RCA Studio II (1977) - console and games review - 40th Birthday Bonanza

The readers post their own reviews.
User avatar
Retro STrife
Posts: 399
Joined: August 3rd, 2015, 7:40 pm

RCA Studio II (1977) - console and games review - 40th Birthday Bonanza

Postby Retro STrife » August 24th, 2017, 2:34 am

This week I added my 62nd gaming system to my collection and, as that number indicates, I'm at the point of bad judgment and total idioticness. Case in point is the newest addition - RCA Studio II. I don't collect much for pre-1985 consoles, so I actually hadn't even heard of this console until 2 years ago. It's also surprisingly tough to find a working one with all the hookups at a reasonable price. A working one with all hookups will set you back around $100 on ebay. I've been looking for a good one for about a year now and finally landed one. Here's my review of the system and the games I have:

IMG_6062.JPG
IMG_6062.JPG (120.76 KiB) Viewed 557 times


SYSTEM:

First of all, Happy 40th Birthday this year, RCA Studio II! Yes video games are getting really old.... The RCA Studio II was released in 1977, sandwiched between the Fairchild Channel F and the Atari 2600. That makes it the 2nd console with programmable cartridges ever released.. but it was technologically inferior to its two counterparts (making it the least powerful console with programmable cartridges ever..a great honor). Still, if you know what you're getting into, the RCA Studio II can kill an afternoon of your time (but only one afternoon, ever) and it has a couple decent multiplayer offerings. Around 10 carts were released for it, and it has 5 games built in. The console's graphics are black and white, and the sound is just a few beeps and boops that emit from the console itself. The console design is clearly intended to mimic Pong consoles that were popular at the time. Rather than controllers, it has numbered buttons directly on the console, and surprisingly they work fine for controlling most games. It's hard/impossible to figure out each game's controls without a manual, but fortunately most carts list basic directions right on their label.

Is it worth owning? Few people owned these back in the day, so any nostalgia is weak with these. And there is nothing even close to a "must play" game on the console. And unlike an Odyssey or Fairchild, it really has little historical significance either. As a result, I can only recommend this for the most ardent collectors or historians of the hobby. That said, I will admit that this system still gave me a few hours of fun--which was surprising to me--but not enough fun to make up for the cost.

My scores...
Gameplay and Game Library: D+
Collectibility: D-



IMG_6061.JPG
IMG_6061.JPG (126.56 KiB) Viewed 557 times


GAMES:

I've played 10 games for the system so far. I list them below with their letter score next to the name. First, there are 5 games built in to the console:

1. Doodle (D-): A very simplistic drawing tool.. basically like an Etch-a-Sketch, you can only draw with a continuous white line.
2. Patterns (F): A useless drawing tool.. same as Doodle, except that after you draw a pattern, the computer will replicate it over and over to make a "cool" design. Mildly interesting one time and that's it. Maybe interesting to kids.
3. Bowling (C-): Some people call this the best of the built in games, but I'm not impressed. One or two players compete over 10 frames. The ball moves back and forth and you hit either a straight roll or hooked roll whenever you're ready..and it rolls toward the pins. Simplistic bowling game. You get the idea.
4. Freeway (C+): This is a simple driving game that looks a lot like Street Racer from the 2600. (See my photo, attached). You get 2 minutes to drive as far as you can while avoiding traffic. Your score is based on how far you make it.
5. Addition (B-): A surprisingly decent game, especially with 2 players. The game gives you 3 numbers, say "232", and you have to quickly add the 3 together and hit the corresponding key (in that case, 7). They all come rapid fire. It's simple math, but you get more points the faster you answer..so the pressure ramps up, and suddenly 2 + 3 + 2 isn't as quick and easy as it seems. Any hesitation will dock your score, which is what makes it fun when competing with a friend.


On top of these, I have 5 cartridge games that I'll review here:

6. Baseball (F): This is a 2 player only game, so it's hard for me to judge. One player pitches (you can select from 3 pitches, but they all seemed the same to me), and the batting player has to time his swing right to hit the ball. There is a minor fielding mechanism too, but only for catching fly balls, and I never got it to work. I was alone, so I pitched to myself. But I can't imagine having any fun with this, even with a friend.

7. Blackjack (C-): This is a basic blackjack game for 1 or 2 players. Nothing more, nothing less. It plays blackjack, with bad graphics, just as advertised. No splits, or other frills. You start with $200, and can bet up to $10 per hand.

8. Tennis/Squash (B-): Here's your obligatory pong-style game. Squash is a 1 player game, where you hit the ball up against a wall. Tennis is a 2-player game like Pong. Tennis was fine, except the ball seemed "jumpy".. I don't know if it was a glitch in the game, or my fault. If it's the game, then downgrade this by a letter. One nice feature is that the paddle size of each player has 3 settings and the ball speed has 3 settings, which can help vary the gameplay as you get better.

9. Fun with Numbers (B): Yes, you read that right -- a B for a numbers game. Second best game I played. While this sounds like a math game, it's actually a puzzle game. In 1 player mode, you try to guess the computer's number, which ranges from 1 to 999. You get 20 guesses, and you'll get hints as you go along to decode it. The 2 player mode is similar, except you each pick your own secret number and the other player must use the numerical clues to decode it. It's hard to explain, really.. just trust me that this game can kill 30 minutes or more of your time--and even get your brain working--and that's a lot by RCA Studio II standards.. hence the B grade.

10. Space War (A-): Space War is not that good of a game, but it is the peak game for this system of the ones I played. 1 player mode is a basic shooter where you try to aim and shoot your rockets at targets as they fly by, one target at a time. 2 player mode (see photo 2, attached) is a competitive shooter to hit the flying target with cannon shots, trying to outscore your opponent. I had some fun with this game and could picture it being decent for a few games with a friend. Still, if this was an Atari 2600 game, it'd be in the D or F range, which gives you a sense of what we're working with here...


Overall, the RCA Studio II is not an impressive or worthwhile system for most gamers. But it is a forgotten piece of gaming history and one I'm happy to finally add to my collection. Hope you found these reviews useful or at least interesting. Thanks for reading.

User avatar
scotland
Posts: 1908
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 7:33 pm

Re: RCA Studio II (1977) - console and games review - 40th Birthday Bonanza

Postby scotland » August 24th, 2017, 9:05 am

This is awesome. Thanks so much for taking the time to review all of thjs.

The is a line of consoles called the PC-50X family that seems similar - Pong Plus, but with controllers.

User avatar
Retro STrife
Posts: 399
Joined: August 3rd, 2015, 7:40 pm

Re: RCA Studio II (1977) - console and games review - 40th Birthday Bonanza

Postby Retro STrife » August 24th, 2017, 9:32 am

scotland wrote:This is awesome. Thanks so much for taking the time to review all of thjs.

The is a line of consoles called the PC-50X family that seems similar - Pong Plus, but with controllers.


Thanks scotland. I figured an oldie like this would be up your alley! Since I don't foresee the VGC adding this one to his library, I figured I'd do the dirty work for the good of science by posting my thoughts. Obscure consoles like this never seem to have reviews online.

Never heard of the PC-50X family. I just did a quick google search... does it have programmable carts? If it's a Pong system, I don't bother to collect those (..I have to draw the line somewhere), but I'd look into it if it's a genuine system.

User avatar
scotland
Posts: 1908
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 7:33 pm

Re: RCA Studio II (1977) - console and games review - 40th Birthday Bonanza

Postby scotland » August 24th, 2017, 10:33 am

I was actually on Ebay one day when more than one of those PC-50x systems were being listed. I went to our fellow forum member Marriot Guys site http://www.videogameconsolelibrary.com/pg70-pc50x.htm#page=reviews to learn more. You'll see both Sut and I are in the comments below.

There are about 7 games for it, but a cart may not be compatible with all PC-50x because different companies made them in different shapes. Besides Pong style games, there is an Air Sea Battle kind of game, and a motocross game.

At 60+ consoles, I will say you drew the line far down the field from me! I'm glad you are enjoying and preserving these games. I had only heard negative things about the RCA Studio II, so when you said the button layout actually works okay, that was good news. It reminded me of the Tomytronics tabletop Tennis with just buttons on it.

Image

User avatar
Retro STrife
Posts: 399
Joined: August 3rd, 2015, 7:40 pm

Re: RCA Studio II (1977) - console and games review - 40th Birthday Bonanza

Postby Retro STrife » August 24th, 2017, 10:51 am

scotland wrote:I was actually on Ebay one day when more than one of those PC-50x systems were being listed. I went to our fellow forum member Marriot Guys site http://www.videogameconsolelibrary.com/pg70-pc50x.htm#page=reviews to learn more. You'll see both Sut and I are in the comments below.

There are about 7 games for it, but a cart may not be compatible with all PC-50x because different companies made them in different shapes. Besides Pong style games, there is an Air Sea Battle kind of game, and a motocross game.


I see that he lists it as a 1975 release, but it's not considered the first console with programmable carts.. any idea the reason for that? Maybe is it like the Odyssey where the carts were just jumpers rather than being programmable?


scotland wrote:I had only heard negative things about the RCA Studio II, so when you said the button layout actually works okay, that was good news.


I have a much higher tolerance for pain than most gamers, so don't trust my opinion too much... But considering my expectations, I'm happy with it. I went in with very very low expectations, though. If anyone is looking for a real gaming experience, I can understand why the RCA Studio II is easy to beat up on.

User avatar
scotland
Posts: 1908
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 7:33 pm

Re: RCA Studio II (1977) - console and games review - 40th Birthday Bonanza

Postby scotland » August 24th, 2017, 12:42 pm

Retro STrife wrote: I see that he lists it as a 1975 release, but it's not considered the first console with programmable carts.. any idea the reason for that? Maybe is it like the Odyssey where the carts were just jumpers rather than being programmable?


Its actually different from either Odyssey or later microprocessor programmable consoles using cartridges with ROM chips holding program code for the microprocessor. In this case, each cartridge has a whole new IC chip in it! Its like swapping out Gen 1 consoles with each cartridge.

Sut
Posts: 595
Joined: April 8th, 2015, 4:23 pm

Re: RCA Studio II (1977) - console and games review - 40th Birthday Bonanza

Postby Sut » August 24th, 2017, 3:42 pm

Great post RetroStrife really enjoyed your write up.
I've only experienced this system from emulation and agree that Space War is undoubtedly the best title.

On another note have you read about the European games (In colour no less) ? I believe they are compatible with your Studio but will just display in black and white.
There is a Star Wars game and a somewhat limited Pinball game.

Also worth your consideration if you head over to Atari Age a guy is developing (developed ?) a multi-cart. They might not be around for long search for the thread RCA Studio II Goldmine.

As an aside for systems like the Studio II, I would like the VGC to add the system and allow guest reviews to cover these minority systems. He would have the final say and make tweaks to what is posted (an editor of sorts if you will). But only for consoles he has no interest in obtaining.

pacman000
Posts: 333
Joined: December 30th, 2015, 9:04 am

Re: RCA Studio II (1977) - console and games review - 40th Birthday Bonanza

Postby pacman000 » August 24th, 2017, 4:28 pm

scotland wrote:
Retro STrife wrote: I see that he lists it as a 1975 release, but it's not considered the first console with programmable carts.. any idea the reason for that? Maybe is it like the Odyssey where the carts were just jumpers rather than being programmable?


Its actually different from either Odyssey or later microprocessor programmable consoles using cartridges with ROM chips holding program code for the microprocessor. In this case, each cartridge has a whole new IC chip in it! Its like swapping out Gen 1 consoles with each cartridge.
As I understand it video game companies were trying to unload extra chips cheaply. Atari even considered producing a version for their chips, the Atari Game Brain: http://www.atarimuseum.com/videogames/d ... gamebrain/

As far as I know it was never released.

The Studio II was actually cloned in Europe; there were even color versions, as Sut mentioned: http://www.old-computers.com/museum/com ... t=2&c=1163

If you're interested in under-powered systems here are two more:

The Soundic SD-290 - Part of a series of 4-bit systems released in Asia by multiple manufacturers. http://www.old-computers.com/museum/com ... t=2&c=1294

The Interton VC 4000 - A less-powerful predecessor to the Emerson Arcadia. http://www.old-computers.com/museum/com ... st=2&c=726

User avatar
Retro STrife
Posts: 399
Joined: August 3rd, 2015, 7:40 pm

Re: RCA Studio II (1977) - console and games review - 40th Birthday Bonanza

Postby Retro STrife » August 24th, 2017, 4:46 pm

Sut wrote:On another note have you read about the European games (In colour no less) ? I believe they are compatible with your Studio but will just display in black and white.
There is a Star Wars game and a somewhat limited Pinball game.


Yeah, I saw those two games on ebay. I've only seen one copy of each ever posted on there.. but they've been sitting there for months at over $100, so I haven't bothered to research them or pay much attention. Too rich for my taste, since I might only play this system a few times ever. I've picked up all the common titles, so this might be it for me.

Sut wrote:Also worth your consideration if you head over to Atari Age a guy is developing (developed ?) a multi-cart. They might not be around for long search for the thread RCA Studio II Goldmine.


Thanks for the tip. I'm always up for a good multi-cart. It looks like it's still in development (and has been for years), but I'll keep an eye out for it.

Sut wrote:As an aside for systems like the Studio II, I would like the VGC to add the system and allow guest reviews to cover these minority systems. He would have the final say and make tweaks to what is posted (an editor of sorts if you will). But only for consoles he has no interest in obtaining.


Sounds like a pretty good idea to me. Similar to what he's done with the C64 Critic and RPG Crew. I've always felt that one of the strengths of this site is that the VGC reviews some of the more obscure systems, rather than just focusing on mainstream consoles. (In fact, I think I ended up here in the early 2000s when I was searching for CD-i reviews.) So throwing a few extra systems in the mix with guest reviewers only builds on that strength.. and gives the Critic a chance to take a break once in awhile.

User avatar
Retro STrife
Posts: 399
Joined: August 3rd, 2015, 7:40 pm

Re: RCA Studio II (1977) - console and games review - 40th Birthday Bonanza

Postby Retro STrife » August 24th, 2017, 4:51 pm

As a side note, I've had a Channel F for almost two years now and never booted it up! (a bad habit of mine), so maybe I'll do that in the next couple days and try to report back on which one I prefer. I think the general consensus is that the RCA Studio II was dead in the water from day one, because the Channel F was already better than it. So now seems like a good time for me to give it a shot and see if I agree.


Return to “Reader Reviews”