Console of the Month (September 2017) – Mattel Intellivision

By 1979, Atari had proved that there was a market for home video game consoles beyond Pong & Pong clones. It was only a matter of time before formidable competition with ample marketing and development resources would enter the home gaming market to challenge Atari’s stranglehold. Enter Mattel Electronics, the electronic hand held game creating division of Mattel Creations. Mattel was one of, if not THE biggest toy company in the world by the late 1970’s thanks to such iconic toys such as Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars. Their handheld games had proven successful for the fledgling electronics division so a home console seemed like the logical next step. Test marketed in 1979 and released nationwide in 1980, the Intellivision (a combination of the words intelligent-television) was intended to dethrone the early market leader, the Atari VCS. While sales were never quite able to outperform the system that came out first and owned most of the arcade licenses at the time, the Intellivision still sold a respectable number of consoles and released a number of high quality games. Mattel’s marketing campaign relied heavily on side-by-side comparison ads showing their graphical superiority to many of Atari’s early titles. This was a fairly successful campaign and it helped justify the Intellivision’s higher price point.

The original Intellivision console design had a very 70s appearance with it’s faux wood grain & chrome exterior. The scaled down version released in 1982, called the Intellivision II, was more modern looking while also being cheaper and smaller. After the video game crash, Mattel was bleeding funds and needed to unload something to stay afloat. Mattel Electronics was that something and was sold to a private group including a former Mattel executive and thus INTV Corp was created. INTV resurrected the Intellivison from the dead and released the third iteration of the console, named INTV System 3 aka the Super Pro System in 1985. New Intellivision games were released throughout the late 80s and sold through catalogs. Of course, the re-released system couldn’t compete with the NES and was finally discontinued in 1990. In all likelihood, INTV Corp likely wasn’t even trying to compete with the modern consoles of the time. My guess is that they were targeting budget conscious and nostalgic gamers that might have wanted an Intellivision back in the early 80s but couldn’t afford it.

From a personal perspective, the Intellivision holds a unique place in my retro gaming history as the first console I ever played. Growing up, my parents were friends with another couple with kids around the same age and myself and my siblings. They would come to our house and we’d go to theirs and we all had a good time. I recall one particular visit to their home in what was probably around 1983, when I would have been 8 years old. One of their kids, they had 4 so I don’t remember which one, was showing off a new game console and was offering to let my sister and I play it. I know for a fact the game was Donkey Kong because I was acutely aware of the game thanks to its pop culture ubiquity. I also distinctly recall being confused by the Intellivision’s uniquely interesting controller. To me, it sort of looked like a touch-tone phone with its keypad, 4 side buttons and circular disc at the bottom. I had seen and played a few arcade games prior to this moment, but they all had joysticks with a button or two on the side. I had absolutely no idea how to hold this weird contraption and didn’t know how to move my character on the screen using the disc. Needless to say, I failed miserably trying to maneuver Mario up the girders while jumping over the barrels and quickly died. My overall impression was that it was cool as hell to play Donkey Kong at home but I’d rather use a joystick in the arcades.

Flash forward about a year or two and I was now living in a new town and in a new school with new friends. My 4th grade classroom had educational magazines in a little reading nook we could visit during classroom downtime. I was browsing some of the magazines and came across several that included ads for various Imagic games released for the Intellivison. I thought that the games such as Beauty and the Beast, Microsurgeon, Demon Attack, and Atlantis looked amazing with their colorful game screens. The ads also showed kids holding a controller and I noticed that they all had these colorful overlays covering up the keypad portion. I was fascinated as I had never seen overlays before and had no idea what they were for besides looking cool. I also saw the name of the console along with a picture and finally knew what it was that I played that day a year or so earlier. Of course, I didn’t get an Intellivision as by ’84-’85, they were not likely very easy to find and probably way more expensive than what I assumed my parents were willing to spend on me for Christmas. I was happy with my occasional trip to the arcades or Showbiz Pizza Place for my video gaming fix but I wouldn’t really become obsessed with owning a home video gaming console until the NES became a big deal in 1986-87.

Many, many years later (the year 2000 to be exact), it would be a PlayStation game that reignited my desire to own an Intellivision. I had bought the Intellivision Classic Games compilation disc for my PS and was completely wrapped up in the nostalgia and simplicity of the games contained on it. I recalled back to those two early experiences with the system, playing Donkey Kong at a friends and staring at the Imagic ads in educational magazines and decided I was going to seek out the original hardware once and for all. I created an Ebay profile that I still use today and won a bid on an original console plus game collection. I was now able to hold that intriguingly odd controller in my hand again and as an adult, I could finally manipulate it properly. I could also finally see, feel, and use the game’s overlays for the first time in my life. They were just as cool as I hoped they’d be. I would eventually add my Intellivision II variation a couple years later for completionist purposes but never bothered with the INTV 3. Games for the Intellivision were then and still are quite cheap so I’ve added quite a few titles, about 40, to my collection over the years. My favorites tend to be the early Mattel games that defined the console as well as the Imagic titles that I fawned over decades earlier. I do slightly prefer the Intellivision to the Atari 2600 to this day. One of the main reasons the Atari was so successful in the 80s was their arcade licenses. Now, that isn’t such a huge selling point as most of those games eventually found their way onto other consoles on various arcade classic compilations. What the Intellivision does still offer is a number of unique and exclusive titles that defined the system. The fact is, I feel like many of those games hold up today as some of the best home video games of the era. The Intellivision may have been a second place finisher in the 2nd generation console wars, but it should never be relegated to also-ran status.

Currently in my collection:

  • Intellivision console w/ hardwired controllers, power cord & RF adapter, console manual
  • Intellivision II console w/ hardwired controllers, w/ box
  • 2 INTV controller covers that turn the disc pad into a mini joystick
  • 9 Intellivision game catalogs

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