Intellivision Sports – Major League Baseball, NBA Basketball, NFL Football, PBA Bowling, PGA Golf, US Ski Team Skiing

Considering how important Mattel’s sports offerings were for the initial success of the Intellivision console, these games don’t get a lot of notoriety today as being the innovative and groundbreaking titles they were. The infamous George Plimpton comparison ads relied heavily on the “look at Atari’s pathetic version of baseball compared to ours” theme and they weren’t wrong to do so. Atari baseball was pathetic. Even the NES black box original, Baseball, was pathetic. Getting player movements and AI (in one player options) that was just right, visuals that actually looked like a baseball diamond and the perfect level of difficulty to master but easy to jump into right away was tricky business. Now add in other popular American sports such as football, soccer, hockey, bowling, boxing, golf, tennis and even skiing and you have a formidable early line up of sports games available to an Intellivision owner. Then Mattel dropped the coup de grace on Atari….endorsement by the various sports leagues! Not just football, NFL Football. Not just baseball, Major League Baseball. Not just basketball, NBA Basketball. Not just hockey, NHL Hockey. You get the idea. They even went so far as to get the minor endorsements for niche sports such as PGA Golf, NASL Soccer, PBA Bowling. What did this really mean for the game? Nothing at all. There are no options to play as the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Boston Celtics or the Green Bay Packers. It was just for show but in conjunction with the impressive visual displays these games provided, it probably worked. I think it’s fair to say that sports fan’s console of choice in the late 70s and early 80s was the Intellivision. I don’t own all of the sports titles on the Intellivision, far from it. I can’t comment on how good games like boxing, tennis, hockey or soccer are but the 6 sports games I do own (not counting Auto Racing which I already covered) can be evaluated for their impressive legacy.

Currently in my collection:

Major League Baseball – 3 games, 3 manuals, 2 boxes, 6 overlays

2 player only baseball option from 1979 that blew Atari’s Home Run out of the water when released. The visuals are impressive for the time and the game is easy to figure out thanks to the interesting use of the keypad and overlays. Pressing a button on the keypad that corresponds to the player’s location on the field allows you to control that player on defense and is also used to throw to that player when necessary. Side buttons are used for batting and the disc will either pitch or move the batters/runners around the bases while on offense or chase after hit balls by the defense. Even the umpire attempts to yell out “yer out” and it sounds hilariously garbled but you get what is being said and that is the point. There are no home runs to be had, which is a sorely missed aspect of the game, but MLB was certainly an impressive achievement then and still can be fun today with the right frame of mind and retro minded co-player. B

NBA Basketball – game, manual, box, 2 overlays

Let’s start this off by saying NBA Basketball is a little rougher around the edges than Baseball to put it nicely. The game is 3 on 3 and as you might expect, it requires a friend in order to play. There’s no out of bounds, no three point shots or dunking and no fouls/free throws. Ok, its basic late 70s video game basketball, so you can’t really expect that much to be included. I dealt with the limitations and tried to have fun with the game but it seemed to be a game filled with blocks, steals and missed shots. Instead of just one shot button, NBA Basketball forces you to choose from either a jump shot or a set shot depending on where you are attempting to take the shot from on the court. I had a hard time getting the hang of this and would more often than not, always hit the jump shot button which is why I missed all my shots from beyond 10 feet from the basket. It’s an ok game considering its age and what it was competing against but there isn’t much fun to be had with this one anymore. C-

NFL Football – game, manual w/ playbook, box, 2 overlays

If I was awarding grades based on ambition alone, NFL Football would get a solid A! A game with so much nuance, it required a separate playbook instruction supplement to go along with an already lengthy 23 page manual. I imagine that this game was light years ahead of anything else out at the time and for quite a few years afterwards as well. Let’s just say 10-Yard Fight doesn’t even offer this level of immersion and that was released in 1985! A steep learning curve is required to really get the hang of this game but once you do, it’s still quite fun. Setting aside limitations of the game, such as easy interceptions and weird clock management, NFL Football deserves kudos for introducing to gamers what could be done with football games if the technology and the programming skills were in place. Keep in mind, NFL Football is 2 player only. B+

PBA Bowling – game, box, 2 overlays

Highly immersive bowling offering from Mattel and was a later released (1982) sports title compared to the rest. They took their time developing PBA Bowling and it shows! You have a number of different game options such as weight of your ball, slickness of the lane, amount of spin you can place, loft of your throw, how much beer you can drink, color of your shoes…..ok I made those last two up but it sure seems like Bowling requires a lot of thinking. Maybe too much? There are times I just wanted to master the art of throwing the ball down the lane as hard, fast and straight as I could and I wished for simpler controls. Kind of makes me want to play Wii Sports Bowling. I know this game is highly regarded and I get why, it’s just not my favorite. B-

PGA Golf – game, manual, box, 2 overlays

PGA Golf is a decent version of video game golf and likely the best one you’ll see from the era. The courses are detailed with trees, fairways, water & sand hazards, rough and greens. You have a 9 club bag to work with and can use the disc pad to line up you golfer to swing. Swinging the clubs utilize a combination of side buttons and disc movements for slices and hooks but you don’t have to employ those techniques to succeed. Putting is probably my least favorite part of the game due to imprecise club control and distance required to sink the shot. When it looks like I’m maybe a foot away from the hole, I select a short shot but still find I came up short and end up 3 putting instead of 2. Oh well, I’m sure with practice, one would become proficient enough to at least keep par. B

Skiing – game, manual w/ supplement instructions, box, 2 overlays

This game was a pleasant surprise. I was never a huge fan of Nintendo’s early skiing game, Slalom but I always thought it was at least “ok”. US Ski Team Skiing offers two styles of play, downhill or slalom and while I prefer NES’s slalom to Intellivision’s slalom, the downhill racing option against the clock is the winner here for me. You use the disc pad to move your skier back and forth down the snow covered mountain, avoiding trees, jumping over ridges and skiing through gates. The more directly south your skier faces, the faster he skis down the mountain. Facing him sideways stops him altogether, especially when you have no momentum carry you down. This becomes an issue if you accidently turn him the wrong way and you have to correct yourself but realize you’re now headed straight for a tree. You can’t move if you face sideways so you’ll have to just hit the tree and lose the time. It definitely inspires repeat plays to get better at avoiding hazards and making it through the gates cleanly. A real winner. A-

 

Apparently the team in charge of producing the manuals didn’t get the memo that clear is actually on the overlay’s left and enter is on the right. Hence, the addendum.


 

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