Shade Reogen's PicoNtrol Brings Modern Bluetooth Pads to the Atari 2600

Powered by a Raspberry Pi Pico W, the PicoNtrol provides a bridge between vintage consoles and modern game pads.

Gareth Halfacree
1 month ago β€’ Retro Tech / HW101 / Gaming

Maker and vintage gaming enthusiast Shade Reogen has designed a Raspberry Pi Pico W-based adapter to pair modern Bluetooth controllers with the classic Atari 2600 games console: the PicoNtrol.

"PicoNtrol is a Bluetooth adapter powered by a Raspberry Pi Pico W that plugs straight into the native controller port of supported retro consoles," Reogen explains PicoNtrol is a WIP hobbyist project in it's very early days designed for enthusiasts who are familiar with electronics and retro gaming hardware."

The heart of the device is, as Reogen writes, a Raspberry Pi Pico W β€” the second version of Raspberry Pi's in-house microcontroller development board, pairing the dual-core Cortex-M0+ RP2040 chip with a Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radio module. Here only the Bluetooth radio is used, providing a link between the microcontroller and a Microsoft Xbox Series X/S or Sony DualShock 4 PlayStation game controller.

On the other end of the adapter is a connector compatible with classic games consoles, in particular the Atari 2600. Launched in 1977 as the Atari Video Computer System (VCS), the Atari 2600 is a much-loved if admittedly-limited entry in gaming history β€” boasting a four-way joystick with a single fire button, which the PicoNtrol replaces with a modern console's game pad.

At the time of writing, the PicoNtrol was only compatible wit the Atari 2600 β€” though it should, in theory, also work with anything that accepts Atari-style nine-pin joysticks, such as the Commodore 64. Reogen has indicated plans to release a version that works with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which has two fire buttons plus Start and Select buttons, but warns that it "will take more time as it's not as simple as 'one cable per input' matching."

The project has been released on GitHub under the permissive MIT license, along with a 3D-printable enclosure designed by the pseudonymous "polargeek"; more information is available on Reogen's Reddit thread.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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