo and be prompted to check to update the firmware. You can find the URL or use the QR code to access the firmware update for your cartridge. There have been a few firmware updates already, so it is worth checking out if you haven’t updated in a while.
Using the 7800 GameDrive
After a few moments you will be in the file browser. From here you can navigate and choose a game to run, simple!
While playing a game you can press the START button on your Mega Drive gamepad with the MEGA 7800 convertor, or hold down a button combination for a few seconds if not. This will bring up the BREAK menu with some options. You can Save and Load states which saves and resumes exactly where you left off in the game. It is great for tricky parts in games for example.
The audio volume allows you to adjust the main volume and any audio formats used in the game you are playing. The Video options lets you change the palette colour shift between Cool, Warm and Hot. And the Low Pass filter can be enabled or disabled for the AV out. The cheats menu will show any available cheats for the game you are running, you can download them here. You can activate and deactivate them as required.
Return will return back to the game, and Exit will bring you back to the file browser.
From the File Browser you can also bring up the menu for Global Settings to change the Audio and Video options and from which ports you want to be able to control the UI with.
7800 GameDrive Features
The 7800 GameDrive is impressive when it comes to features. It supports a variety of audio formats like POKEY, YM2151, COVOX, and BupChip. Plus, it’s got High Score Cartridge (HSC) support. Since its launch, there have been a few firmware updates to make sure it plays nice with both Atari 2600 and 7800 games.
One cool thing about the GameDrive is that it works with Atari 7800 cartridges from both NTSC and PAL regions. But, keep in mind, it’s generally best to stick to ROMs that match your console’s region. You could mod it to play others, but there are still some glitches. That said, I did manage to run quite a few NTSC homebrews on my PAL console, so it’s not a total loss.
The AV output is a real game-changer. It gives a far better picture quality than the original RF output or even a composite conversion. I’m currently using a cheaper capture card rather than my usual one, because of some issues with my OSSC. But even then, the RGB Scart output is noticeably less fuzzy than component. It looks super sharp on a CRT or an upscaler.
Another great feature is its support for Atari 2600 games. You do need to power cycle the console and load a 2600 game right after – they won’t load otherwise. You don’t get the Break menu with save states and all, but most of the games run pretty smoothly, despite a few hiccups here and there.
Mega 7800 overview
Now, on to the Mega 7800 review. First off, I tried out the official Master System and Mega Drive controllers. They all worked great, except for one of my six-button controllers. It wasn’t recognized properly, but that’s a known issue with some models.
I also tested a few third-party controllers, like the ASCIIWARE Mega Stick – it was perfect!
Then came the fun part with the Master System light gun. It took a bit of tweaking – resetting the game a few times and aiming the gun at the screen for the MEGA 7800 to find the gun – but once I got it set up, it worked like a charm. And of course, my original Atari XEGS light gun was spot on as usual.
Another great thing about the Mega 7800 is how it plays with the 7800 GameDrive. The START button on the controller gives you quick access to the Break menu. This is super convenient, way better than fiddling with button combos.
All in all, the Mega 7800 is a fantastic addition for both the 2600 and 7800 consoles, especially when paired with the 7800 GameDrive. It’s great for homebrew games that can use the extra buttons on these controllers. If you’re not a fan of the original 7800 controllers and prefer something like a Mega Drive or Master System controller, the Mega 7800 is definitely worth checking out.
Atari 2600+ compatibility
There’s a bit of a downside to the 7800 GameDrive – it doesn’t play nice with the new Atari 2600+. The 7800 GameDrive is FPGA based flash cart and functions differently from standard cartridges, so it’s no surprise that the GameDrive isn’t compatible. I wasn’t really expecting it to work, but who knows? Maybe the developers behind the Atari 2600+ will include support for it in the future. We can hope!
On a brighter note, the MEGA 7800 does work with the Atari 2600+ without any issues. The only catch is that the lightgun feature won’t work because modern TVs aren’t compatible with it. But other than that, it’s all good.
RetroHQ’s products have gained a stellar reputation with their Jaguar GameDrive and NeoPocket GameDrive carts. Their high quality and reliable support, both backed by timely firmware updates when necessary. The 7800 GameDrive, priced at £150, might come across as a bit steep initially, but the value it offers in comparison to continually investing in original game cartridges makes it a worthy investment.
On the other hand, the MEGA 7800, available at a mere £15, presents an absolute bargain for owners of Atari 2600 and 7800 systems. Its affordability combined with its compatibility and performance makes it an enticing choice for retro gaming enthusiasts.
You can learn more about both products on the RetroHQ website here. I bought these with my own money and not sponsored in any way.
Thanks for reading our 7800 GameDrive review and MEGA 7800 review. We hope you have found it useful!