Console of the Month (May 2018) – Emerson Arcadia 2001

As far as obscure 80s video game consoles go, the Arcadia 2001, Emerson Radio’s foray into the (at the time) lucrative world of home console video gaming, is arguably the most obscure. Released in late 1982 and discontinued a mere 18 months later, the Arcadia 2001 was Emerson’s attempt to compete with popular consoles by Atari, Mattel and Coleco for that sweet, sweet video gaming craze money. Obviously, 36 years of gaming history later has told us that the Arcadia 2001 was not only unsuccessful at making a dent in the industry at the time, but was equally unsuccessful at creating a compelling console that games collectors and retro enthusiasts would clamor over years later (*cough*, Turbografx-16, *cough*).

The first thing to note about the Arcadia 2001, besides its unfortunate timing, is its size. For once, bigger didn’t mean better and as sizes of consoles continued to grow (e.g. the Atari 5200’s physical size was only bested by its status as a sales flop), the compact size of the Arcadia 2001 is a welcome design choice. Unfortunately, it appears as if Emerson simply took a popular controller design of the era, i.e. the flat, vertically rectangular controller similar to offerings from Intellivision and Colecovision, and added a tiny little removable joystick to the circular pad. It would have been cool if Emerson had tried something different or unique for their controllers, but as anyone who owns an Arcadia 2001 recognizes, “unique” wasn’t really their M.O. Many Arcadia 2001 games utilized uninspired overlays for the keypad section of the controller, which was also a common design choice of the era. As far as how the controllers feel, I can handle using this style of controller better than I can handle the Atari 5200 or Atari 7800 controllers but I do wish Emerson had raised the fire buttons on the controller’s side just a bit. Because of the fire button’s position along the center, you need to hold the controller in your hand in such a manner that the corner tends to dig into the fleshy part of your palm. If they had raised the fire button along the side to the upper third, I could hold the controller lower on my hand and the bottom corner wouldn’t touch my palm at all. Luckily Arcadia 2001 gameplay doesn’t lend itself to extended gaming sessions anyway so it’s not much of a factor.

Similar to the Channel F, the top of the console included four buttons that are used to select game & mode variations, as well as reset and start for the games themselves. I like this easy to understand configuration and I praised the Channel F for it, so I’ll praise the Arcadia 2001 for it here as well. This is simply a matter of preference as some may prefer switches (as with the Atari 2600) or in-game menus (as with the Colecovision) to make selections for game or mode. Cartridges are then inserted on the top/middle of the console, similar to other systems of the era. Emerson took the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it approach” to this design aesthetic and there’s nothing wrong with that.

As for the cartridges themselves, they tend to come in two different sizes. One is a smaller, square shape similar in size to just about every other cartridge of the time. The more prevalent size is a relatively large 6″ long x 3.5″ wide cartridge with an enormous hand drawn, color label. The label graphic is the same hand drawn graphic used for the boxes and manuals. As you might expect from a company late to the game (pun intended) and trying to play catch up, the titles created for the Arcadia 2001 are some of the most blatant rip-offs of more popular games you’ll ever see. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but in this case, my gut is telling me that the developers tasked for the job of creating games for the Arcadia 2001 were simply told to make games similar to what’s on Atari and do it quickly. I’ll be covering the games themselves in future posts and it will be amusing to figure out which more popular title each Arcadia 2001 game is trying to emulate.

The Arcadia 2001 was known by many, many other names in different markets (e.g. Dynavision in Japan, Leisure Vision in Canada, Advision in France) as Emerson licensed the rights for other manufacturers to take the specs and make it their own. In the United States, the Arcadia 2001 clone is known as the MPT-03, which is probably the most obscure U.S. console of the 80s if clone consoles count. Emerson eventually sold the rights for the Arcadia 2001 to Bandai who then created their own version called simply the Arcadia for Japan.

I’ve owned my Arcadia 2001 console since the early 2000s (maybe even purchased in 2001!), but I do not own a console box or original AC adapter. I bought all of my existing games along with the console in one lot and have not purchased or actively sought out any additional games for the system since. Maybe over the course of the month I’ll find some games that exceed their more popular counterparts in terms of gameplay and fun.

Currently in my collection:

Console w/ 2 hardwired controllers & RF cord

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