Emerson Arcadia-2001 & Milton Bradley Microvision Final Thoughts

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to spending a month playing the Arcadia-2001 & the Microvision. Both systems have been sitting in my collection unused and unplayed for years. Why? I suppose a big part of it was my lack of enthusiasm for the system’s libraries. Another part, especially when it comes to the Microvision, was the paltry collection of games I have available to play. Granted I’ve made little to no effort to add games to my Arcadia and Microvision libraries over the past 15 years but it also doesn’t help that you never see the games in local video game stores & there’s very little online awareness or focus from a collectability standpoint. I unenthusiastically pulled them out of my gaming cabinet, plugged them in and crossed my fingers that years of sitting idle didn’t cause any electronic atrophy. To my mildly pleasant surprise, both systems worked immediately without any fuss. So I popped the cartridges in and started playing, some games for the first time since I bought these systems so long ago. Did I surprise myself by becoming enamored with the Arcadia-2001 and the Microvision after some much needed attention? Am I now a flag carrier for the undervalued and unappreciated also-rans of the early 80s? The wishy washy answer I’ll give is yes but mostly no.

The Arcadia-2001 was at its barely beating heart, always just a third rate Atari knock-off. Nothing more, nothing less. Sorry for being blunt, but it’s true and I’m fairly confident that Emerson knew it as well. At least in terms of the handful of titles I own and from what I’ve seen of the other games available, there is nothing in the Arcadia library that would indicate Emerson were attempting to do anything innovative, new, or different with their games. While I wasn’t in the room when the marketing and R&D teams determined a video game console would be the company’s next endeavor, I imagine that the objective was possibly to provide a relatively cheap Atari competitor, pump out familiar yet just different enough games to avoid copyright infringement and grab some market share. We know Emerson failed miserably at this goal but there are plenty of examples of consoles that technically “failed” but still produced games of high quality and collectability (e.g. Turbografx-16 and Vectrex come to mind). The Arcadia-2001 unfortunately isn’t one of those consoles. The library is weak, to put it mildly. Too weak to get behind no matter how much you may love an underdog story. Sometimes the tortoise just deserves to lose to the hare because it’s slower, uglier (no offense to tortoises) & less agile on land. Even when Emerson managed to create some playable games, such as Cat Trax and Tanks a Lot, they still wouldn’t be standouts on an Atari, Intellivison or Colecovision console. I think it’s fair to say that Emerson missed the mark by a wide margin with the Arcadia-2001 but for collectors like myself, there are still a few reasons to own one.

Pros:

  • Arcadia-2001 ownership gives you something to talk about at vintage electronic collector parties and make you look like you’re the real deal and not just in it for the Nintendo consoles
  • The games are large with colorful artwork. Which could be a con if you have small hands.
  • Games come in little book like boxes, similar to the Intellivision, where you can store the game, manual and controller overlays.
  • The large size of the game carts allow for basic instructions to be printed on the back, which means that owning the manuals and/or overlays isn’t nearly as crucial. This is a legit pro.
  • Console itself is compact unlike the beasts that were the Atari 5200 and Colecovision, which means that owning one won’t take up a lot of game room real estate that should be used on better systems and games.
  • For console completionists only. Not really a pro but more of a summary.

Cons:

  • Game library is weak, very few genuinely fun games
  • While game artwork is colorful….much of it is very poor in design quality. Look no further than the artwork for Escape as an example of WTF game art.
  • Controllers are not ergonomic in design, just like every single controller of that era.
  • Difficult to find reasonably priced consoles and cheap games since the Arcadia-2001 sold so poorly. The games that seem to pop up on ebay are the same old games that you probably already have. This would be a very difficult system to own a complete collection of games.

The Microvision, on the other hand, is a bit more endearing to me for the exact opposite reason the Arcadia-2001 came off as desperate. In 1979, there was a lot of opportunity for innovation and being the “first” to do or create something unique was important but also relative to what technology could allow. Technology allowed hand held gaming devices prior to Microvision’s inception, but adding a changeable cartridge element sure was a nifty tweak to the already successful dedicated hand held formula. Microvision detractors will point to the small screen size, fragility of the system itself and overly simplistic games thanks to the technological limitations. For me personally, I understand the screen size issue as it really makes a game like Block Buster much more difficult than it should be, but most of the other games in the system’s library aren’t so negatively impacted by this. As a result, I ended up having quite a bit of fun with the other games in my library and will be actively looking to add more to my collection now that I’ve proven to myself that my Microvision has withstood the test of time physically (no screen rot!) and creatively (many games are still fun!) I would recommend the Microvision as an addition to any retro game fan’s library, not just for completionists.

Example of the back of a game, reiterating the manual’s “how to play” instructions.

Arcadia-2001 pamphlet, showing off all the games available for purchase. I find it weird that game cart #4 was “coming soon” even though you could apparently buy game cart #21 at the time this was printed. 

 

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