Console Opinion Summaries For My Systems – Introduction, Table of Contents, and the First and Second Generations

Yes, it’s something new again and not what I was talking about. Well, I think this is more interesting than discussing a bunch of sports games and such. I will get to that, but first, this is something I’ve been thinking about here and there for a long time but never made. Yes, it is like a Game Opinion Summaries list, but for all the consoles I own. I’ve got a fairly sizable collection now!

When it comes to computers I will discuss them in brief, but I cannot cover the breadth of the PC’s history and library here, so I won’t try. I chose “Console Opinion Summaries” for a reason; I love PC gaming a whole lot, but that would be a topic beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say, the PC is the best gaming platform and always has been my favorite. Comparing that to consoles, which each have a limited life, is not entirely fair. I could compare each operating system or such, but instead I’ll just mention the PC very briefly and mostly focus on the consoles I own in this list, and the one classic computer I have as well since I exclusively use it for games.

Format: My plan is to put one console generation in each article. This first one includes the second generation, the earliest one I have systems for, plus a bit about the time before that. Each article begins with a section discussing that generation of consoles, before breaking down into summaries covering each platform. Each platform summary has four parts: first a paragraph saying who made the console, when it was released, and how long it was supported for, and then sections for the systems’ history, design, and game library.


Table of Contents For This Series

 

Please note: for the dates listed below, the first date is the system’s first release year anywhere in the world. The second date in parenthesis, if present, is the release year in North America, where I live if it is different from the first year.

An addon is a platform which attaches to a previously released console, increasing its hardware abilities. If a system is an addon I note that below. Addons are currently listed with the generation that their base platform released in, though I could see changing this at some point in the future; it is debatable.

First Generation Overview
(none)

Second Generation Overview
Atari 2600, 2600 1977
Odyssey2 / Videopac, O2 1978
Texas Instruments TI-99/4 & TI-99/4A 1979 (1981 for the TI99/4A model; the original, rarer, TI99 model released in ’79.)
Mattel Intellivision, INTV 1979 test market, 1980 wide release
Game & Watch 1980
PC 1981
Overall Generation Ranking

Third Generation (in a separate article on this site)
Third Generation Overview
Colecovision, CVIS – 1982
Atari 5200, 5200 – 1982
NES (Famicom) – 1983 (1985 US)
Atari 7800, 7800 – 1984 (1986 full release)
Sega Master System, SMS – 1985 (1986 US)
Overall Generation Ranking

Fourth Generation (in a separate article on this site)
Fourth Generation Overview
TurboGrafx-16, TG16 – 1987 (1989)
Genesis, Gen – 1988 (1989)
TurboGrafx-CD, TCD – 1988 (1989) (TurboGrafx-16 addon)
Game Boy, GB – 1989
Phillips CD-i, CDI – 1991 US (1992 JP/EU)
Game Gear, GG – 1990 (1991)
Super NES, SNES – 1990 (1991)
Sega CD, SCD – 1991 (1992) (Sega Genesis addon)
Sega 32X, 32X and Sega 32X CD, 32X CD – 1994 (Sega Genesis addon)
Fourth Generation Consoles Ranking

The rest below is so far to be written.

Fifth Generation
Atari Jaguar, JAG 1993
3DO 1993
PlayStation, PSX, PS1 1994 (1995)
Saturn, SS 1994 (1995)
R-Zone 1995
Virtual Boy, VB 1995
Atari Jaguar CD, JCD 1995 (Atari Jaguar addon)
Nintendo 64 1996
Game Boy Color 1998
Neo Geo Pocket & Neo Geo Pocket Color 1998 (1999 for the Neo Geo Pocket Color model that I have)
Wonderswan, WS 1999
Nintendo 64DD, N64DD 1999

Sixth Generation
Dreamcast, DC 1998 (1999)
PlayStation 2, PS2 2000
Wonderswan Color, WSC 2000
Xbox 2001
Game Boy Advance, GBA 2001
GameCube, GCN 2001

Seventh Generation
N-Gage, NNG 2003
Nintendo DS, NDS 2004
Xbox 360 2005
PSP 2004 (2005)
Wii 2006
PlayStation 3 2006
[Nintendo DSi, NDSi – DD (DSiWare) 2008]

Eighth Generation
Nintendo 3DS + 3DS DD (eShop) Combined Total 2011
PlayStation Vita 2011 (2012)
Wii U 2012
Xbox One, XONE 2013
Nintendo Switch, NS 2017 (provisional placement in 8th gen)

So, here is the section in this article.

Table of Contents for this Article

 

First Generation Overview
(no systems)
Second Generation Overview
Atari 2600, 2600 1977
Odyssey2 / Videopac, O2 1978
Texas Instruments TI-99/4 & TI-99/4A 1979 (1981 for the TI99/4A model; the original, rarer, TI99 model released in ’79.)
Mattel Intellivision, INTV 1979 test market, 1980 wide release
Game & Watch 1980
PC 1981
Overall Generation Ranking

 

First Generation Overview

 

The first generation of game consoles started in 1972 with the release of the Magnavox Odyssey, and consisted of the Odyssey 1, designed by engineer Ralph Baer, and later on numerous home Pong systems and Pong clones from many manufacturers, based on Atari’s breakout hit arcade game Pong. I have seen a few home Pongs for sale in stores, but have never used one myself; I was born in the early 1980s, but my first gaming experiences were in arcades and on the PC and NES, not first or second generation consoles. Perhaps oddly, growing up I did not know anyone with any console older than a NES, so while I knew of Pong and the second generation consoles, I had not used them myself until the ’00s. So while I have read about these systems I’ve never used one so it will not have a large section here. Determining the origins of electronic gaming is a quite interesting endeavor, look it up. But while there is history in this article, retelling game history isn’t my focus here, covering platforms I actually have experienced is, so I will move on. Someday I probably will get some home Pongs, it might be neat to have.


 

Second Generation Overview

Continuing from the above, when I did go back in the ’00s to try Atari games, first in emulated re-releases and then more recently when I started collecting the actual consoles, I found them interesting. At their best, second generation games are simple and repetitive but fun experiences. These are not games I often play for hours, but that’s fine; having very fun games you can play for a few minutes before moving on to something else has a place too, without question. When these games start getting more complex I think they often struggle, but the simpler games dominate and many of them are good.

The second generation started in 1976. At first sales were slow, but they picked up in 1980 after the release of Space Invaders. 1982 and 1983 particularly saw a massive growth of software and hardware, as the industry boomed both in arcades and at home. It was not sustainable, however, and the American console and arcade industries crashed in the famous Video Game Crash of 1984. Computer gaming grew during this period, but while growing, computer sales were far lower than console sales had been; many people simply stopped playing games for some years. The crash had multiple causes, including that there was no licensing system for console games yet so third party game publishers did not pay first party console owners anything and that quality control got very low in 1982-1983, causing a massive glut of very similar, and often low quality, games. Perhaps some people were tiring of the kinds of games available as well, and others moved over to computers, as the Commodore 64, particularly, released in 1983 and was a big hit in the mid ’80s selling millions of systems. At this point many manufacturers thought that computer-console hybrids were the future, and almost everyone tried making them. Most failed.

During the crash most hardware and software publishers folded, and most consoles went out of production, but after it, as home console gaming recovered in 1986, several of the more popular pre-crash consoles came back. This gave the Atari 2600 new life, particularly, and the Intellivision as well. Overall, this is an interesting era in gaming. A lot of people today ignore everything before the NES, deeming the games too simple to be worth their time, but I don’t agree at all; sure, as I said, yes, pre-crash games are simple, but they are often great fun! Seeing the origins of the industry are interesting as well, as people tried things, not knowing if they would work or not, because there was no textbook for how to make a console or a game; you just had to make things and see if it worked. It can be fascinating stuff.

Here, I should put a note — while most online lists consider the new consoles of 1982 to be part of the second generation, as per my article on this site years ago I disagree, and I’m sticking to that. So, the Atari 5200 and Colecovision, despite being pre-crash systems, will be covered in the third generation article. The Intellivision is really an in-between system, but as it released closer to the Atari 2600 than it did the Colecovision — the Intellivision test market was two years after the Atari 2600 and two and a half before the Colecovision — I’m leaving that in the second gen. It’s kind of a judgment call but I think it makes sense.

Despite that, many consoles released in the second generation. I have the most popular ones, including three consoles and one, kind of two, computer platforms. I have written articles on my site before covering games from all of these platforms except for the Game & Watch, but now I’ll discuss them again, focusing on the systems in general this time instead of the specific games.


Atari 2600

Release and Sales Info: Release and Sales Info: From Atari, released 1977; discontinued 1992; final game release 1990 (1992 in Europe). Additionally there are a very large number of unlicensed modern homebrew games released for the 2600, starting in the later ’90s. 30 million systems sold, not including modern clone systems. I purchased one in 2013. I remember seeing the 2600 during its later life, but never actually played one until I bought it.

History: I covered a fair amount of Atari history in the second generation overview above, but to summarize, the Atari 2600, originally called the Atari Video Computer System or VCS, was the first hit video game console. It was not the first console with interchangeable game cartridges with ROM chips on them, that was the Fairchild Channel F, but it brought the game console into American homes in a way that would not happen again until the NES. In the US the Atari 2600 outsold all other consoles before the NES by at least ten to one, so they dominated the industry. As I said earlier, its first years were slower. There were no third-party games at all in the ’70s, and first party software ramped up in volume over time. Again, the boom years of ’82 and ’83 provide a large percentage of the overall Atari 2600 library.

As for its hardware, the Atari 260was designed for simple games like Pong and Combat. It can draw blocky background graphics, two “paddle” objects, a “ball” object, and a “missile” object. And that is it. It draws a line at a time, from the top of the screen down, matching a CRT TV’s electron gun. This extremely simple hardware is seen in the earlier 2600 games. Developers eventually realized that the system was actually very highly customizable, however. Using clever programming tricks, changing what the system is drawing on a per-line basis, and such, Atari programmers did feats seemingly impossible compared to early titles like Combat. These games that push the hardware often do have very large amounts of flicker, which is at times pretty distracting, but still this system was the first console that allowed for such variable outcomes in results based on how good, and knowledgeable, the programmer working on the game was. Games like Solaris seriously impress. The Atari 2600 allows for add-on processors on cartridges, as well, so games can put additional chips on the cart. Few titles from its original life do, but many modern homebrew games use powerful co-processors to allow for significantly better graphics than stock hardware can do.

But to return to the system’s history, after that peak came a hard fall. In 1983 came the crash, a rapid decline, the sale of Atari from Warner to Jack Tramiel, and the unique situation of a system going away for over a year — there were no first party games and only one third party 2600 release in 1985 — and then suddenly returning afterwards for a second life as a lower-priced system with a steady stream of new games. The late-era 2600 games often are pretty interesting, and provide some of the system’s better titles. The system continued to sell, too, so many are not hard to find. Atari finally stopped making games for the 2600 in 1990, and that was its last year of support here in the US. A couple of final third party games released in Europe in 1992, and at the beginning of that same year Atari officially discontinued the platform. It is still an extremely influential system that any gamer should try.

Aesthetics and Design: The original Atari 2600 has an iconic look, with a ridged, fake woodgrain top and the cartridge at an angle at the back, label facing away from you. In fact, the cartridge ports are on the back of the system, and controller cables are extremely short in all of these pre-crash consoles so you will need the system very close to where you are sitting. The backwards cartridges are unfortunate, many of these games have nice artwork on the carts you can’t look at while playing. Additionally, the 2600 has switches on the console itself you will need to use during play, to select which game mode you want to play, to start and restart games, set the difficulty, and more. Some games require using the switches during play as well, for options menus and such. You cannot pause a game in progress, though; that would be a later innovation. These early consoles were intended to sit on the floor, but if, like most collectors today, you don’t want to do that you will either need a setup which allows you to sit close to the system, as I kind of have, or will need to take it out when using it. This is an inconvenient issue with all of these consoles and it is worth mentioning. My solution is to have a small multi-shelf unit near the chairs in the room for the consoles that need to be close to the seats, and that works for me.

Anyway, the Atari 2600 looks okay and the look is definitely memorable, but I’ve always thought it looks kind of bland. Of the pre-crash consoles this is definitely not one of the better looking ones in my book. It’s far from the worst, but is average looking at best. I know some people love this design, but I’m just not a big fan. The controllers have a stiff joystick which barely moves and one button. They are okay once you get used to how little that stick moves, but like many people I would recommend using a Sega Genesis controller instead — they are fully compatible with the 2600 and I like the feel much more. In addition to its regular controller the 2600 has several alternate controllers, among which I have the paddle controllers, driving controller, keypad, and kids’ controller. The paddle controllers are the most important, as they are fantastic and many of the games that require them are among the system’s best.

Game Library: As befitting it success, of the pre-crash consoles the Atari 2600 has by far the most games. With hundreds of games releasing during its 14-year active life in the US and numerous homebrew games from fans releasing in the decades since, the Atari 2600 has by far the largest and, by most metrics, best library of the pre-crash consoles. I like the 2600 and its games, but despite its massive numerical advantage this system is not my favorite second-gen console. Still, it is a quite good one. The system’s shooters are particularly good, but racing games and maze games also stand out. Those were some of the top genres of the time and the 2600 has great games in all of them. And again those games for the paddle controllers are really cool, the paddles are great. I love the driving controller too, it’s a real shame that only one game was made for it. The 2600 has fantastic variety across many genres and types of games. I do find the simpler ones often hold up better than games that try for more complexity than the system can easily handle, but some games pull off impressively complex designs well so this varies. This is a very under-rated system today, give it a try.


Odyssey2 / Videopac, O2

Release and Sales Info – From Magnavox, later Philips-Magnavox, or Philips in Europe. Released 1978 (late 1978 in Europe, perhaps early 1979 in the US, later Japan), discontinued 1983, final game release that same year, though Europe did get an enhanced followup system, the Videopac+, that lasted into early 1984. In the last few decades homebrew developers have brought this system back to life. 2 million sold, probably about a million each in the US and Europe. I purchased one in 2012.

History The strange and fascinating Odyssey2 released the year after the Atari 2600. Ralph Baer’s first Odyssey, the system which invented the concept of playing electronic games on your home television, released in 1972 and only could play the games built in to it, modifiable a bit by jumper cards. Baer designed it for the company he worked for, Sanders & Associates, and it was manufactured and sold by then-major American home TV manufacturer Magnavox. It sold some, but Atari’s Pong and home Pongs ended up outselling it. In 1974, European electronics giant Phillips bought Magnavox, but they continued using the Magnavox name in the US for years. Several years later the company decided to release another console, and designed a new system in-house. The Odyssey 2 is, like the Atari 2600 and Channel F before it, a console with programmable ROM carts. The O2 has some odd design decisions, as I will get into later, but it was groundbreaking in at least one sense — the O2 is the first video game console with an Intel CPU. The O2 never succeeded at competing with Atari on an even level but did do okay, far behind Atari but in the upper tier of the other systems.

Despite this, the O2 did not sell enough for third parties to want to make many games for it in the games boom of ’82-’83, so the O2 has very few third party games. Additionally, Magnavox was cheap and put little money into game development, so only a few people made most of the games during its original life. This leads to many games having similar feels, and probably contributed to unique touches such as the O2 staple of games which have only one life — when you die the game is over, you can type your name in on the keyboard on the console, and start over. Of course none of those names will be saved, but it can be amusing anyway. This style takes getting used to but I think it works great. Additionally, most O2 games are original titles; Magnavox only ever licensed one single arcade game for porting to the O2, presumably partially because Atari dominated in getting those contracts but also probably in order to save money, for Coleco showed that an aggressive company could get arcade rights if they wanted. No O2 game has ever been legally re-released and the system’s great, surprisingly comfortable joystick with eight little notches you can lock the stick in and a single button is not quite the same as anything else, so there is definitely reason to want to collect for this console. The O2 does not have a reprogrammable flash cart, either — if you want to play all the games on real hardware you will need at least some real carts, there is a cart with all of Magnavox’s games but the many modern homebrew releases require actual carts. And yes, the O2 has a small but active homebrew community, releasing games on real carts for the system to this day.

However, the O2 has a somewhat strange design. Most notably, unlike the Atari or most other consoles, you cannot just draw an image to the screen and have the O2 draw it. Instead, the O2 can only display a couple of custom sprites, more characters from the systems’ limited, built-in graphics set, and an either solid or grid background about 9 blocks wide and 8 high. So, while the O2 runs in as high or higher a screen resolution than the 2600, it may be hard to tell when you look at the giant blocks in games like Breakout!/Brickdown! in comparison to Breakout on the 2600, or the much less impressive city of O2 Atlantis. Also unlike the Atari, the system can do what it can do, and can’t do what it can’t; there is no “Racing the Beam” here. On the Odyssey2, very much unlike the Atari, sprites will never flicker and there is never slowdown… but you also will never see anything as impressive as 2600 Solaris or Moonraker. I find the O2 graphical style charming and the speed and fluidity of the games makes them play well, but it has its positives and negatives for sure. Aurally, the system’s speaker produces less varied sound than the Atari as well, though the The Voice addon’s speech synthesizer is really cool in the games that support it.

Aesthetics and Design: The games themselves may be an acquired taste, but few will deny how amazing North American Odyssey2 box-art and copy writing is! Indeed, if you’re collecting North American O2 games, the O2 is one of those few consoles where you will want to try to collect every game complete in box if possible, because the box art is just incredible late ’70s to early ’80s stuff. With flying laser-lines, neon, ‘flying’ images, and more, it looks like a vision of the future, ’70s/early ’80s style and it’s amazing. O2 games probably have my overall favorite box art of any console’s boxes. Unfortunately the European boxes are much less impressive, but still, those American boxes are quite something. The system itself is nice looking too. It’s not amazing looking, but with a silvery color and decently nicely shaped design, the O2 is a good-looking piece of electronics. Unfortunately most system have hard-wired controllers, but I have found the controllers extremely reliable and durable so this is rarely an issue. The consoles themselves seem to be very well built as well. Mine does have an issue with the power port, but that’s easily fixed and the system still works fine. And looking online, you see much less complaining about broken O2s than other contemporary consoles, so I think Magnavox must have put good attention into their build quality. The carts are good too. They have handles on the top for easy carrying, and a spring-backed metal piece covering the pins at the bottom, to help keep the carts clean. It does seem to help. Overall, with a good-looking console, a controller that is far more comfortable than it looks, good reliability, and some of the best box art ever the O2 does very well in this category.

Game Library: I discussed the O2’s hardware limitations above, but within those limitations developers made some impressive games on the O2. Where Atari tried to directly convert arcade games, most Magnavox titles may have been inspired by those arcade games but take a unique and sometimes great spin on the title. I find either K.C. Munchkin title to be a better maze game than any game in the genre on the 2600 and some of the best games of the generation as well; UFO! is maybe my overall favorite second-gen videogame; and the very interesting Quest for the Rings is both flawed and amazing at the same time, as my review from several years ago details. The O2’s library may be small and limited, but the fast and fluid gameplay and unique design elements that work make this system great. Oh, and that one arcade port, Turtles? It’s amazing as well, and should be a classic. That 2600 graphics are so much more customizable and that the system has so dramatically more games — probably at least ten times more than the O2 does — makes a good case for that system being better, but when it comes down to it, I’d probably rather play O2 on average than 2600, so I like it more. This is obviously a purely subjective choice, but regardless, the Odyssey2 is an interesting system well worth a look. And again, almost every single game, both original and homebrew, is a true exclusive to the O2 you can’t play anywhere else! That’s rare, for a system that sold as decently as this one.


Texas Instruments TI-99/4 & TI-99/4A

Release and Sales Info From Texas Instruments. This is a home computer, not a console. The first model, the TI 99/4, released in 1979, and the second, the TI 99/4A that I have, released in 1981; discontinued 1983, though homebrew developers have kept it alive. Sales – unclear? The TI99/4A did sell far better than the first model though, TI99/4 systems are uncommon. I got one in 2014.

History: Texas Instruments invented the integrated circuit that makes complex electronic devices like game consoles possible. Over the decades, they have been extremely successful as a chipmaker, but on the consumer side their only lasting success has been their line of graphing calculators. Their one attempt at a consumer home computer was this one, the TI 99/4 and TI 99/4A line which lasted from 1979 to 1984. Never particularly successful, the system was discontinued during the video game crash because, primarily, Commodore’s Vic-20 computer beat the TI99/4A on everything – price, features, and software. TI tried to match Commodore’s rock-bottom pricing, but all that led to was money losses, until TI cut its losses and got out.

The system’s graphics and audio chips are extremely influential, however. The audio chip in the TI99/4A would be used in many consoles over the decades, including the Colecovision, Sega SG-1000, Sega Master System, and more. The Colecovision and SG-1000 uses the same TI video chip from the TI99 as well, and the Master System and Sega Genesis use chips which are backwards compatible with it. None of those systems use TI’s CPU that is the core of the TI99, but in terms of its graphical and aural look, the TI99 has a style very reminiscent of the Colecovision, with sprites on drawn backgrounds. It’s a quite different look from the all-pixel style of Atari systems of the time. The graphics have aged reasonably well, though that audio chip’s never been great. The few games with speech synthesizer support, if you have that addon as I do, are much better though; that speech in Parsec and Alpiner and such is pretty cool.

In terms of software, the TI stands out among computers of its day in that TI mostly focused on cartridge-based software, and not tape or floppy disk. This is good for durability, because TI99 programs often still work, since a lot of them are on carts. Just try that with your old tapes for other computers! TI locked down the cart port though, so until it was cracked in much more recent years, only first-party software released on cart. This resulted in the TI99 having far less software than most computers, which isn’t great; that makes this computer feel like more of a console, in that first party software dominates in a way rare on computers. The TI99 does have tape and floppy disk addons and most third-party software is for those, but a lot of people never bought either. The tape drive is common enough, but the large floppy disk addon box is not.

Aesthetics and Design: The TI99/4 and 4A have three different models. First, the TI99/4, available for the first two years of the system’s life, sold poorly and is rare. I’ve never seen one, and they don’t appear too often online on auction either. The improved 4A model from ’81 sold much better, and are common and easy enough to find. This model comes in two revisions. The first is black and silver, with a cool silver metal look that has aged very well. The second is beige, very similar to the first in most ways but just plastic and not metal, and thanks to the color change looking more like most any ’80s or ’90s computer. Cartridges plug in flat on the right side of the system, which works well. There is also a side addon port, for the speech synthesizer addon, connection to the homebrew addons or the expansion box for floppy drives, and such. The tape drive plugs into a different port on the box. Annoyingly, none of the ports are labeled, so you’ll just need to remember which one is the controller port and such. Also, try to find a system with the original, magnetic key-combination things that go above the keyboard, you need these to remember what to press to do things games will tell you like “press Redo to try again” or such. There is no “Redo” key, you need to press the right button combination. That’s fine once you have one though, and I like that they are magnetic. On the whole the TI99 looks pretty nice.

Unfortunately, in terms of durability and control the TI99 fares much worse. Indeed, these systems have all kinds of problems. Their keyboards are infamous for failing, and since they are built in to the system this is difficult to fix. The graphics and RAM chips also often fail, and replacing RAM chips is definitely not easy either. The official gamepads are no good either, so get an adapter to use Atari controllers instead. Yes, even though the system has a 9-pin port for controllers on it you can’t just plug a 2600 controller in, you need an adapter. Games can all be played on the keyboard too, but there the often-stiff controls on TI99 games are probably even worse. For various reasons, some of them the computers’ fault and some of them my own, I have gone through three of these systems, and while my current one mostly works perfectly, it probably has a video chip issue so I’m stuck with having to use only RF output, which is not ideal. So for me at least reliability is questionable.

Game Library: As far as that software goes, for games TI published a mixture of ports of some titles from other platforms and original titles, some of which are heavily inspired by popular arcade games and others are original, along with a lot of educational software and computer programs for writing and such. I find TI’s software library quality mixed; this system is fine, but I don’t love it, as I said in my Game Opinion Summaries list for the system several years ago. I have a few more games for the system now, but my general opinion is similar. The TI99 has some fans, though, and there is a small homebrew community for the system to this day. It has flashcarts, homebrew addons to give it more RAM, recent homebrew releases, and more. That adds a lot to this system that the original library doesn’t have. As for non-gaming applications, most of those from computers this old are probably only of historical interest, nobody is going to be seriously using TI99 Home Financial Decisions today. The many educational games can be amusing, however. Early Learning Fun’s amusing stuff. Hangman is alright too, provided that you have a working keyboard. But on the whole, while the TI99 is interesting and historically important for being the origin of those graphic and sound chips Coleco and then Sega would use for years, I find the controls stiff and hard to use and the games often flawed.


Mattel Intellivision, INTV

Release and Sales Info – From Mattel. Test marketed in 1979, released nationally in 1980. 3 million sold. There is a small homebrew community for this console now, with a flash cart or standalone games. I got one in 2019.

History: The toy company Mattel released a console to compete with the Atari. The Intellivision released in test markets in late 1979, then in 1980 it released nationwide. The Intellivision was the second-best selling pre-crash videogame console, though with only 10% of the Atari 2600’s sales this is not as big of a deal as it may sound. Mattel gave up on gaming at the end of 1983 thanks to the videogame crash, but a group of former employees bought the rights to the system and re-released it in 1985 in Europe and 1986 in the US. This re-release brought new games out for the system until ’89, when it finally faded out. This makes the Intellivision the second-longest-lasting console of its generation, after the 2600, not including modern homebrew of course.

Sort of like the Odyssey 2 above, Mattel mostly made their own software, with a largely original game library supplimented with a few Data East ports and some third-party software. The quality of these games is argued about, but regardless the system has a reasonably good-sized library, and has homebrew support today as well.

The Intellivision is technically a 16-bit console, and while I am counting it as second generation, it really shows that this console released both two years after the Atari 2600, and two and a half years before the Colecovision — it is in between in power for sure. Against the Atari, Intellivision clearly has better graphics, a point they marketed fairly heavily particularly for its sports games. Instead of blocks, the Intellivision has identifiable objects. Despite its only moderate success, the Intellivision had a significant impact on the industry, and after its release most controllers for new systems were clearly Intellivision-inspired until the Famicom/NES changed the industry. Like most people I find the controller horribly uncomfortable and have never liked side action buttons, but people clearly saw something in it because seriously almost every console in ’82 and ’83 had controllers very much like this one.

Aesthetics and Design: There are four models of Intellivisions, the first one, the Sears model, the smaller and much more ’80s looking second model, and the Intv System III, the ’86 model, which is like the first model but in a different color. I have the Sears Super Video Arcade, and while I may have serious questions about the Intellivision software library, as I said in my recent Game Opinion Summaries list for the system, I love the look of this system! Indeed, the Super Video Arcade is probably one of the best-looking consoles I own. The flat top of the system looks cool, the buttons are great, and the lines of the system are both classic and still nice looking. Of all the system with ridged surfaces on them this is probably my favorite. The system is surprisingly heavy, but that is because it has an internal power supply, and not a brick like other consoles. This makes it easy to plug in, it’s just a regular plug.

Do know that you will need access to the right side of the console, though — carts plug in on the side, in order to keep that flat-top look, and you’ll need to hold the console firmly while pressing carts in or else they won’t insert far enough for the system to read them. This is where top-loading cart ports are more convenient, but oh well. Oh, like the Atari you do need to be near the system thanks to the very short controller cords. The 1 and 3 have hardwired controllers, too. With the Sears and the Intellivision II you could use controller extension cables, since they use 9-pin ports, but it would look a lot uglier without the controllers on the top.

Oh, and as for that controller, again, it is impressively uncomfortable. The plastic edge around the control ring is painful; the side buttons are tiny and feel bad; and it has awful ergonomics. However, I will at least say that at least for me both controllers work perfectly, which is more than I can say for the later Colecovision or Atari 5200. This system has no alternate controllers of note either, because most of the systems have hardwired pads.

Game Library: The Intellivision has a decent-sized game library with a fair amount of third-party software and quite a few games from Mattel and the later Intellivision group. However, a lot of the games run very slowly, as their tools limited games to 20fps, and even somewhat as not-framerate-concious as me definitely notices it. Intellivision games can run well, as a few games show, but most struggle. And thanks to that controller, the controls are often not great either. The controller has a lot of buttons on it, so games are able to be much more complex than they are on the one-button Atari and games make use of that. However, while back then this was a selling point, looking back I think that simpler works better most of the time for games from this era so I don’t think it makes the games here better. I do like some Intellivision games though, and the system is maybe worth owning if you like games from this era since the system and its games are very cheap. There are re-release collections of Intellivision games, but because of the nature of the controller they many won’t play quite right, and some games are still exclusive.


Game & Watch

Release and Sales Info – From Nintendo. The first Game & Watch released in 1980, and they released until 1991. 43.4 million of them were sold.  The one I have we got back around 1990 or so, probably. This is a standalone system and not actually a console but I’m putting it here anyway.

History: Including this in this list is a bit questionable, because the Game & Watch is not a game console. Instead, it is a line of stand-alone handheld LCD games. Each one plays only one game. For no good reason, I count my one Game & Watch that I got as a kid in my games list, but don’t have the other few handheld LCD games I still have listed here, including my Micro Games of America Pac-Man, which is pretty good, and a broken “Football” game I got in Europe in the early ’90s but still have. The other handheld LCD game I remember getting was Tiger Electronics’ Baseball.

Anyway, Game & Watch systems are small rectangular LCD handheld games. In addition to playing only one game each, they do not have fully programmable screens, but instead like all systems of this they can only light up parts of the screen. It works, but means the games are simple. Many handheld games like this, including most Tiger titles, were infamously bad, but Game & Watches are fairly high quality. As the name suggests, each one has a clock on it as well. You cannot turn off a G&W while the batteries are in the system, though; it stays on to keep the clock going all the time. So probably don’t leave batteries in them when not using them.

After selling very well for years, the Game & Watch was discontinued in 1991 in favor of the Game Boy. Other handheld LCD games, such as those from Tiger, would continue selling through the mid ’90s, but faded out after that in favor of handheld consoles. I think the G&Ws work well, but much prefer the more dynamic control and gameplay of handheld games and have rarely gone back to my one G&W, 1981’s Octopus. It is a very simple game in the way of most games from the day and can be fun, but is too repetitious to be as good as better home console games of the time.

Aesthetics and Design: The Game & Watch line have classic, and very good looking, design stylings. They look great, with iconic, simple designs. The gulf in design between these and your average handheld LCD game is large indeed.

Game Library: As stated above, Game & Watches play one game each, so they aren’t consoles. They are handheld LCD games and do not have fully programmable screens, so gameplay is simple. Nintendo did a good job of making their games the good kind of simple, though, unlike Tiger. The one Game & Watch I have, Octopus again, is very simple but challenging and addictive. I don’t like handheld LCD games anywhere near as much as real consoles so I am not a G&W collector, but they are good.


PC

Release and Sales Info – Originally from IBM, and now by many companies running Microsoft operating systems and Intel x86-compatible CPUs, and first made in 1981. They are ubiquitous worldwide.  Our family first got a PC in early 1992 and I have used or owned a succession of PCs ever since.

The IBM PC first released in 1981, a computer platform from the largest tech company both then and now, IBM, running on Microsoft DOS and with Intel x86 architecture. IBM may not be as prominent now as they once were, but still are the largest in terms of number of employees, at least. The IBM PC started out as a business machine, the cheaper and smaller desktop companion for your company or school’s IBM mainframe computer. In the decades since, the PC has become separated from IBM, and instead is defined by the combination of Microsoft opserating systems and Intel CPUs, the OS and CPU vendors IBM chose back in 1981. Initially in few homes, the IBM PC became the leading computer platform in the US by the mid ’80s and was the leading computer gaming platform as well by the later ’80s. In Europe and Japan it took much longer for the PC to be the winning computer gaming platform, but in the US, once the Commodore 64 faded, the PC fairly handily won out. Once 16-color EGA graphics and Adlib sound cards released in the mid to later ’80s, PC games could start to compete visually as well; before that, 4-color CGA with one-tone beeper PC Speaker audio was pretty limiting. Some kinds of games work great with those limitations, but many others do not. By the early ’90s, it was clear — the PC was the most powerful home gaming platform in terms of visuals and not only games. The release of the first 3d accelerators a few years later cemented that even further. The PC has a history and back catalog unmatched in the industry.

The PC isn’t just the first gaming platform I had at home, it is, as we got a 20Mhz 386 PC in early 1992. As I said at the top, the PC is unquestionably my pick for the best gaming platform ever. There is one caveat to this, though: backwards compatibility on PCs can be difficult. While it is a single platform, it is a platform which has changed over time, and older games and software may not easily work on a newer machine. The PC has changed over the years, and native backwards compatibility on the PC, with Windows 10 as the current operating system, goes back about to the mid ’90s — Windows 9x games or newer may work, while DOS and Windows 3.1 or earlier games do not without emulation. However, those emulators, most notably DOSBox, are easy to find, so playing DOS games on a modern PC is easy. Windows 3.1 games can be tricky, depending on how well they run in a Windows 3.1 install in DOSBox on your machine, but are quite doable. Where the major problem lies is in Windows 9x games — games for Windows 95, 98, and Millenium, along with some Windows XP games, from the mid ’90s to mid ’00s. These games are new enough to use things like DirectX or graphics card drivers which change over time, so some games break as drivers update over the years, depending on which parts of the older driver they rely on. Sometimes fan patches fix these issues, but other times they do not. Additionally, modern 64-bit versions of Windows cannot run 16-bit applications, which means Windows 3.1 software, or 16-bit Windows 9x software, cannot run. This can be quite frustrating at times; there are ways around it, including DOSBox or other emulator installs or a Virtual Machine if you can get one running well, but none are as good as just running those games natively on a 16-bit or 32-bit operating system.

That is all to say, while the PC has the most amazing library ever, one computer will almost certainly not run every game.  Yes, the one real negative about the PC is its greatest strength, that long back catalog. Instead, a modern PC will run any modern game, and most games from the last fifteen years, plus games that work correctly in DOSBox and/or have had a modern re-release. That is more than enough for most gamers, but for someone like me, this means you are sure to need multiple computers. At minimum, one older, DOS or Windows 9x-based machine is a necessity, and I have one. There are some games that do not run well in either machine, but at least between my PCs I can run most games… though there are those frustrating ones I just never can manage to get running correctly on any machine, such as Recoil. Bah. Oh well.

What makes this worse is that computers and drivers will continue to change, so the current incompatibilities are surely a rolling issue; at some point lots more games will break. I hope emulation or virtual machine authors can fix those issues, though it will get more and more difficult over time, as we deal with trying to make mostly-online games working again. Many games will surely be impossible to play in the future, which is sad. The classics will always be playable though, so there’s one plus for classic games over a lot of the modern ones! Unfortunately I like both modern and classic games though, so… oh well. Anyway, regardless of these issues the PC is the best for sure.

 

Second Generation Consoles Ranking:

1. Odyssey 2 – While having the most games matters, what I have always cared about the most is not only having many games, but the games I most want to play and like the best. And in that there isn’t much contest, I have the most fun, and like the games best, on the O2. Its library may be small but the system is incredibly charming and has some great games.

2. Atari 2600 – With an absolutely massive library of original and homebrew titles, the 2600 should have a place in any classic gamers’ collection. Many games have aged well, for anyone with any interest in simple, arcadey games.

(TI 99/4A would probably go here)

3. Intellivision – The Intellivision is harder to recommend for me to those without nostalgia for the system from its heyday, but it does still have some good games, and interesting homebrew titles as well.

4. Game & Watch – The Game & Watch is good tech

If we also include computers, the TI 99/4A it would probably go in third. It’s an interesting but flawed machine with some good games and some that just do not make much sense, and stiffer controls in lots of titles than I would like. I could see putting it below the Intellivision, but for its much better controller options and maybe also better overall games I think it finishes ahead.

As for the PC, it would of course go in first overall, but if we look only at PC software available in the early to mid ’80s I am not sure; I have played few PC games that old. I can say I love 1984’s Castle Adventure, though, and the Zork trilogy are great. But it’s hard to judge without my having much experience of PCs that early.

(The other major computer platform from this era that I have experience with is the Apple II, which I used a lot in school back in elementary school and junior high. We never had one at home, but I have good memories of some of its games for sure… but again, it’s hard to rank without much of any modern experience with the system.)

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
This entry was posted in Articles, Atari 2600, Classic Games, Game & Watch, Game Opinion Summaries, Intellivision, Odyssey 2, Reviews, TI 99/4A and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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