The Intellivision and Atari 2600 clashed in the first ever video game "console war", beginning in 1979 and lasting well into 80's. Boasting high-resolution graphics and later an impressive voice synthesizer, the Intellivision seemed superior to the 2600 on the surface. The system excelled in sports titles as demonstrated by George Plimpton in a series of famous commercials comparing both console's sports offerings side by side.
The Intellivision's sophisticated controllers boasted numeric keypads which allowed for far more complex gameplay. But while the Intellivision offered many impressive titles, the lack of high profile arcade hits worked against it. Mattel abandoned the Intellivision shortly after the video game crash of 1983 but a small company by the name INTV carried the torch for the system for the rest of the decade.
Console design: C-. The Intellivision system existed in three forms, but only the first two were sold in large quantity. The first version features a streamlined design with two bays to slide the controllers into, a power switch, and a reset button. The gold and brown color scheme also incorporates the obligatory fake wood trim (popular in the 70's for some unknown reason).
The cartridge slot is tucked under the right side and inserting a game requires lifting the console up and pushing firmly. The controllers are connected via short coiled wires that force you to sit right next to the console while playing.
The second incarnation of the system resembles a small white box, with a single button serving both the power and reset functions (hold down to power off). This version has detachable controllers but for some reason they are noticeably less comfortable to use. For this reason, the original version is generally the most desireable.
Console durability: C. Intellivision consoles tend to hold up fairly well over time, with the exception of the reset switch, which is easily broken.
Graphics: B+. While the Intellivision was capable of better graphics than the Atari 2600, its games ran noticeably slower and the animation tended to be less smooth. Initially, Intellivision games looked superior but this gap closed as the 80's progressed.
Audio: C. By itself, the Intellivision's sound capabilities are modest, with most games only emitting a series of beeps. However, the Intellivision voice synthesizer gave the system's audio capabilities a major boost. Perhaps the system's most impressive technical accomplishment, this pluggable module could generate a wide variety of voices and inflections. Although only supported by a handful of games, it does play an integral part in these games, most notably the excellent B-17 Bomber.
Controllers: F. The Intellivision controllers are the worst aspect of the system. Instead of a joystick, a 16-direction round disc is situated on the lower half of the controller, and it's very hard on your thumb during extended play.
On each side of the controller is two buttons that are tight and hard to press. The keypad on the front of the controller allows for sophisticated gameplay but it's hard to locate a specific button without looking down at the controller. In general, Intellivision controllers are poorly suited to long play sessions.
Media: C-. Intellivision cartridges were smaller than Atari 2600 games and only had an end label. Most games did not feature any sort of artwork on the cartridge itself.
Packaging: B. Intellivision games were sold in boxes slightly larger than the Atari 2600 game boxes. The boxes were printed in an array of colors and there was actually a scheme behind the colors (sport games were blue, strategy games were green, arcade games were red, etc). Early games were shipped in boxes that opened like books, but later titles came in a simpler, 2600-like boxes instead.
Pack-in Game: B. While a card game may seem like a lame pack-in, Las Vegas Poker and Blackjack was better pack-in than you think. It offered a variety of card games and even some razzle-dazzle in the form of an animated dealer. In general card games appeal to a wide audience both young and old.
Launch Titles: C-. Based on the assumption the system was available nationwide in mid-1980, that would have made for about eight launch games. This lineup was pretty exciting - if you were a sports fan. NBA Basketball, NFL Football, and Major League Baseball definitely pushed the envelope, but many of the remaining titles (backgammon, checkers, the Electric Company) seemed like filler.
Library: C+. The Intellivision excels in two-player head-to-head games, particularly sports, combat, and strategy titles. This is reinforced by its large number of two-player only games. In order to address its lack of arcade-style games, Mattel released the Asteroids-inspired Astrosmash and the Star Wars-inspired Star Strike, both of which were very popular among the Intellivision faithful.
Collectability: C. It may be hard to find a reliable console but the games are common enough. The fact that so many Intellivision games require two-players is a turn-off to some solo gamers. Still, for classic head-to-head sports and strategy action, it's hard to beat the Intellivision.
Innovations: Keypads, keypad overlays, disc-shaped control pad, voice synthesis.
Pros and Cons:
+ Competitive sports and two-player games
- Controllers hard on the hands
- Few arcade titles