The Video Game Critic presents the

Magnavox Odyssey 2


Odyssey 2 system
Launch Date: February 1979
Manufacturer: Magnavox
Format: Cartridge
Controller ports: 2
Save Capability: None
Number of Games: Over 45
Video Output: RF
Initial Price: $199

Released shortly after the Atari 2600, the Odyssey 2 attempted to carve out its niche in the home video game market by positioning itself as the "educational" console with the capabilities of a home computer. This bold claim was made possible by the system's built-in membrane keyboard, which no other console had.

And while the Odyssey 2 did indeed support several educational titles, anyone who has used a membrane keyboard will tell you that it's difficult, if not impossible, to actually "type" using one. Even the best typists are forced to hunt-and-poke, since you can't actually feel the keys under your fingers. The Odyssey 2 never garnered much media attention or third-party support, and despite a loyal fan base failed to become major contender.

Odyssey 2 system
Odyssey 2 with attached voice synthesis module

Console design: D. The Odyssey 2 console is a large metallic beast that looks even worse with the bulky voice module attached. The original model had hardwired controllers but in later models these were detachable. The flat membrane keyboard is easier to clean than it is to use. The joystick wires are short so you need to sit fairly close to the console as you play.

Console durability: A. With few moving parts, Odyssey 2 consoles age well and don't break easily.

Pick Axe Pete
Pick Axe Pete (1982)

Graphics: D. Although its games tend to be smoothly animated, the Odyssey 2's hardware was incapable of rendering background images, making the games look somewhat plain. In addition, the games were infamous for recycling the same shapes over and over - most notably the generic "man" figure.

Audio: D. The Odyssey 2 console itself has meager sound capabilities but Magnavox did release a rather bulky voice module that plugs into the cartridge slot. Unlike the Intellivision voice component, the voice emanates from a speaker in the module itself, not from the television. It sounds like a middle-aged man and it's exactly the same in all the games that support voice. It does add a humorous element to some titles however and definitely ranks up there in terms of novelty value.

Odyssey 2 controller
Odyssey 2 controller

Controllers: B-. The Odyssey 2 joysticks are quite durable, which is fortunate since no third-party alternatives are available. They feature a single square fire button in the upper left corner. Comfortable and responsive, their unusual analog "feel" stands in stark contrast to their stiff Atari 2600 counterparts.

Media: D+. The Odyssey's black cartridges are roughly the same size as Atari 2600 games, but have large black handles on top. Personally, I think the handles look pretty dumb and eliminated the possibility of an end label. The front labels are typically black and orange with minimal artwork. From a distance at least, every Odyssey 2 cartridge looks exactly the same.

Odyssey 2 cartridge
Odyssey 2 game packaging

Packaging: C. Odyssey 2 games were sold in small, glossy black boxes, with the front depicting colorful artwork "inspired" by the game. These boxes opened up like a book, with the cartridge on the right and the instruction manual behind the front cover.

Pack-in Games: D. The mediocre three-way cartridge Speedway/Spin-Out/Crypto-Logic was packaged with the system. Hey, at least it's something. Including this may have been a winning strategy, as new owners felt the overwhelming urge to buy new games immediately.

Launch Titles: Eleven cartridges were available for the system in its first year (1978), but I was unable to ascertain exactly which were available when the Odyssey 2 initially shipped.

Smithereens (1981)

Library: D. The Odyssey 2 has a small game library, and the majority of its titles were actually written by the same programmer. Some games are simplified clones of arcade hits like Pac-Man, Asteroids, and Defender, except most had the distinction of providing the player with only a single "life" (as opposed to the standard three). The system received precious little third-party support.

One highly-touted feature was how the high scorer's name and total is constantly displayed on the screen at all times. In order to compensate for the system's simple graphics and play up the keyboard angle, Magnavox released a series of board game/video game hybrids that were fairly well received by critics. The most popular was Quest for the Rings, which allowed two players to team up and battle monsters while collecting rings in dungeons. Unfortunately, the board games tended to be overly complex with a ridiculous number of tiny pieces.

KC Munchkin screenshot
K.C. Munchkin! (1981)

Collectability: B. The Odyssey 2 is a highly collectable system. The system and games are quite durable and can be had for reasonable prices.

Innovations: Membrane keyboard, board/video game hybrids.

Pros and Cons:
+ Comfortable, durable controllers
+ Smooth animation with no flicker
- Few quality games.
- Poor sound
- No background graphics

Next: Intellivision Console Review

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