More than twenty years ago, nearly every neighborhood had one. For every ten kids on the block who owned Atari, there was that one guy. The rebel. The rich kid. The one with Intellivision, a beast of a videogame system that flaunted its complexities. Instead of a joystick and button it had a disk and phone-style keypad and cords permanently attached to the console. Games used nearly every damn button on the thing, most of them including specially printed overlays that corresponded to the keypad buttons that lay underneath. It was the first real videogame system that challenged the dominance of the current market leader.
The Intellivision, created and marketed by the Mattel Electronic division of the toy company, was a powerful gaming system for its time, offering an alternative to the simple games being produced for Atari's Video Computer System. Atari offered indescribable, flickery blobs that represented on-screen characters. Intellivision gave us sprites that actually looked recognizable. Washed out colors and out of tune music were the norm on Atari. Intellivision offered truly vibrant hues and pleasant melodies. In commerials George Plimpton extolled the virtues of Intellivision to a market dominated by Atari.
In the end, though, Atari was victorious. The end, of course, was around 1983 when the whole videogame market collapsed upon itself, leaving a shell of an industry that would remove take out all the players. But even during this time the Intellivision lived on in a new entity when a previous employee of Mattel Electronics purchased the rights to the Intellivision brand, and as INTV created new games for the system until 1990 when this niche couldn't sustain a proper business model. The Intellivision name and license was then scooped up by another previous employee of Mattel Electronics, who has been marketing the brand since the mid-90s in compilation packs for the original PlayStation and PC, as well as self-contained direct-to-TV and handheld portable game systems.
Which brings us to Intellivision Lives, a massive compilation of games that's obviously inspired by Activision's Atari 2600 compilation, Activision Anthology released on the PlayStation 2 in 2002. The emulation runs wonderfully on the Xbox hardware, offering the same graphics and sound of the more than sixty games from the Intellivision library. Unfortunately, regardless if the gameplay can or cannot hold up to today's standards, the Xbox controller absolutely cannot represent the complex Intellivision controller, and many games in this compilation are absolutely unplayable because the shortcuts for keypad presses on the dual stick controller are no substitute for the real thing.
Crave and Realtime Associates have created a slick interface for their Intellivision emulator. The entire experience is set in a place called "Hal's Pizza," a fictional restaurant filled with different arcade machines that represent "themes" of classic Intellivision games: sports, battle, space, arcade, and kids. Once in the selected machine it's a simple matter of selecting the game to boot up. There are more than sixty games that span the Intellivision's life, from the early days competing with Atari, to the system's rival during the INTV years. Most of the games feature the box fronts, as well as production notes about the people responsible for the specific game. And taking a cue from Activision Anthology, games can be played in goofy visual modes that reverse, mirror, and bounce the image across the screen. There are also a couple of George Plimpton commercials, as well as some unreleased games that must be unlocked by reaching set goals in specific games.
Caps off to the developers for a really slick 3D interface and well-rendered arcade machines, but truth be told pizzaria absolutely does not accurately reflect the feel of what the Intellivision was all about. Gamers didn't walk up to a machine, pop a quarter in and play Snafu or Night Stalker; these were home games, and they were played on a system that sat in front of the television. Yes, a lot of effort went into this 3D interface, but the lack of an Intellivision system anywhere in this 3D world is extremely disheartening.The only place anyone can see the actual Intellivision system is in the retrospective video of the console. This ten minute video is well-produced and covers many of the aspects of the videogame division during the ups and downs, but whoever put this video together mixed the background audio far too high. Much of the narrator's information is completely drowned out by 80s-style music.
Even with some limitations in its out-of-game experience, Intellivision Lives is a quality compilation...at least in its presentation. But the problem with the pack is in its controller: the Xbox controller is no substitute for real thing. The developers definitely tried their darndest to put as much functionality as they could, going as far as mapping the right analog stick's direction to the nine different keypad buttons of the Intellivision controller, with the other buttons mapped to the shoulder buttons.
But even with this controller configuration, it's damn near impossible to play certain games, mostly the Intellivision sports games that required a constant thumb on the keypad for the action. Most of the laid back parlor games work with the optional on-screen keypad that can be pulled up with the Select button, but the developer really should have turned it transparent; the keypad fills up nearly half the screen which renders the game window almost completely unviewable.
Some games, though, do work well with what the Xbox controller can offer, and are still a lot of fun to play today. Utopia is a great resource strategy game that predates Sim City and Civilization. Snafu's snake-like gameplay has been done before but not with such a catchy soundtrack. And Night Stalker is a challenging maze game with pretty intense action.
But as "classic" as the Intellivision is, not every game in this pack is a winner. In fact, there are more duds than charms in Intellivision Lives, and many games that were truly classic aren't included in this compilation. Many of the Intellivision greats were licensed titles, like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Tron Deadly Discs and Masters of the Universe, while others were actually third-party games like Microsurgeon and Atlantis. This compilation plays it safe with completely non-branded game titles; even the sports games that featured the Major League Baseball, Professional Bowling League, National Basketball Association licenses have had the branding removed.
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