My console of the month for February is the Odyssey², which will be called the Odyssey 2 from here on out to avoid having to mess with the exponent every time I type it. The Odyssey 2 is an interesting “also ran” from the late 70s and early 80s intended to compete with that console generation’s behemoth, the Atari VCS. Developed and manufactured initially by Magnavox, and later Phillips, the Odyssey 2 is large silver/gray console, but very lightweight considering its size, with two black hardwired controllers (very early versions of the console had detachable silver controllers). The Odyssey 2 controllers are similar in appearance to Atari joysticks with a raised lever sticking up from the middle and one control button in the upper left corner. What is probably the Odyssey 2’s most identifiable design choice, was the alphanumeric membrane keyboard that was included directly on the console for use in certain games as well as educational titles. I believe Magnavox attempted to differentiate themselves from the competition through the use of this built-in keyboard and would market their system as more of a console/computer hybrid in order to appeal to a wider audience.
The Odyssey 2 was Magnavox’s second foray into the world of home gaming after the moderate success of the Odyssey system in 1972. The original Odyssey paved the way for future home gaming by showing the nuclear families of the early 70s that a television could be utilized for something other than passively watching programs. Then there was a glut of Atari Pong and Pong-like consoles from manufactures like Coleco that filled the home gaming market in the mid to late 70s. Atari later proved that creating a base console or mini-computer that allowed for interchangeable game cartridges to be played on a home television could be viable. It wasn’t long until other companies threw their hats in the ring to take on this newest gaming fad. Magnavox probably felt like they had as much of a chance for success as anyone else thanks in part to what they learned during their initial Odyssey launch. The Odyssey 2 found its way into stores in late 1978 in Europe (as the Videopac) and early 1979 in North America. It was released with a competitive price point of $179 and for a few years, it was a third place console behind Atari and Intellivision.
Like most of my consoles, I procured my Odyssey 2 with box and original manual with various pamphlets in the very early 2000s. At the time, I was on a mission to collect most of the second and 2.5 generation of video game consoles. While I never knew anyone who owned an Odyssey 2 in the 80s, nor did I recall any images, ads or in store displays, it showed up prominently in searches for early consoles. This indicated to me that while it never reached the same pop culture status of its closest competitors, it was still a decently sold console that needed to be owned.
Upon buying it, I was immediately struck by the colorful design of the Odyssey 2’s box as well as the game boxes themselves. Magnavox used a bright multi-color font for boxes to display the name of the console as well as colorful images emanating from the picutre of the console itself as a means to indicate the excitement held within. Unfortunately, all this color and graphical prowess used for the boxes weren’t reflected within the games themselves. I was a bit disappointed in the Odyssey 2’s basic graphical capabilities, which I shouldn’t have been knowing when the console came out. The Odyssey 2 doesn’t hold up favorably against the Intellivision or even most of the Atari VCS games in terms of visual appeal. However, colorful graphics are only a small part of what makes for a good game so this month I will be revisiting my Odyssey 2 collection and seeking out other key games I am missing from my library that are either fun or have historical significance.
Currently in my collection:
Odyssey 2 console with 2 hardwired black controllers, hardwired RF connector and original AC adaptor.
Odyssey 2 console box with owner’s manual and 3 Odyssey 2 game catalogues