Mattel Intellivision – Game Opinion Summaries / First Impressions, Part 2

Finally, part two of this two-part series is complete!  There are 24 summaries this time, which added to the 19 (really 17) from the first list, completes my Intellivision Game Opinion Summaries list so far.

Before I begin though, I got two new games, one from the part of the alphabet covered last time, and also got an IntelliVoice speech synthesizer addon, so I will begin with the two IntelliVoice game summaries from part one redone because I can play the games now, then the new game, and then the second half of the summaries.  The IntelliVoice is a nice unit because it outputs the speech through your TV, not from a speaker on the box like some synthesizers then did such as the Odyssey 2 one, and can do multiple different voices, which is a nice touch in the games.  Unfortunately, only four games plus one Intellivision Computer Module game support it at all, which is disappointing.  Why didn’t any of the later titles optionally support the IntelliVoice, with voices added here and there if you have one, like a bunch of O2 games do with the O2 The Voice?  But no, games either require it or don’t support it at all, unfortunately.  So, it’s a $20 addon for four games, which isn’t great but is probably worth it for the low cost.

Table of Contents

B-17 Bomber
Bomb Squad
Frogger
Microsurgeon
Mission X
Motocross (aka Moto-Cross)
Night Stalker
Pinball (1983)
Safecracker
Sea Battle
Sharp Shot
Skiing (Tele-Games ver. of US Ski Team Skiing)
Snafu
Space Armada
Space Battle
Space Hawk
Space Spartans
Star Strike
Tennis
Triple Action
Tron: Deadly Discs
Vectron
Venture
Zaxxon

The Summaries

 


B-17 Bomber – One player, IntelliVoice addon required. B-17 Bomber is a flight simulator, a fairly impressive thing for an early ’80s game. In probably the first attempt at a “realistic” flight simulator on a console, you control a B-17 bomber during World War II. Your mission is to choose a target in occupied Europe, fly to your destination, bomb the site, and return alive. This will be pretty hard, though! With many different jobs to control all at once, including four gunners, pilot, navigator, and bomber, challenging enemies which can very easily permanently knock out your gun turrets, tricky bombing, and limited fuel, finishing even a short-range run in this game is tough indeed. This is yet another game that’s extremely impressive for the time, but may be hard to go back to today.

To start, you choose a target on a map. There are different kinds of targets, including airfields, factories, and more. Closer targets will be easier to deal with, ones deeper into Europe harder, of course. Then, you set the acceleration up and then switch to the pilot’s seat and take off. The whole map is rendered in 3d, impressively. The framerate is very low of course, but that’s to be expected, this game is a fully 3d flight game, on the Intellivision! The manual is invaluable here, by the way, you need it to know what to do. I don’t have an overlay for this game, but fortunately do have a manual. Once you reach Europe, enemy fighters will come at you, and a voice sample will tell you which direction they’re coming from. It’s quite useful. Then, you switch to that gun, and will need to try to shoot them down before they hit your turrets, which you have one of on each side of the plane. Finally, a pre-crash flight combat game where the turret-style flight combat actually makes sense! I found hitting the enemy fighters frustratingly hard, though, and you have no margin for error: if you miss the enemy fighters will shoot your turret in notime, and if a turret gets hit even once that’s it, you lose it for the rest of the run. That’s maybe too harsh, but oh well. You’ll need to navigate by looking at the map every so often, there aren’t on-screen indicators telling you where to go to get to your target, by the way. Once you get there, you can switch to bombing view, and try to drop bombs with the right timing so you hit the target. Bombing is not too hard, but you only have a short window over the target. Then, you’ll need to try to turn around and fly back, though good luck with that, in my tries I didn’t have even close to enough fuel to get back.

With practice you’ll get better, of course, but while this is a pretty cool game for the time, with complex gameplay and the IntelliVoice for very helpful voice samples in different voices for enemy warnings, various stations, and more, the core gameplay is simple and challenging. The turret-shooting sequences are more frustrating than fun, I think. Still, if you have the hardware and a manual take a look, B-17 Bomber’s interesting. Hard and dated, but interesting for sure. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Bomb Squad – One player, IntelliVoice required. Another one of the four games requiring the IntelliVoice speech synthesizer, this one is a bomb-defusing puzzle game where you follow voice commands as you try to defuse each bomb. In this somewhat imposingly difficult game, you’ve got a lot to do to defuse the bomb. First you choose a difficulty, with three speeds and up to three numbers to find available. Even on the slowest speed and only needing one number, though, at first this game is tough! I’m sure that it gets easier with experience, but good memorization skills will be required to be good at this game. Once you choose the difficulty, a grid of numbers appears, with each number broken up into an 8×4 grid of spaces, fitting with the number of LEDs used to display the numbers. You then choose a space that you want to know the status of, hit the correct button, and you go into a puzzle.

Next, you’ll see a screen with a lot of wires and circuitry on it, and some objects on the board that you can interact with. Then the Intellivoice will tell you the order you need to replace or remove some of those pieces in. You’ll need to memorize this order and what you need to do in each one; you can press a button to have it repeat the instructions, but this uses time, of course. Having a voice tell you this is a great use of the voice unit, it works very well. Next, you use your tools to remove those chips and replace them with what’s needed. Accessed with face buttons, you’ve got cutting scissors, grabber pliers, a soldering iron, and a fire extinguisher. First you cut out the object you’re removing. Voice instructions will helpfully tell you to move up, left, right, and such, to get your object correctly centered to make the cut. Again, that is great use of the voice unit here; this game wouldn’t work well without it. Next you switch to the pliers, grab the chip, take it out, and drop it off the field on the right. Now, you interact with side buttons, and while most Intellivision games duplicate the buttons on the left and right sides of the controller for left or right handed players, this game doesn’t do that; grab is on the left and drop on the right. It’s a bit odd, but the game is slow-paced enough that I guess it works. Before you drop it make note of the shape and color of the object, though, because when replacing, you need to replace each part with one that matches its color or shape. Next, put the right part in, solder in the wires connecting it to the board — don’t forget this step! — and then move on to the next part that needs dealing with. Once all parts on a board are fixed, you hit a number button to return to the main screen, and choose another space. It’s a slow process. You can move the cursor faster by holding the upper button, but still this is a slow-paced and very memorization-heavy game.

All this time, a timer is counting down. On the slowest setting you have a half hour. Once you think that you know the number code, or are almost out of time and have to try anyway, you can try to guess the code to disarm the bomb. If you get the code right, you win and save the day, but if you’re wrong the bomb goes off and blows up the city. There’s a little animation to end the game showing those results. Overall, Bomb Squad is a pretty interesting and experimental puzzle game, but I don’t find it very fun, so far anyway; the ticking timer makes the game very tense, and I find it hard to keep everything memorized. I’ve watched a video of a good player playing the hardest mode of this game well, and it’s quite impressive but I doubt I ever could be that good. The gameplay is all rote memorization and repetition, too. You go through the same steps with every part, slowly removing and replacing it, and it gets repetitive. Bomb Squad is very interesting and is definitely worth a look, but some will like the gameplay loop more than others and I’m not sure that I will play this game a lot more. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Frogger – One player. Frogger is one of the more popular arcade games of the early ’80s. In this simple but quite fun game, you play as a frog, trying to get across a road and dangerous river to the safe ground on the other side. You move left and right, dodging cars and trying to not fall in the water in your quest to get all of the frogs across the road. Originally by Konami, the early home ports of Frogger were made by Parker Bros., this version included. Parker Bros. released many more games on Atari 2600 and 5200 than Intellivision, but did have six Intellivision releases, including this one. And very much like the Atari 5200 version, this game is a tale of contrasts. In particular, the contrast between the reasonably nice-looking representation of this arcade classic on the one hand, and the frustratingly poor, imprecise controls on the other. The graphics here are probably closer to the Atari 2600 version than the 5200, but still, they look good. However, the circle pad, like the Atari 5200 joystick, is kind of awful for arcade games like this that demand precision! Sure, most of the time I make the move I intended to make in this game, but I’m sure to accidentally make a wrong move sometimes, and the controller is more at fault than me, I think. Getting into the far-left top spot is particularly difficult in this version, it seems, more so than it probably should be. Frogger is a great game and this is mostly a good version of the game, with nice graphics and accurate audio, but the barely serviceable to bad controls really bring it down. Overall Frogger for Intellivision is not recommended because of the controls. Stick to versions on platforms with accurate digital controls.  Frogger is an arcade port of a game that has been released on dozens of platforms over the years, most with controls better than you’ll find here.


Microsurgeon – One player. Microsurgeon is a fascinating, but extremely slow-paced, early twinstick shooter from Imagic. Yes, this is a twin-stick shooter! This game has a very interesting concept: you control a miniscule robotic drone, and fly around inside a human body to destroy ailments. You can choose different patients, which all look identical but vary in difficulty, as the number of illnesses increases with each difficulty level. Oddly, you do not continue to fix multiple patients in each game; instead, once a patient is saved or dies that’s it, the game ends. You will need to start a new game with a different patient to challenge the harder levels. It works. The controls are done pretty well, though they take some getting used to. You use two controllers, and move with one disc while shooting with the other. Buttons on one of the pads switch between your three different weapons… that is, I mean medicines, that you can shoot. You need to select the correct type of medicine for each different ailment. Which one to use for each illness is listed in the manual. Another button lists the health status of all body parts on screen, so you know where to go, presuming you know where in the body each of those parts is that is.

This game may seem like a lot at first, but Microsurgeon is actually a somewhat simple game once you get used to it. Using your little drone, you move around the body, going to the damaged organs and fixing them by shooting the bad cells with the correct kinds of medicines until the organ is healed. While you do this, the body will try to destroy the intruder by sending white blood cells and such at you; try not to kill too many of those, if you can. Microsurgeon is an interesting game, but you move excruciatingly slowly. You move more quickly in blood vessels or other passages, and very slowly if going through organ walls and the like, but either way you move very slow. This helps keep the tension up, and makes games last a reasonable amount of time, which is important for a game where the whole body only takes a couple of screens, but can make it feel boring, as you slowly edge around towards those damaged organs so you can shoot the bad things in them. This game has a great idea and it is good, and is definitely innovative for the time, but the slow pacing keeps it from staying fun, I think. Microsurgeon was only also released on one other platform, the TI 99/4A computer. That version is better, with higher-res graphics and on-screen patient status and minimap displays, but the core gameplay is the same.


Mission X – This is another port of a Data East arcade game, along with Burger Time and Lock ‘n Chase. For some reason Data East was the only arcade company Mattel got rights to at the time, I wonder why; I guess Atari and Coleco locked down all the other big ones? Anyway, this game is a vertical scrolling shmup, but it has a height component, you can fly up and down… which naturally makes hitting flying enemies in front of you nearly impossible, since judging height is not going to happen. Fortunately, most targets are on the ground; you spend most of this game bombing Xevious-style, at a target in front of your ship which moves forward or back depending on your altitude. It’s neat to see a scrolling shmup from ’82, but this game gets old fast. The height component is a real issue too, one which makes this game much harder to deal with than regular shmups, when you’re fighting planes and not only ground targets.

That most of the targets are on the ground isn’t the greatest either though, as you need to be very precise to hit them with your bombs, making hitting them frustratingly difficult. I never have really liked this style of bombing in shmups, either here, in Xevious, or elsewhere; the close, and unchangeably set, forward distance you can bomb at is no fun! This game tries to deal with that by letting you bomb closer when you’re at lower altitude and farther forwards when you’re at higher altitude, and that does work, but you still need to be very precise to hit your often small little targets. And while it’s helpful for bombing, again the height component makes fighting those initially few airborne foes very hard to hit as there is no indicator of when you are lined up with them, so this kind of design has issues either way. Anyway, though, Mission X is an okay game, but with sometimes frustrating gameplay and almost no variety, it has some issues. I like shmups, but these very early scrolling shooters often aren’t my thing; I don’t love most Atari 2600 scrolling shooters either, Vanguard and such. Mission X is an interesting and perhaps influential game for the time, but ultimately is average, I think. Arcade port.  This is the only home console port of the game I know of, as unlike many other Data East games Mission X hasn’t been re-released on newer formats.   The only other version I can find mention of is a homebrew Atari ST port made in the early ’90s.  So if you have an Intellivision, pick this up.


Motocross (aka Moto-Cross) – One or two player simultaneous. Motocross is a slightly newer overhead racing game than Auto Racing. And like Auto Racing, the controls are a bit tricky. Motocross takes what Auto Racing did and makes a more complex experience out of it, with rolling hilly terrain, an AI opponent to race against if you want, and a track editor. The game also has both car-relative or camera-relative control options, so anyone should find one they prefer. Whether it’s better than Auto Racing or not is a matter of opinion, though, because this is another game which may have tried to do too much for its hardware, as the framerate is excruciatingly low, and figuring out the terrain undulations can be pretty difficult at this resolution! Additionally, the method this game uses to make both bikes visible is problematic. In this game, there is no split screen. Instead, both bikers are on a single screen together, and if one person gets too far ahead they stop, and will not be able to move forwards again until the other person has caught up a bit. This can lead to incredibly annoying games of tug-of-war, as the person behind tries to catch up, gets a little forwards, then instantly is pushed back thanks to the person in first now being able to move again, leading to both stopping and starting repeatedly unless the one ahead slows down to let the other person catch up… which means you might get passed, of course, since you can’t take a real lead. When this happens it’s not much fun. I have played newer racing games that use a similar method to this, such as Moto Roader on the Turbografx, and it’s frustrating there as well, though it is not quite as bad as this; that game doesn’t have the stop-start issue. Micro Machines’ solution, with a points system, is a far better one.

Despite the issues, though, I do appreciate the AI opponent option. The AI tries to stick to a good line so they are a reasonable challenge, and having someone to race against adds quite a bit to this game over Auto Racing, even with the issue I outlined above. I have always much preferred racing against opponents, rather than pure time-trials. But with its extremely low framerate, choppy gameplay, simple track-layout design that struggles to hold your interest through the relatively long laps of each race, and sometimes annoying way leads are handled, Motocross is at best only slightly better than Auto Racing. I’m not constantly going off the track in this game like I do in Auto Racing so the controls feel better, and again I like racing against someone, but while it’s an interesting early take on motorcycle racing which does things I haven’t seen in any other pre-crash racing games, Motocross is a bit below average. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Night Stalker – One player. Night Stalker is a slow-paced single screen topdown shooter. This game plays a bit like a slower-paced and deliberate, and slightly stealthy, take on Berzerk or Wizard of Wor, except sort of like in some other games like Turtles, before you can fire you need to get ammo by picking up gun powerups. Yes, you start out with none, and they will randomly spawn around the maze as you go. You play as a little guy in the classic Intellivision style, and move around a single-screen maze, collecting ammo and shooting bats, spiders, and robots. The graphics are nicely drawn, with creepy enemies and an environment made of black walls and a blue background, with some nice touches like a large spider-web in one corner. There is only one screen, unfortunately, though; multiple screens would have been nice. The gameplay is good, but extremely repetitive. This may be a maze game, but unlike Pac-Man and most other games in the genre, not only is the game endless like most such games, but there aren’t even discreet levels. Instead, you just go around the screen, collecting ammo and shooting things, as the game slowly gets tougher as more and harder enemies appear, until you die too many times and get Game Over.

So, your little guy will explore the one-screen maze, get gun powerups, shoot enemies, and repeat. You get points for killing enemies, and that is the only way to score here; there are no pickups that get you points, unlike most maze games, but like Berzerk, this is a pure shooter. Your movement speed is somewhat slow, so you will need to think ahead to avoid the shots the robot will shoot at you, giving this game a different feel from Wizard of Wor or Berzerk. The challenge level is fairly well-balanced, as it starts easy but gets hard as you go, but the very simple gameplay and lack of any alternate screens makes this game very repetitive. Sure, it has nice creepy graphics and okay to good gameplay, but the gameplay loop doesn’t have enough to it, I think. I’m not a big fan of Berzerk either, it’s just a bit too simplistic and makes me wish that there was a point to your quest beyond just playing until you lose, but at least there the maze changed on each screen. Here it’s always the same, and having to go pick up ammo all the time is both bad and good; it does add complexity, but running out of ammo can be frustrating. Overall Night Stalker is a fairly highly-regarded game on the Intellivision, but I don’t think I will be going back very often; it’s too repetitive and just killing things for points until you die isn’t enough of a purpose to keep me playing this long-term. Still, it is good, if you don’t mind the slow pace. There is also an Atari 2600 version of the game, under the title Dark Cavern. It’s not quite the same as the Intellivision game, with worse graphics and less complex enemies and such, so while it’s an okay, average game, the Intellivision version is a bit better. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Pinball (1983) – One player. I had pretty low expectations for this game because the other pinball games I have played on consoles from the ’70s are pretty bad, particularly in their physics, but Pinball surprised me. Going far beyond pinball games on the 2600 or Odyssey 2, not only does this game have multiple screens and some solidly good table design, but for the time the ball physics are actually decent. And yes, there are even multiple different screens in the table, instead of just one! The table here even kind of looks like a pinball table, too, except stretched horizontally of course. The graphics aren’t amazing, but looks alright, and having multiple screens is a big advantage over other pinball console games of the time. The game controls well, with the expected controls with a flipper on each side and tilt buttons, and is reasonably fun to play. Figuring out the scoring options, how to get to the second screen, and such are fun and will keep you coming back for a while. Pinball is a pretty limited game from a modern pinball game standpoint, but for the pre-crash era it is probably the best pinball console game I have played. The game usually is not as cheap as a lot of Intellivision games are, but it’s a pretty good game and released later in the system’s initial run, so perhaps not as many copies sold as did for earlier games. Pinball for Intellivision is well worth playing if you like pinball, to see a console pinball game that does about as much as one could in this era. That isn’t saying all that much, pinball physics were not properly possible yet and this holds this game back for sure, but it’s something. Do try Pinball if you can. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Safecracker – One player. Safecracker is an interesting, but strange, Intellivision-exclusive Imagic game where you play as a spy, breaking into safes all over a city. This pretty good-looking game has two elements, driving and safecracking. You start the game with 7, 8, or 9, for Easy, Medium, or Hard. Once you begin, first you drive around the city, going to a building the game directs you to. The directions are obtuse, as the game has a colored border that changes colors based on which direction you need to go at each intersection, so you’d better have that manual to know which color means which direction. This is definitely confusing until you get used to it, and after more than a few games I still can’t; even after looking up the manual online, the whole colors-for-directions thing is very confusing, and figuring out which buildings you’re actually going to is quite annoyingly difficult. At first you’re looking for Embassies, which have diamond-shaped windows. You need to pull over by the diamond windows, stop, and hit Enter to go in and try to take on the safe. It’s easy to miss the buildings and wander around lost, though; these directions are hard to follow and don’t make much sense.

Additionally, the turning controls are odd — you don’t turn with the circle, but by holding the lower button and then hitting left or right on the circle to turn. You cycle between directions as you tap left or right while holding the button, or turn around by hitting down while hitting the button. This is also confusing and poorly thought through. Using the circle on its own moves you around in the lane, to avoid oncoming civilian traffic or the police. The controls work, awkwardly, but could be better. The graphics are nice, though, and the large city scrolls well, better than in Auto Racing or Motocross I would say. It’s a little jerky and there are only a handful of buildings that repeat, but it looks great. You’re just driving at first, but as you progress, the police will try to stop your car. You can shoot back at them to get them out of your way. I only wish this nice graphics engine was running a driving game that’s fun to play… oh well.

If you manage to find your next target building and stop at it, your spy will enter, and you’re faced with the other part of the game: the titular safe-cracking. Here, you need to figure out what number will open the safe, giving you its contents. You hit one side button to quickly make numbers scroll by, and when it passes the target number it’ll beep. Get close and then get to the number by increasing the count by one with the other button, and you’ll unlock the safe. There is a tight time limit, so this can be tricky. If you want, there is a TNT button (on the overlay, it’s 4 I think) that will destroy regular safes, giving you the contents but alerting the police and not giving you a Treasury number. Either way, you return to your car and follow the directions to drive to your hideout in town, where you see your score and such. You then move on to the next target building, using the same process, but with more numbers to guess and police to avoid. Your goal is to get four numbers from other safes that unlock the safe in the Treasury building in the city. Crack that safe and the game probably ends. I haven’t gotten anywhere remotely near that far though, sadly. Safecracker has a good concept and engine, but the bad driving controls and very confusing directions make this a game to probably avoid, unfortunately, unless you have a lot of patience for this kind of thing.


Sea Battle – Two players required. This is a sadly two-player-only naval strategy game. It looks pretty interesting and is way above anything like this on Atari, so it’s really unfortunate that they didn’t make any AI for the game. The game plays on a single screen, and two players, each with a fleet, move ships around in an effort to defeat the other player’s fleet and take their base. The map is well-drawn and looks good. This game is a strategy game much more so than it is action, so it takes some learning to figure out how to play, but if you have someone to play against and know how, it looks like it could be fun. Unfortunately, I won’t have many opportunities to play this one because it’s multiplayer only. Oh well… This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Sharp Shot – Two player simultaneous (or one player with no opponent). This very simple minigame collection looks like it was for kids based on the box, and it’s pretty simplistic — it’s a one-button game where you just need to hit the button at the right time to do something. There are four minigames on the cart. One minigame is football passing. You control the quarterback, and hit the button at the right moment to throw the ball straight ahead to an open player. In the next one, you shoot enemies in space when they fly through your target sight. Hit the button with the right timing. In the third, you are an archer, and shoot enemies with arrows. You move back and forth automatically, and have to shoot with the right timing to hit the enemies. And in the last minigame, you are a ship, shooting enemy ships with torpedoes as they move into your path. The game has okay, average graphics for the console and the four minigames give it some variety, but they are all extremely, extremely simplistic one-button affairs. If you hit the button at the right times you get points, if you don’t you won’t. It gets boring in minutes. This is meant as a two player only game, so the two players compete to see who got a better score, so there isn’t any AI opponent. You can play solo though, if you record your best scores on paper or such. Either way it’s not that good really; Sharp Shot had an idea, but is too simple and boring to be any good. It may be amusing for a couple of minutes, but even back then I’m sure you can find much better kids’ games than this. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Skiing (Tele-Games ver. of US Ski Team Skiing) – One or two player alternating. Skiing is another game which shows Mattel’s focus on making the Intellivision the home for more realistic and complex games, when compared to the Atari 2600. So, where skiing games for Atari or the Odyssey 2 are very simple ski-straight-down affairs where you just move left and right to stay in the gates, Intellivision Skiing has much trickier controls and much improved graphics. Does that make for better gameplay, though? Well, maybe, or maybe not. First, like those games, there is no AI opponent here; either you take turns with another human, or you’re only competing against yourself to see what best times you can get in each of the several ski racing modes available. The game does have those more realistic controls, though, and while that makes it different, it also means that turning is a lot harder than in those other skiing games. You’ll need to turn hard and accurately to make the turns, and will slow down to a crawl if you don’t turn correctly. You can jump and slow down with the side buttons, and will need to do both at the right times, but correctly angling your skiier with the disc is the most important challenge. You will need to memorize each course in order to do well at all, as you do need to have some sense of where the gates are to be able to make them in good time.

The game is okay, but this is another game where the disc controller makes for tougher controls than you’d have on a d-pad, as it’s just not precise at all. You need to be exactly lined up with the gates in order to make them and not have to stop and lose all your speed, but turn just a little too much and oops, you stopped anyway. Once you get used to it the game plays okay, but where Activision’s Skiing for Atari 2600 is a very simple but fun little game, the slightly more simmish style here has probably aged worse; it’s not actually realistic, it’s just enough so to be a lot less fun until you put more time into it. The game looks alright though, with nicely drawn trees and such. In gameplay, however, this is another average game for this system. Seeing a slightly more realistic take on skiing from 1980 is interesting, but the controls can be frustrating and the pace slow. The game does have speed options, but it always feels a little slow due to the turning. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Snafu – One or two player simultaneous. Snafu is Mattel’s take on the classic game Snake, except in multiplayer, against human and/or computer opposition. The game has a bunch of diffent modes, and is somewhat impressive. In fact, this game is my favorite Intellivision game that I’ve played so far. So, being a Snake-inspired multiplayer game, Snafu is a lot like Surround on Atari 2600 — think Tron’s Light Cycles, but before that, and with up to four players on screen instead of Surround’s two. Yes, four. You can compete against three AIs at a time too, and indeed that is the default, which is pretty awesome. No “multiplayer only” disappointment here! There is also a two human and two AI mode, for multiplayer play. As in the games that inspired it, in Snafu each player controls a moving dot which represents a vehicle, and which leaves a trail behind it. Everyone is always moving, and if a vehicle runs into any players’ trails, or another player, they are destroyed and their trails are removed from the board. So, as players lose the board opens up, though whether the remaining players can capitalize on that depends on their situation.

The core gameplay here is always the same, try to be the last one alive, but Snafu has many variations on that basic theme present that you can play. The modes include simpler ones with only the regular four-direction movement of most games in this genre, and some with eight-direction movement, which is a lot to get used to in a snake game; I’ve never used eight-direction movement in a snake or lightcycle game before, I don’t think! But it’s here, and it’s pretty interesting. There are also variations for how many obstacles are on the screen from the start, from none to quite a few. Once you select a mode, you select how many wins it will take to get an overall winner. Then, you play that mode, with each player, or computer, getting a point for each win until one reaches the target number. With that the game is over and that competitor wins. There is sadly no championship or anything, only single games that end once a player wins after which you select a new mode to play, but still, for a game this early Snafu is pretty feature-rich; that kind of thing became more common later on.

The game controls fairly well, and the Intellivision disc gives you good control of your direction, but eight directions in this genre is more than I’ve seen before and it is hard to get used to at first. It is probably advisable to stick to the more traditional four-direction modes at first to get used to the game. They are also a lot of fun, and play like you’d expect. Then, after a while, try the weirder stuff like 8-direction mode. You can pass through a diagonal trail if you’re heading on the right diagonal angle to it, so this adds a lot of strategy to the game. I like Snake and Tron lightcycle games quite a bit, and this is a very good one, with features I haven’t seen elsewhere and some good competitive gameplay. Once you get used to the 8-direction movement on the disc, the additional movement options it opens up make for some fun and challenging gameplay, which allows you to escape from certain death… or run into even more walls, depending. The other gameplay options are interesting to play around with also, to have a simpler or more obstacle-filled screen for example. Snafu is a very good game, and it is definitely recommended. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Space Armada – One player. Space Armada is Mattel’s take on Space Invaders, one of the most popular games of the time. It’s not as good as Space Invaders, though — there are fewer aliens, very few modes, and a big programming problem here, unfortunately. The game plays well enough at first, just like Space Invaders: you move left and right, and shoot upwards with a button. However, perhaps due to the system’s low resolution, there may only be a few rows of aliens, but they start pretty close to you so it gets hard quickly. The game mixes things up as you go on with invisible enemies sometimes, too. You’ll need to kill all of the invisible enemies before they reach the bottom or you lose. You have a bunch of lives, but if an enemy reaches the bottom it’s an instant game over, as with Space Invaders. Space Armada is fun, but the difficulty balance is very poor, as the game gets almost impossibly hard very quickly — not too far into the game, the enemies start so low on the screen that it becomes effectively impossible to win. I’d recommend playing the versions of Space Invaders on the Atari 2600 or 5200 instead, the 2600 version’s graphics aren’t as good but the gameplay is much better and there are a lot more modes and options there. The enemies in Space Invaders don’t start as close to the ground as they do here, either. Space Armada is a very cheap game maybe worth having if you have the system and see it for a dollar like I did, but don’t expect much; it’s average to bad, due to the difficulty and somewhat broken design. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Space Battle – One or two player alternating. Space Battle is a first-person space shooting game with a simpler strategic component that separates it from other games like this on other platforms. The first-person space shooting game was a relatively popular one, and this is Mattel’s take on it. First, you choose a difficulty, from several available. This game has two screens, the map view and battles. On the map view, you are defending a starbase in the center of the screen that is under attack. You have three fleets of fighters to send at the enemies that approach from the edges of the screen, and your controller buttons will order fleets to head towards different enemy groups. The controls are a little tricky, but eventually kind of make sense. I had trouble at first figuring out how to get your fleets to go where I want, but the way it works is that some keypad buttons select the fleet you’re controlling, then other buttons change targets and tell them to head towards the currently-selected enemy. You can’t send fleets to specific points, unfortunately, only towards enemies. Once one of your fleets and an enemy one collide, a battle begins. You fight the battle yourself by hitting another keypad button; it isn’t automatic. Again, the controls are clumsy.

Once you do take command, you’ll find a fairly standard for the time first-person space shooting game. Like many Intellivision space games there is a nice starfield background, but the gameplay is familiar Atari-like stuff. As per usual for space combat games from the pre-crash era, this game may look like you’re in a space fighter, but really it’s just a target-shooting game, you don’t move your ship around. Instead, just move the cursor and fire when you think you will hit an enemy, as the enemy ships zoom around in front of you. It’s simple stuff, but works. While you fight, it is important to note, the rest of the game is still progressing, so other fleets will advance. You can return to the map screen at any time with the press of a key, and may need to if another fleet is getting close to the center and you need to try to stop them more than the one you are currently fighting. It’s a solid concept for the time and can be fun.

However, this is one of those 2nd-gen games that’s over in minutes. Either you’ll win and defeat all the enemy fleets, or lose and die, but either way there’s only one level then the game ends. Again the game does have multiple difficulty options to add some playtime, thankfully, but still this game is very short, and the default difficulty is very easy, I won in only a few tries. The higher settings are tougher, but still this is not a challenging game. Most 2nd-gen games that aren’t endless are like this, second gen games usually either never end or are absurdly short. Oh well; the industry was young and people didn’t know what would work yet, and making games in the tiny amounts of memory they were allowed is difficult. The strategy bit about aiming fleets around is interesting, though the controls are a bit confusing, and the shooting works fine, but it’s nothing special. Overall Space Battle can be fun, but is average. Also on Atari 2600 under the title Space Attack, though as usual the graphics are better and controls more complex here. The starfield background looks nice on this version, and it’s a better game on Intellivision. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Space Hawk – One player. Space Hawk is another game inspired by Asteroids, but unlike Astrosmash, this game takes its inspiration in gameplay and not just graphics. In Space Hawk, you’re a person in a space suit with a jetpack, and fly around in search for the Space Hawks. You can fly around endlessly in any direction, looking at the Intellivision-style starfield scrolling behind you, but don’t actually go anywhere, really; the Space Hawks will come at you regardless of which direction you go, so the movement element is just for avoiding their fire and such and not for exploring a level. You will be attacked by one Space Hawk at a time, and it will fly around, on and off the screen, shooting expanding shots that look a whole lot like rocks at you. Huh, I wonder where they got that idea from… heh. And like Asteroids you do have a momentum system, though here you can turn it off with the press of a keypad button, if you prefer the much simpler default game. It’s probably a better game with momentum on, as I found the game too simple otherwise. I’ve never loved Asteroids’ momentum system, but it is better than the alternative, as this shows.

Unfortunately, what this game also shows is that it’s hard to make a good Asteroids game, and they didn’t quite manage it here. The rocks that the Space Hawk is shooting get in the way between you and them, so you will need to choose between shooting the rocks and thus protecting yourself, or trying to fly around to get a shot a the Hawk itself. It’s a decent mechanic, but sadly you will only ever face one Space Hawk at a time. This makes for a very simplistic game which feels slow, and slow-paced, even in its highest speed setting. It does get harder as you survive longer, but you’re only ever fighting the same Space Hawks, shooting the same things at you, throughout. Once you shoot a Space Hawk enough to kill it, another one will come at you, in an endless loop until you eventually die. That may sound simple, but the game has tricky and somewhat original controls, for good and ill.  You aim your astronaut with the disc, thrust with one side button, and fire with the other button.  A keypad button uses hyperspace, Asteroids or Defender-style, to randomly warp out of danger, hopefully.  The controls work, but are slow.  I often wish I could use thrust and fire at the same time, but you really can’t, it’s one or the other it seems.  And having to aim with the disc while using side buttons for thrust feels awkward.  With very slow, one-enemy-at-a-time design, Space Hawk looked cool at first glance and I was looking forward to trying it, but I got tired of it very quickly and don’t find it very fun. This is another average-at-best Intellivision game with flawed, and somewhat slow, gameplay that is okay, but does not hold up to the better shooting games on other consoles. Space Hawk is not bad, but is not good either. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Space Spartans – One player. IntelliVoice Required. Space Spartans is essentially Mattel’s take on Star Raiders, or, also, a more complex version of Space Battle. As in Space Battle and Star Raiders, your goal here is to defend starbases on a single-screen map. When you begin a game you place three starbases, and choose a difficulty to start from in this endless game. In each level, you need to defeat all enemy fleets without losing your starbases. Like in Space Battle but with a grid, the enemy fleets will move around the map screen, heading towards your starbases. Using a keypad combination — the overlay is highly recommended here — you can warp, and once you warp onto a square with enemies in it, and then hit a button to switch to battle view, you’ll start that fight.

Battles work like all of the first-person space shooter battles I’ve seen on pre-crash systems, so again just like Space Battle this is a target-shooting game. Unlike Star Raiders on the 5200, you can’t actually fly anywhere within each sector, either; once warped in, instead you just sit there, rotating around and firing at the enemies coming at you. Controlling your aim is slow and somewhat frustrating in this game, though; I started to get used to it with time, but faster, more precise controls would do wonders here, aiming accurately is harder than it should be. Oddly, in this game the cursor stands for your ship, because if enemy shots hit the cursor you take damage. Some other games do this, but it is a little strange; I’d expect shots in the center of the screen or such to hit me, but no, the cursor sight is their target. I find this game pretty hard. Where some other space shooting games of the time are easy enough to hit enemies in, this one’s a lot tougher; the enemies move quickly, and zoom into and out of the screen as they go. You will learn their patterns with time, but this game is a lot harder than Space Battle, that’s for sure! That’s a good thing overall though, a harder and more complex game like that was a good idea. Also like Space Battle though, the rest of the game is progressing while you’re in a battle, so you may want to warp to a different sector before defeating the enemies in one sector in order to protect a more threatened starbase. Enemy fleets will regenerate over time though, so battles can drag on if you’re not good enough at hitting the enemies, as they respawn as fast as you hit them.

Interestingly, as you take damage you don’t just fill up a damage meter, but will lose systems on your ship.  The IntelliVoice will tell you what damage you’ve taken and what you are repairing.  Hits will eventually take out your targeting computer, warp drive, movement thrusters, and more, leaving you a motionless lump in space once all of them pile up. I don’t know that letting your ship movement get even WORSE was a good idea in a game that’s as hard to control from the beginning as this one is, but it does that. Oh well. If you do manage to warp to a starbase that isn’t under attack, though, you can fully heal all damage on the map screen. This requires keypad buttons, to select Repair and then the systems, followed by some time for the repairs, but is invaluable. So, protect those starbases! You’re done if they are all destroyed. If you blow up all enemy ships in a level, you’ll move on to a new, harder one, until eventually you lose. The game claims to be re-creating the Battle of Thermopylae in space, which makes absolutely no sense in any way other than that it’s an endless hopeless fight, but… okay. Oh, as for the voice component, it’s useful but not as central here as it is in B-17 Bomber or Bomb Squad. Voices will say things to you such as how many ships are left in enemy fleets, describe ship damage, and such, so it adds some nice flavor to the game, but this game would work without voice I’d think. Overall, Space Spartans is a fun game, but the frustrating controls really hold it back. Space Spartans is no competition for Solaris on the 2600, but it’s is an okay game. Get it if you have an IntelliVoice, but it’s probably only a bit above average overall. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Star Strike – One player. Star Strike is a simple, early rail shooter. More than just a little inspired by the original Star Wars movie, this game is essentially a game based around the Death Star trench run scene from that great classic. You fly a spaceship, flying down a trench on some artificial planet. The trench graphics are pretty cool and are this games’ main selling point. You need to bomb five ships before they take off, while avoiding fire from enemy fighters which look very much like TIE Fighters and which come up behind you and shoot at you. Separate buttons shoot and bomb. The game is extremely short and simple. Two enemy fighters come up from behind you, fire three or four times, and then zoom ahead. You can shoot them if you want more points, or let them go. Either way, pairs of fighters will keep coming at you. When an audio chime sounds, the next enemy ship is coming up, and you need to hit the bomb button… from the exact right altitude to hit it. There is no in-game indication of this, so you’ll just need to memorize how high off the ground you should be to hit it. At about the center of the screen you pretty much need to hit the bomb button right when the sound plays, which is before the port comes on screen, to hit. The timing is a lot tighter than that in the Atari Star Wars game.

As you go, your planet slowly comes into view on the top of the screen. Once it’s reached the center, if any of the ships are still alive and get past you once more it will take off and destroy your planet in the distance. That’s Game Over. If you do bomb them all, a short audio bit plays with a little animation and the game ends. So yes, this is another one of those very short 2nd-gen games that is over in minutes, either successfully or otherwise. The scoring system is simple too, the score slowly decreases over time and hitting enemy fighters increases it a bit. So, there is a maximum score. The game present some challenge, since you need to learn the height to be at when bombing, and there are five difficulty levels to make the game harder than the pretty easy default setting, but it’s a very simple game with no variety and only okay controls and gameplay. This game is average stuff; Atari’s take on it in the Star Wars arcade game, or the Parker Bros. home ports of that game on the 2600, 5200, and Colecovision, are better than this. That game has more variety, more stages than just one, and better controls and gameplay. Still, Mattel’s take on the Death Star trench run is okay enough to be worth playing a few times, before the repetition sets in. Also available on Atari 2600, with worse graphics there of course. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Tennis (for Intellivision) – Two Player Simultaneous. Two Players Required. This game is a good, but sadly two player only, take on tennis. Tennis has nice visuals with a side-view perspective, good controls, and a reasonably accurate take on Tennis for the time. Going far beyond Pong, in this game you’ll need to serve accurately and hit a button to hit the ball, it won’t automatically hit balls near your player. If you have two people who learn the game, I’m sure it would make for some exciting games, but the absence of a computer opponent means I’ll almost never be touching it, unfortunately. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Triple Action – One player (the racing game) and two player only (the tank and plane games). This three-in-one cart contains three small games, two two player only and one one player only. First, there’s another Combat knockoff, which like Armor Battle is two player only and plays a lot like Combat but once again not as good as the Atari original. The graphics are better than Combat, but it can’t match it in options, and it is still two player only. Next, there’s a pretty decent little vertically-scrolling straight-road racing game where you try to get as far as you can, scoring a point for each car you pass successfully. You move left or right to dodge oncoming cars on a two-lane road. This kind of game was popular and games like this appear on many formats, though the one I’ve played the most is probably Speedway! on Odyssey 2. I like that game more, but this is also fun. And last, there is a two player only biplane flight combat game, where you get a point for each time you shoot down the other plane or they crash. For some reason in the flying game, up on the disc makes you fly upwards and down flies you downwards, so the game doesn’t use flight controls unfortunately. I’m used to flying games having flight controls so this is confusing. You can shoot and change your speed, and have to be careful because stalling and crashing is very easy. This mode seems like it’d be fun with two people, for a few minutes here and there.

On the whole this cart is not great for one player, but the one single player game, the racing one, is kind of fun so it’s alright I guess if you get it for a really low price like I did. The other two also look decent, particularly the flying one, if you have two players. This feels like a game that should have been a pack-in with the system, but it wasn’t, and indeed it didn’t release until several years into the systems’ life. I’m not sure what the point of this was, then. There already was a Combat knockoff on the system, and the other two are pretty simple little games which are amusingly fun but hardly essential. This is another average Intellivision release. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Tron: Deadly Discs – One player. Tron Deadly Discs is one of three, yes three, Tron games that Mattel released on their console. This is the only one of the three I have, though I would like to get the other two. Tron: Solar Sailer, particularly, is interesting as it’s the fourth of the IntelliVoice games. As for Deadly Discs, though, it is inspired by the disc arena section from the film. You play as Tron, and defend free programs by defeating an endless succession of evil programs coming at you in this single-screen arena, or something like that. Or in gameplay terms, you move around the screen, which looks a bit like an arena, and try to hit the enemy programs with your disc while not taking too many hits from theirs. The concept of an action game based on the disc battle is a good one, but this game has some issues and is, unfortunately, kind of boring, particularly on lower difficulty settings. The character graphics are nice enough and the Recognizers that come on screen every so often look like they should, but I find the game boring.

The game does some interesting things for the time, though — it’s another early twin-stick game, as you move with the stick and fire with the keypad — but these controls are far from Robotron. Because, again, the Intellivision only supports one input from a controller at a time, you have to stop to fire, and then can only shoot one disc at a time, in eight directions, and have to wait quite a while for it to return to you. You can call back your disc, but Microsurgeon’s two-controller free firing feels better. Regardless though, this game is too slow to be fun for long. And not only that, but the disc will only hurt enemies on the way out, but always goes all the way to the other edge of the screen! So, after every shot, hit or miss, you’ve got to wait a long time for the disc to hit a wall or stop once you let go of the button and get all the way back to you before you can finally try to hit them again. Also, this is another Intellivision game which runs slowly. At least as far as I’ve gotten so far, everything about this game is a bit slow-moving. I’m sure it eventually gets hard, but aiming shots with the keypad is kind of frustrating because of how long you have to wait if you miss. The slow pace of the combat isn’t great. This game was also released on the Atari 2600. That version is similar but a bit worse, as shot aiming is better here and the Recognizer boss isn’t in that version. I have the 2600 version and thought it was pretty average, and unfortunately the improvements here don’t make it much better. That’s too bad, Tron is a great movie. Also released on Atari 2600.


Vectron – One or two player alternating. Vectron has a really cool name and look, but also has a reputation for inscrutably confusing controls and gameplay. And indeed, yes, well, the controls are very confusing. In this action-strategy game, you move an indicator left and right along a curving path through the screen with the lower side buttons on each side of the controller, and place things on squares you so highlight with a button on the keypad. Yes, you move the cursor with the side buttons, not the circle. Instead, pressing directions on the circle will fire in the direction you press from a cannon in the top center, to take out enemies. Your goal in the game is to build up a base and defend it, but it’s pretty hard to do and the controls are difficult. Even once I started to get a handle on them, having to press buttons on both sides is bad even by Intellivision controller standards; in most games you only need to use the buttons on one side of the controller and they are duplicated on both sides for left or right handed players, but not this one, you’ve got to use both sides, and quickly too. It’s not good.

Anyway, in Vectron, once again you move that cursor, which the game manual calls the “energy block”, building energy base sections, or orb things, in the four spaces within by shooting at the cursor and hitting it, while also shooting at enemies trying to destroy the buildings. One enemy type is invincible, so you need to shoot around it to hit the other ones trying to destroy your cursor. If you let too many base sections get destroyed or if too many enemies hit the cursor and you run out of energy, you lose a life, and three deaths and it’s Game Over. You’ll get Game Over quickly, because the game is very hard, and I often lose lives without knowing why. There aren’t any difficulty options, either, only the one too-hard one. The game seems to probably be endless, but I haven’t managed to beat a single level of the game yet so I doubt I’ll know. From what I read online, getting to level five or ten is quite an accomplishment, and I believe it. Vectron has a really cool look and interestingly original gameplay, and despite the weird controls and insane difficulty I still want to like this game. I probably will play it more, but it’s too flawed to be great, unfortunately; this is a decent game with issues. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.


Venture – One player. Venture is an arcade game from the early ’80s, originally by Exidy. The home console ports were made by Coleco, this one included. Coleco’s Intellivision games are often poor, but this is one of the better ones, as it contains all the content from the arcade and Colecovision versions of the game. Venture is a top-down action-adventure game, perhaps an early step towards action-adventure games like Zelda. You control a red smilie face with a bow, and go around finding treasures. Each of the three levels has an overworld screen, where you control a dot moving around between rooms while avoiding giant enemies, and four rooms, where you control the smilie face closer up, shooting at enemies before they can kill you and grabbing those treasures. Watch out though, touching a dead enemy will kill you, so stay away until after they finally dissolve fully! That’s a weird quirk in this game. The enemies dissolve one pixel at a time in this version, which is cool; on Colecovision they just have a ‘death’ sprite that vanishes after a while, so there is one way that this is the better version. The game plays well, though the controls feel a bit less precise here than on the 2600 or Colecovision because of the Intellivision circle, I find myself walking into walls or miss enemies sometimes because of the disc. I’m sure you get used to it eventually though.

This is a fun game for a while, as you go around each level, killing baddies and getting treasures. There are 36 treasures to collect, as between levels the game shows your treasures through the first three loops through the game. After that the game infinitely loops stage nine, which is kind of disappointing; it means you only see one of the three levels, over and over, if you’re good enough to finish the nine stages. Some classic games do things like that, but it is odd. On a related note, Venture controls well enough and plays great, but like with other games like Berzerk, it makes me wish for a goal beyond just points; I like this kind of game better when you can actually win. Unfortunately, that last level loops forever. So, Venture is fun but isn’t something I’ll be likely to play a lot of. Visually, Venture is simple looking but the look works well. It looks like the other versions, just with a bit of a visual downgrade compared to the Colecovision, as, as is expected.  It does still have music though, which is pretty cool.  It is very simple, but not many Intellivision games have background music.  I like that it contains all of the levels too, the Atari 2600 version doesn’t and Coleco usually just ported their 2600 games over to Intellivision for their games on this system. Fortunately they did better here. Arcade port, also on Colecovision and (with only two levels) on Atari 2600. The Colecovision version is best, but this is also good.


Zaxxon – One player. From Coleco, this game is a worse port of the bad Atari 2600 version of Zaxxon. Sega’s arcade version of Zaxxon was a big hit and helped popularize the isometric shooter. This Atari 2600/Intellivision version of the game isn’t isometric like the arcade game or its more accurate ports, but instead is a behind-the-ship rail shooter with poor graphics and worse gameplay. The perspective has some advantages, in theory, though. The behind-the-ship view should give you a much better ability to see where the other ships are so you can hit them more accurately, and indeed it does. It’s a lot easier to hit your target here than it is in regular Zaxxon. Unfortunately, it’s not much of an improvement and everything else about this version of the game is a lot worse than the original. The graphics are poor, with extremely blocky visuals straight out of the Atari 2600.

The gameplay is slow, even slower than the Atari version. The game is also extremely simplistic. Zaxxon is a simple game, but this one’s even simpler — you just fly through the bases, avoiding walls while shooting turret enemies on the ground, and then fly through space, shooting space fighters. Rinse and repeat once you get to the next base. The game seriously lacks challenge too, as enemies are easy to avoid or shoot. Coleco has a reputation for making shoddy Atari 2600 and Intellivision games that are far worse than their Colecovision games, and this one backs that up, that’s for sure. While the Intellivision may not be able to match Colecovision Zaxxon, I’m sure it can do a lot better than this boring, ugly, slow, not fun game. Skip this one. The original Zaxxon arcade game has been released on a great many platforms, but this particular behind-the-ship version is only on the Atari 2600 and Intellivision. They are both bad, but the 2600 version is probably slightly better thanks to it playing a little more quickly. Play almost any version of real Zaxxon instead of this.

 

And that is all the games I have so far.  Games I have seen for Intellivision but not purchased: Several more of the two player only sports games (Football, Basketball, Soccer), and two more Coleco games (Donkey Kong, Carnival).  I got everything at all interesting.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
This entry was posted in Classic Games, Game Opinion Summaries, Intellivision, Reviews, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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