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I recently picked up a big stash of Intellivision games, most of which I didn't already have. After playing through them all, I have a bit more respect for the Intellivision than before.
I must confess, I've never been a fan of the Intellivision. I started with the Atari 2600, and then lusted after just about every system that was released afterward. I wanted a ColecoVision, I dreamed of owning an Atari 5200, I finally talked my mother into getting an Atari 7800, and I even found room in my heart for the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Master System... to say nothing of all the 16-bit, 32-bit, 64-bit and
God-knows-how-many-bit systems that came later. But the Intellivision, despite an impressive library of games, never appealed to me. The graphics seemed even more primative than the 2600's, and those controllers certainly left a lot to be desired.
However, I've learned that there are certain games that the Intellivision really excels at. It just seems they aren't the games I like to play. Fast-paced, easy-to-learn arcade-style games have always been my preference, and this is where the Intellivision is really weak. Coleco's offerings like Donkey Kong and Zaxxon look downright horrible, and don't play much better (any version of Zaxxon that makes me appreciate the 2600 release definitely has a lot going against it). Activision, serving up Pitfall! and Stampede for Intellivision owners, actually created
some of the best-looking games for the system, but even then, it wasn't anything 2600 owners hadn't seen already (at least not until Activision started programming Intellivision exclusives). Even a lot of Mattel's own releases, games like Astrosmash and Armor Battle and Space Battle, fare better on the competing console than the company's own.
The Intellivision's relatively low resolution doesn't help matters any. To get any decent level of detail, it seems you have to make all the players and enemies BIG, even bigger than what players had already seen on the 2600. Consequently, games like Pac-Man, BurgerTime and Bump 'n' Jump are left with severely cramped playfields in the quest to make everything recognizeable. To be fair, some games, particularly Activision's efforts, seem to buck this trend, but they are the exception to the rule.
When you take away arcade games and focus on sports games and strategy games instead, however, the Intellivision begins to shine. Start with Auto Racing. The graphics are still rather blocky, but the game makes up for it by scrolling the nicely detailed playfield in all directions, something the 2600 definitely can't do. Move on to NASL Soccer, NBA Basketball and NHL Hockey, and you get graphics of sports courts and arenas that look fairly convincing, at least more so than what the 2600's sports titles have to offer. Finally, plug in a game like Utopia, and you discover
the Intellivision actually is capable of "intelligent telivision," offering a level of simulation never seen on the 2600.
I'm not going to lie and say the Intellivision is my new favorite classic console. Nothing can ever take the place of my Atari, and I still think the graphics in most Intellivision games are rather ugly. But, I now appreciate that the system has quite a few strengths that make it an equal with its contemporaries. You just have to play the right games to appreciate those strengths.
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