Stella 3.0 review

For tech lovers of a certain age, only one video game console can truly be called classic. It’s not the Sega Megadrive or the SNES. Go back further, to the Atari 2600. Debuting in 1977 and manufactured until 1992, it still holds the title of the longest-running video game console. Even now you can play Atari 2600 games on your Mac – with Stella.

Stella is a simple application. You launch it, pick a game file (called a ROM image) and in seconds you can be playing Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Missile Command or Pac-Man. ROMs are software images of the console’s original cartridges and easy to find at sites like www.atariage.com.

Yet Stella is more than that. In order to play, Stella creates a virtual Atari 2600 on your Mac. It is, in effect, a single-purpose virtual machine or emulator. If the vintage Atari 2600 games aren’t to your liking, you can track down emulators for other consoles online too – though the more recent the vintage, the more dubious the legality of the games available. Try Emulator Zone, which has a pretty good selection (www.emulator-zone.com).

Stella also includes a few other features, such as a library that enables you to keep track of your ROMs and debugging tools for peering into the programming of your favourite games. Geeks in the 80s would have sold their Grandma for stuff like this.

OUR VERDICT

But you don’t need to be a geek to love Stella – you just need to like games. Some true classics were available on this platform, and they’re available now on your Mac, for free. It’s Christmas morning, 1982, all over again.

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