Mattel Intellivision – Game Opinion Summaries / First Impressions, Part 1

I got this console a couple of months ago… and quickly decided I wanted to make a Game Opinion Summaries list for it, because why not?  I have not done a list like this yet for the Colecovision, which I got last year, or for Atari 2600 or 5200 games I’ve gotten since the lists I did years ago. I am thinking about writing all of those. Anyway, after some long delays, here it finally is, part one of this two-part series! In this article I cover 19 of the 40 games I have for the Intellivision. Yes, 19; game 20 is Microsurgeon, and I haven’t played it enough yet.

Table of Contents


Introduction and System Overview

The Mattel Intellivision released in 1979 as a test market product, then 1980 in full nationwide release in the US. This console was heavily marketed, and ended up selling three million systems, which is the second most of any console that generation. That’s less impressive as it sounds, as the Atari 2600 sold tens of millions of systems while the next top four — the Intellivision, Colecovision, Odyssey 2, and Atari 5200 — sold one to three million each, but it’s something. I’d never played an Intellivision before this year, however. I have known people who owned them though, and they never had much of anything positive to say about the system. I’ve heard that the controller is horrible, that the games aren’t as good as Atari games, and more. So, I went into this not expecting the best… and unfortunately it lives down to expectations. There are some things to like about the Intellivision, but my first impression is that it’s my least favorite of the five pre-crash consoles that I have, the ones listed in this paragraph. It’s probably better than most of the other, lesser-known platforms that generation, though, I just don’t have those.

Anyway, the Mattel Intellivision is an interesting system. It uses a 16-bit CPU, which was a first for the industry. However, while it’s got a wider bus, the CPU has a slow clock speed when compared to the 2600. Indeed, many 2600-to-Intellivision ports end up running more slowly on this system than they do on the Atari, which is not great for a newer system. Graphics are almost always improved, but game speed is not. What is the Intellivision good at, then? Well, graphics for one; the Intellivision can draw much more complex and detailed visuals than prior consoles. In terms of overall graphics, the system sits right where its release date suggests, a bit above the 2600 but well behind the newer Atari 5200 and Colecovision, which released 2 1/2 to three years after this system to effectively start a new console generation. I wasn’t expecting Colecovision-caliber graphics from this system, and it doesn’t have them, but games often have nicely detailed sprites and environments that you’d certainly never see on Atari 2600. Audio is decent as well, for the time. The standard audio is fairly typical stuff, but like the Odyssey 2, the Intellivision has a speech synthesizer addon. This addon is fairly cheap, but while I have three of the four games that support it, I don’t have one yet, unfortunately. Once I get one I will report on how the three games play, though I mention them below with little placeholder articles for now.

So, the Intellivision has some good and bad points in its graphics. In terms of controls, though, the system is infamously awful, and unfortunately I have to agree with the critics here. I may like the Atari 5200 controller, and I really do apart from a few things (durability, the side buttons), but this thing is awful! The Intellivision controller is terrible for several reasons, but the ergonomics are the biggest. The controller has two buttons on each side, a 12-key keypad set down behind little plastic dividers, and at the bottom a round disc that controls movement. The disc, which has a full 16 directions it can identify versus the average stick’s four or maybe eight with diagonals, was an important innovation that presaged the creation of the d-pad. It is also, however, horribly uncomfortable. Perhaps the biggest problem is this plastic ridge around the disc. It’s hard to not get your finger painfully rubbing against the hard edge of the ridge! The side buttons are uncomfortable to use as well, the idea of putting the main action buttons on the side of a controller was a bad one. I’ll never understand why Atari and Coleco both copied this controller, of all things, in their next consoles! This vertically-oriented controller with side fire buttons concept was not a good one, and all three of the resulting controllers show why that is. Of the three, though, this is the most painfully uncomfortable to hold and use, it’s not close. The controllers do look nice when set in the console, though. As with many consoles of the day, there are indentations in the console itself to store the controllers in, and when in there the flat top of the console has a pretty nice look to it.

Overlays – Overlays are something that I think the Intellivision did first. These plastic sheets go over the 12-button keypad part of the controller, and tell you what the buttons do. As with many other things about the controller, this questionable idea would go on to also appear in the Atari 5200 and Colecovision controllers, as well as the Atari Jaguar later on. The concept is good, and for some games these overlays are helpful. Games did not have large enough memory sizes yet to be able to have on-screen button indicators for everything like a modern game might, so having something physical, attached to the controller, is a good idea. Some of the overlays have nice artwork on them as well. I don’t have overlays for all of the games I have, not even close, but I do have some overlays and they’re helpful, because a lot of Intellivision games pretty much require them. However, if you don’t have the overlay, some games are pretty much unplayable unless you look one up online or buy one, because the buttons are not at all intuitive, they could be anywhere. Those other systems with overlays make far less use of them than the Intellivision. Indeed, most 5200 and Colecoivsion games either don’t come with an overlay, or they have one but it serves no purpose because all that’s on it is like ‘press numbers for difficulty or number of players’, and those are in consistent places on the number pads so you won’t need to always look at the overlay like you to on Intellivision. And on top of that, despite their overlays usually being less necessary, both of those systems have overlay storage built right into their cartridges, which is great. With the Intellivision you just need to try to not lose them, or only buy complete in box games and store them in the boxes. That’s inconvenient.

My biggest issue with overlays isn’t any of those things, though, it’s that the concept of having a keypad on a game controller didn’t prove to be a good one. A modern controller has a lot of buttons, but they are all in different places on the pad, so you can remember, through memorization and such, which are which. On a keypad, however, good luck with that! With 12 buttons so close together, that overlay is pretty much your only hope of knowing which button is which, a lot of the time. There’s a good reason why only two systems released since 1983 have had keypads on them, and both failed — the Jaguar and N-Gage. It just isn’t a very good idea. I can understand what they were going for, it gives you a bunch of buttons for settings and such, but the alternate directions the industry would go in later, towards on-screen menus instead of lots of buttons and controllers with buttons in more notably different places, is, I think, overall better than this. I have an N-Gage, and trying to play a game like Tomb Raider or Tony Hawk with 15 buttons all right next to eachother is FAR more difficult than it is on a Playstation controller! It’s kind of a nightmare really… the Intellivision isn’t as bad as that, because of how its keypad is used and because it supports only pressing one button at a time, but it is still an issue.

And of course, that’s not even getting into the ergonomics of the thing, which are poor. There’s no way to make a 12+ button keypad ergonomically friendly, I don’t think. So, overlays are an interesting idea and I like having them, and they definitely make playing games a lot easier than regular numbered buttons in these same games would — see Gateway to Apshai (Colecovision) for an example of that, they didn’t make an overlay for it so instead you need to reference the manual all the time to remember what each of the nine numbers does, it’s not great — but I do think that the keypad is one of several decisions, along with the vertically-oriented controller, painful ridge around the disc, total absence of ergonomics, and side-mounted, mushy fire buttons, that are why Intellivision are so disliked. That the Colecovision, and Atari 5200 controllers do many of the same things wrong is a lot of why their reputation is very nearly as bad.

And plus, since some models of Intellivision have hardwired controllers, they couldn’t even do something to give it a better controller, like the trackballs do for the 5200 and Colecovision. Oh well. I know there are stick-replacement options out there, and some modern controller options as well, but controller ports would have made that a lot easier. Oh well.

Beyond the very flat-topped controllers, to fit with its flat, sleek look, the Intellivision, uniquely, has its cartridge port on the side of the console. This is good for aesthetics, but bad for everyday use, because you need to press fairly hard to get a game to lock in to the system! I find that I need to hold the console with one hand on the left side while pressing the cart in on the right in order to insert a game, so don’t put this console somewhere where you don’t have access to both sides of the system, it won’t end up well. Of course, with how short Intellivision controllers are you won’t be putting it far from your chair, anyway. All the pre-crash consoles have very short controller cords, and this is no exception. Some models do have controller ports, though. The model 1 and 3 Intellivision have hard-wired controllers, while the Sears Super Video Arcade and model 2 have controller ports.  Sears Super Video Arcade controllers also have regular straight cords, while model 1 Intellivisions have a coiled cable like a phone does.  The straight wire gets you some more length, and when cords are this short you take anything you can get!  I have perhaps the best overall model of Intellivision according to some Atari Age threads I read, the Sears Super Video Arcade. It’s a nice looking console with controller ports, and I’m glad to have this one. It still works perfectly, even after almost forty years.  I may get controller extension cords for it at some point, if I want to move it farther away.

As far as its game library went, the Intellivision’s main life lasted from 1979 to 1983. Most of the games are from Mattel, and they are mostly original titles, not ports of arcade games. Atari had most of the best arcade games themselves, after all, and Mattel, like Magnavox, decided to mostly make their own games. Mattel did get one companies’ arcade game rights, though: Data East. This led to one of the system’s best games, and several others as well.  That’s it, though.  Coleco would take a different path.  Once they entered Coleco would be much more aggressive at getting arcade game rights, and between Coleco and Atari, Mattel and the others didn’t get many arcade ports. The quality of Mattel’s own games is uneven, too, as my summaries below will detail.  I found a lot of games for this system locally in a short time, but the game quality is iffy in too many cases.

And then, in late 1983, with the great videogame crash of ’83 destroying the console industry, Mattel gave up on videogames and discontinued the system. Others, including the Magnavox Odyssey 2, were also discontinued around the same time. However, some people at Mattel thought that the system had a future as a low-cost system, and bought the rights to the Intellivision sometime later. In 1985, the first two new games released in Europe. Those two games, plus some other new ones, released in the US as well in 1986, and the new Intv Corporation kept the system alive with new game releases until 1989. This is a fairly similar story to the Atari 2600, which was effectively discontinued in 1984, only to be resurrected in 1986, so it saw releases from 1977-1984 and 1986-1990 (’92 in Europe thanks to one or two late third-party releases there). However, at least around here, I regularly see some of those late Atari 2600 games. I have not seen any post-1983 Intellivision games locally yet, only these 40 games from ’83 or earlier, so clearly the Intellivision wasn’t as popular a post-crash console as the Atari. That makes sense, but it’s still interesting that it was brought back, and there are some good-looking games among those later releases that I would like to get eventually.

Overall though, my first impression of the Intellivision is that it’s okay. This system isn’t awful or anything, but I don’t really like it either. I can understand how people who played it as a kid would still like the system, but as someone who didn’t play any pre-crash console games until decades later, as I said earlier it probably does rank fifth of the five pre-crash systems I have. (For the record, based purely on ‘how much I like them’ and not their overall game library quality or such, right now that ranking would be: 1. Odyssey 2; 2. Atari 5200;3. Atari 2600; 4. Colecovision; 5. Intellivision.) The poor controller is definitely a part of that, though the games are also a part; they’re alright, but I haven’t found many I really love. Right now I don’t know if I have yet played an Intellivision game that I’d give an A rating to. Some of the games are good, though, certainly. That said, though, here are the first 20 Intellivision Game Opinion Summaries. The second 20 shouldn’t take as long as these did to finish.

My favorite Intellivision games so far

1. Snafu
2. BurgerTime
3. Demon Attack
4. Microsurgeon
5. Loco-Motion
6. Atlantis

I like these six more than the rest of the games I have for sure, so far.


The Summaries

Formatting: As usual for my Game Opinion Summary lists, the title is first.  Following that, in italics is the number of players, and any accessories supported or required.  Next is the summary.  At the end, again in italics, I list any other platforms the game has been released on as of this posting, as far as I know.

ABPA Backgammon One or two players alternating. Backgammon is a typical Intellivision game in some ways. The Intellivision sold itself on being more complex than the Atari 2600, and indeed this game is more complex than Atari Backgammon. The graphics are better, game much more accurate to the boardgame it is a conversion of, and controls more complex as well thanks to the systems’ 12-key keypad. Getting used to the controls takes a little while, as it uses the keypad heavily, but this is a solid Backgammon game, if you actually want to play such a thing on an old console; I don’t really. On a positive note though, there is an AI opponent here, a somewhat uncommon thing for a boardgame console game from 1978! However, I’ve never cared much for backgammon as a board game. I have played it before, and it’s alright, but it has been a very long time since I last played the game, and while I don’t remember a lot of the rules, and doubt I’ll play it anytime soon either; far better games are available now. Backgammon has dice, so it has a random component not present in the timeless classic that is chess. Random elements in board games are common, and can work great, but I do think that the best games are probably less random. So, while this game definitely looks the part, with a clearly drawn backgammon board and dice, if I really wanted to play backgammon today I’m sure far better games are available on newer systems than this one. I don’t play old consoles for games like this, for the most part. But if you want a solid 2nd-gen backgammon game, well, here it is.  This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections under the title Backgammon.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Cartridge (aka AD&D Cloudy Mountain Adventure or Crown of Kings) – One player. This game has the D&D license, but it isn’t really an RPG. Instead, this is a maze exploration action-adventure game, building off of games like Adventure (Atari 2600), Hunt the Wumpus (TI-99/4A), and Quest for the Rings (Odyssey 2). Your goal here is to reach the Cloudy Mountain across the main world map and find the treasures within. You start on the let side of the screen, and at certain points enter dungeons. Each of these dungeons is a randomly laid out maze you will need to explore. Now, sort of like Hunt the Wumpus, your character here is an archer, so you’ll be shooting enemies from a distance if you want to stay alive. This is a much more action-heavy game than that one, though. You will see monsters as you explore, and need to decide how to deal with them. In each maze, you need to collect arrows, kill or run away from monsters, and look for both exits and key items that you will need to progress. You’ll want to avoid enemies some of the time because ammo is very limited, and you can’t just go pick up used arrows. This definitely serves to increase the tension as you explore. Unfortunately, I find the game quite frustrating, as these random mazes, while not huge, are just large enough to get lost in. You need to find those exits and key items, but wandering around, looking for things while often not being certain if I’ve been through this area five times already because it all looks pretty similar, isn’t much fun.

Now, some people like this kind of game design, and I recommend you play this game! I, however, don’t really. There is a run button for faster movement, and that’s great. Even, but still, this game aimed high for a game from 1982, and for the time is a quite advanced game despite not being what we would today call an RPG of any kind since there is no experience points system present, but I think I’d prefer something either simpler or more complex than this. AD&D is a good game, but while I probably do like it more than Adventure on the Atari 2600, I’d rather play Quest for the Rings or Hunt the Wumpus than this, their simplicity is a positive for games from this time. Still, AD&D is a solid evolution of the still-early action-adventure genre, as it headed towards better things. The Intellivision sold itself as a more complex console with better-looking and more complicated games than other consoles, and you see that here. That doesn’t make the game better, but still it is an interesting game worth playing. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections under the title ” Crown of Kings”.

Armor Battle – Two players simultaneous. Two Player Only Game.   The Intellivision does Combat! Yes, this is one of several Combat knockoffs on the Intellivision. Like Combat it, unfortunately, requires two players, so I haven’t really been able to play it. Most people agree it’s not as good as Combat, though. It’s got better graphics but apparently lesser gameplay, though I haven’t really played much Combat either so I can’t really compare. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.

Astrosmash – One or two player alternating. Astrosmash is a very simple single-screen shooting game that kind of crosses Astroids and Space Invaders, though without the greatness of either. This popular game is also on Atari 2600 and it’s very simple: move left and right and shoot the asteroids as they descend. That’s about it. Move left, move right, shoot as many rocks as you can. There are also a few ships to shoot, but it’s mostly falling rocks. This game was made for overlong play sessions, by second gen standards — you start with quite a few lives, and will not lose them easily for a long time. And on top of that, the game gives you extra lives so quickly that games will go on and on. You get lives faster than you lose them for probably at least a half hour or more. I find the game gets boring long before that, unfortunately; the core concept is solid and the game plays well enough, apart from the usual issues with how uncomfortable this controller is, but the difficulty balance and challenge are way off. The game looks alright, with some decently nice asteroids and an alright backdrop, but is very repetitive and simplistic. So, overall, this game is another average to below average Intellivision game. This system is definitely living down to its mostly not-great reputation, I think… too bad. There is something here, later in the game, but is it worth the tedium to get there? Also on Atari 2600 under the title Astroblast. That version is quite similar, apart from a graphical downgrade of course. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.

AtlantisOne player. Atlantis is a Missile Command-inspired defense game from Imagic, a third party who released a lot of games on the Intellivision in 1982-1983. Taking control of gun turrets, you try to protect the city of Atlantis from an endless horde of enemy spacecraft. It’s a doomed effort of course, but try to survive as long as you can anyway! The Intellivision version of Atlantis has a reputation for being the best version of the game and one of the better games on this console, and after playing it I can see why. Now, in Missile Command, you control a cursor. In the original Atari version of this game, however, instead you just controlled three gun cannons which each shot across the screen at a different angle. On the Intellivision, however, Imagic went for a much more directly Missile Command-inspired game, as you move a cursor around the screen and fire from your two guns with the two buttons on each side of the controller.

So yes, it’s pretty much straight Missile Command, but with Atlantis graphics. And indeed, the game looks pretty good, with a detailed cityscape, a day and night cycle with a tougher challenge at night in the dark, and good enemy sprites. The game adds one signficant control feature that separates it from Issile Command, though: by hitting one of the keypad buttons, you can take off in a little plane usually kept docked in the center tower on the screen and, controlling it directly, shoot the enemies down, Defender style! This is a single-screen game, but flying the little ship around, shooting in both directions to take out the enemies, is pretty fun. Indeed, both the cursor and flying elements of this game are fun. The game does take a while to get challenging on the default setting so games are not short, however; yes, this is another game with difficulty balance that may not be ideal. However, it’s more than fun enough to be worth playing anyway, every once in a while at least. Atlantis is, like most games of the era, very repetitive and does not match Missile Command’s genius, but it is a good game for sure, and this is a great version. It may not be worth getting an Intellivision just for this game, but if you have one definitely get the game, it’s one of the best ones here. Also on Atari 2600 and Odyssey 2, though each version is quite different.

Auto RacingOne or two player simultaneous.  Single player is a time-trial only race. This is an overhead racing game. It has decently nice graphics with some nice looking roads and houses. It scrolls decently too, it’s not single screen. There are even a bunch of different tracks to race! They are all made up of a set of components, but still it is impressive. Graphically, it’s pretty good for the time — the Atari doesn’t have any top-down racing games that look anywhere near as good. However, gameplay is a problem. The controls are hard to get used to, it takes practice and perhaps also a look at the manual before you will figure out how to actually make the turns and not just go off the side at every corner. Looking at impressions people have of this game online, this seems to be a common complaint about this game: the controls are confusing and not that good. With some practice I did eventually manage to start making turns, but even then this is a slow-paced game with limited gameplay. The turns feel hard because of the bad handling, not because they really should be. Additionally, as with many Intellivision games, this one is mostly designed for two players — all you can do in this game is play a two player versus mode race, or play solo in a time-trial mode, that’s it. There isn’t an AI opponent car, unfortunately. For 1980 this is probably a good effort at a more realistic racing game, but the controls, with the Intellivision disc, are a problem. I didn’t find Auto Racing very fun, but it isn’t a bad game, just a flawed one. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.

B-17 Bomber – One player, IntelliVoice addon required. B-17 Bomber is a flight simulator, a fairly impressive thing for an early ’80s game. With complex controls, where you can switch between different stations on your World War II bomber to change between shooting enemy planes, bombing, choosing where you’re going, and such, it’s an advanced game for the time. Unfortunately, it requires the IntelliVoice speech synthesizer addon. The game will run without it, but it has voice lines telling you vital info, so the game isn’t very playable without one, and I don’t have an IntelliVoice yet. However, even if I had one, I can’t see myself getting into this game much at all; it may be impressive for the time, but in retrospect this kind of game quickly becomes horribly dated, and I’m not a flight sim fan regardless. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.

Beauty & The Beast – One player. One of Imagic’s more popular Intellivision games, this game is Intellivision exclusive and not a port from another system. Imagic supported the Intellivision pretty well for a couple of years. However, I don’t like it nearly as much as I was hoping. The game looks nice, but the gameplay is lacking, I think. Anyway, Beauty & The Beast is one of the many games heavily inspired by Nintendo’s hit Donkey Kong. Thanks to Coleco the Intellivision version of Donkey Kong is no good, but this somewhat similar game is probably better. Unfortunately, I think it has problems as well. The game is no match for arcade Donkey Kong. My biggest problem with this game is its jumping controls. So, in the game, your goal is to get to the top of each screen. Each screen is a couple of floors tall, and you want to get to the top of each screen, which helps you climb the building to try to save the girl (the beauty) from the beast (an ape as expected). Unfortunately you’re facing an endless series of buildings here, so you can never really win. You can climb from one floor to the next by hitting Up on the circle when one of the windows on each floor is open. If you’re still climbing when the window closes, you’ll fall and die, so be careful. I don’t know why you can climb up when windows are open but not when they are closed, but that’s how it works here. Your movement controls feel fast, as you zip around the screen, trying to avoid obstacles and go up open windows. However, when you need to jump over something, as I said the controls are very stiff and bad. I really don’t like the jumping controls here, and they don’t feel good at all; when I have to jump I often die. The jumping here feels somewhat like it does in Dragonfire, except here it’s even more central to the game. The simplistic and repetitious gameplay is expected from this time, but that’s fine if a game is good. Sadly, only part of Beauty & The Beast is fun. I know this game has fans, but I’m not one, so far at least; I think that this game is below average, and I can only really recommend it for the graphics, which are admittedly pretty nice and detailed.

Bomb Squad – One player, IntelliVoice required. Another one of the four games requiring the IntelliVoice speech synthesizer, this one is a bomb-defusing puzzle game where you follow voice commands as you try to defuse each bomb by cutting the correct wires and installing the correct parts in places on the circuit. Naturally, without an IntelliVoice it’s quite impossible, though it looks very difficult on the higher difficulty settings even with one. The game has a good concept though, so when I get an IntelliVoice I’ll definitely want to give it a try. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.

Bowling (aka PBA Bowling) – One to four players alternating. One player is a solo game, no AI. Bowling is a pretty good bowling game for the early ’80s. Showing off all of those buttons that the Intellivision controller has, Bowling has more commands than the simplistic Atari 2600 Bowling game. You can move up and down, aim and curve your shot, and adjust power. You even can select your ball weight at the start, and that does affect the game. Visually, this is a fairly standard effort, with okay but not amazing visuals of the lane and pins. It’s an okay-looking game with a lot more depth than bowling on the 2600, so it fits in with the general ‘more complex games’ theme the Intellivision went for, and it does seem to be good. Of course there is no AI so if you’re playing by yourself it’s a solo affair, but oh well. Bowling plays well and is fun, so it is a good game. Once you get used to the controls it’s a simple little game, and much better bowling games are out there on newer systems, but this one’s fun enough to play once in a while. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.

BurgerTimeOne player. BurgerTime was an arcade hit in the early ’80s. Mattel wasn’t able to get the rights to many popular arcade games, as Atari had the best ones and Coleco got the rights to most of the better remaining arcade games of note, but Mattel did get the rights to one arcade company’s arcade games, Data East. The somewhat strange single-screen platformer BurgerTime was probably their biggest hit, so it was ported to the Intellivision. This game is highly regarded on Intellivision, but I wasn’t sure how worth it this would be since I do have the even better NES version. Well, it was worth getting, because yes this is a pretty good version of this game. The somewhat slow Intellivision CPU isn’t known for being great at fast action games, but this somewhat unique platformer runs very well. For anyone who dosn’t know it, in BurgerTime you play as chef Peter Pepper, and try to make giant hamburgers before living ingredients get you! Yeah, it’s weird. So, you go around, dodging enemies on the maze of platforms, while trying to walk over all burger parts. When you walk over a part, it’ll fall down to the next floor below, dropping other parts below it if there is another one on the next level. Each burger has several parts to drop, including the top bun, lettuce, and burger. Once you make all burgers on a stage you go on to the next one. You also have pepper spray, which will temporarily stun an enemy. The only other way to defeat enemies is that when you drop a burger part, any enemies also standing on that part when you drop it will die. They respawn elsewhere on screen quickly, though, so you can’t get rid of enemies for good, you just need to learn to avoid them. BurgerTime is a fun and challenging game, and it’s easy to see why it was so successful. BurgerTime is, indeed, one of the best games I’ve played on Intellivision. There are better versions of the game so don’t get an Intellivision for this game, but if you have one, get it. Arcade port, also on the Atari 2600, NES, and many other platforms, though none are ports of this specific version.

Demon Attack One player. Demon Attack is another game from Imagic, and it’s one of their most popular games. This single-screen shmup sees you moving left and right on a screen, shooting up at enemies moving around above. It was inspired by the arcade game Phoenix which Atari had the rights to, enough so that Atari sued Imagic over this game and Imagic settled out of court, so they probably paid Atari something. I think that Demon Attack isn’t quite as great as the arcade or Atari 2600 versions of Phoenix, but it is also good and is on a lot more platforms. Demon Attack for the Intellivision has the same basic gameplay as the original Atari 2600 version of the game, but it has enhanced graphics and more gameplay, much like the TI 99/4A version but, by all accounts, better. Like that version, the game has two screens, one on a planet or moon where you do most of the shooting, and a boss stage in space against a giant ship. The planet is nicely detailed, so the background looks a lot better than the very simple Atari version.

The core gameplay is the same, though, apart from that added boss screen. Demon Attack plays well, as you move left and right and try to time your shots to hit the quickly-moving demons. It presents a good challenge, and there is nice variety as there are quite a few different types of demons on the regular screen. The boss stage mixes things up as well; here you need to hit a single point to destroy the giant demon ship, but hitting that point will be hard, as it’s protected by a moving shield and lots of small demons that are sent at you. This game is well paced and fun, and keeps you coming back. Of course the Intellivision circle disc thing makes playing the game a little harder than it should be, but you kind of get used to it eventually. I don’t know if it’s the best version of this game, but it is good. However, whenever I play this game, I can’t help but think that I’d rather be playing Phoenix, because that game is a bit better. Still, Demon Attack is a good game well worth playing on any format it was released for. Also on Atari 2600, Magnavox Odyssey 2, TI 99/4A, Atari 8-bit computers, PC, Commodore 64, and TRS-80 Color Computer. Each version is different, but this is one of the best.

DragonfireOne player.  Dragonfire is another Imagic game.  This one’s much less impressive, though, as it is pretty much just a straight, only graphically enhanced port of the Atari 2600 game of the same name.  Dragonfire is a good Atari game, though, so that could work well.  In this two-screen game, you first run across a bridge as a little guy, dodging fireballs as you go platformer-style, and then run around a large overhead-view space, collecting treasures while avoiding more fireballs that the dragon, now on screen, shoots at you.  It’s a fast-paced game, all about dodging and jumping and then avoiding and collecting, and it’s okay to good on the 2600.  Here, however, it feels worse.  The graphics are improved, as the drawbridge and castle towers on the sidescroller stage look nicer and the dragon and its treasures are drawn with more detail, but the difference isn’t enough to matter much.

Much more important are the controls, and they’re not good. Yes, the controls are a whole lot worse because you need to try to make these tricky, timing-sensitive jumps with the Intellivision disc! This controller is hard to deal with even in ideal circumstances, and this games’ jumping is, like Beauty & The Beast above, far from ideal. So, while I do find this game fun on the 2600 as the avoid-and-collect gameplay is somewhat addictive and fun, I’d recommend sticking to that version. It’s the same thing, but better. The Intellivision version is too hard thanks to its controller to be worth the hassle, and has no additions to counteract that, unlike the better Imagic Intellivision games. Also on Atari 2600, Colecovision, Commodore 64, Commodore VIC-20, Apple II, and TRS-80 Color Computer. The 2600 version is the original. This is nowhere near that level.

Frog Bog – One or two player simultaneous. Also known as Frogs and Flies on 2600, Frog Bog is one of Mattel’s more popular games, and Mattel did release it on Atari 2600 as well as Intellivision under the name Frogs and Flies. This is an extremely simple arcade-style game where you play as a frog, jumping between two lily pads to eat flies as they go by. You cannot move around on the ground; for some reason, these frogs can only move in the air, not on the ground. So, you press on the disc to jump in the direction you press. The disc gives you better control than the Atari 2600 version of the game. You can control your jump, so try to aim and time it so that you’re in the air while flies are passing by. While in the air, hit a side button to extend your tongue, hopefully catching flies in the process. That’s all there is to it. There is even an automatic tongue option, for somewhat easier play. You just jump back and forth, eating flies, for a while. As the game progresses time passes, from morning to afternoon to night, and once full night falls the game ends. So, Frog Bog games are time-limited and might last ten minutes at most. That’s good, though, because by the time a game ends I’m ready to play something else, there isn’t much to this one. Even so, the time progression is a nice touch you only infrequently saw at the time. The background graphics are pretty nice as well, with a detailed pond environment. The game also does have an AI opponent, so it’s not two player only, and there are two difficulty settings. On the default setting the AI is extremely easy, but the harder setting presents a slightly higher challenge. The AI really is a very weak opponent though, so if you want to lose this game much at all you’ll need to play it against another human. I like that they included a computer opponent, but I wish it was a bit tougher.

In comparison to the Atari 2600 version, the graphics are much more detailed on Intellivision, as expected. The Atari version looks okay for the console, but everything is a lot blockier. The core gameplay is identical, and the controls are good on Atari too — it compensates for the loss of a 16-direction stick by having you hold the stick to change your angle. This control scheme is simple and works well. It’s probably easier to control your frog on Atari than Intellivision as a result, so despite the better graphics in this version, Mattel might actually have made a better game on the competing console. On either platform, though, overall Frog Bog is an average game. It’s probably worth getting on one system or another because it is quite cheap and can be fun, particularly for two players, but don’t expect too much from this one. Also on Atari 2600 under the name Frogs and Flies. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.

Golf (Tele-Games ver. of PGA Golf) – One or two player alternating. One player is a solo game, no AI.  This golf game is a bit like Golf for the Atari 2600, but with a lot more simmish elements. Where the 2600 or Odyssey 2’s golf games are pretty much minigolf games by another name, Intellivision Golf plays more like the real thing, with different clubs to switch between, a more complex meter for hitting your ball, and such. The graphical look is similar to those games but a better, as just like them each hole is shown in a single-screen overhead view. The graphics are definitely better than those games, as trees are identifiable and there are angled greens and everything, but it’s still a single-screen game. The animating ball, which gets larger at the height of its flight, does look nice though. The more simmish controls make this game much more challenging than those golf games, however, and for someone like me who does not like golf, that’s not really a good thing. This is probably a better game objectively than Atari or O2 Golf, but I find myself getting bored extremely quickly here and would probably rather play either of those games. I much prefer mini-golf to regular golf, myself. Golf fans might want to try this game out though, as it’s quite possibly the first semi-realistic take on the sport. You will need to choose the correct club for each hit and such. It’s a challenging game for sure. There is only one 18-hole course here, as usual for the time, but each hole is unique. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.

Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack (Tele-Games ver.) – Two players only (Poker); One or two players (Blackjack). For some reason I do not understand, this card game was the pack-in title with the Intellivision for its first few years. It’s not a game I have much of any interest in playing, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that, so it’s a somewhat strange choice for a pack-in. The games are fairly complex for the time, with three different poker variants and blackjack all on the cart, playable in 1 or 2 player for blackjack and 2 player only for poker, but I don’t like this kind of game at all and don’t want to play enough of this to learn how to play it, so even though I do have a complete copy with its detailed instruction book I don’t know that I will ever play this again. It’s fine, and probably even impressive, for the genre for the time, but I do not know how to play or want to learn poker. Plus, poker here requires two players, so even if I did want to try, I can’t really. While I do know blackjack, and this is a totally acceptible blackjack game, it’s not that much better than similar games on the Atari 2600 or Odyssey 2, and today there are a great many far better ways to play electronic blackjack than here, not that I want to do that almost ever. Overall, for me at least, this has to be one of the weakest and least interesting pack-in games ever to come with a console. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.

Lock ‘n ChaseOne player. Most Intellivision games are exclusive to the console. However, Mattel did get the rights to one companies’ arcade games, Data East, and made several home ports of their games. The good Pac-Man clone Lock ‘n Chase is one of those games, so it is one of the few arcade to Intellivision conversions. Most of the others are also Data East games. In this game you are a thief, trying to steal as much as you can before the police catch you. So, Lock ‘n Chase is like Pac-Man, but with the new component of doors that you can close. At certain choke points in the maze, if you hit a button a door will close off that path for a set amount of time. You’ll need to strategically use this ability to try to get all of the dots in each stage. As usual on the Intellivision, the graphics are low resolution, so everything is near eachother, and keeping away from your enemies is hard. Like the original Pac-Man, the maze is always the same, but unlike that game the difficulty here is steep from the beginning! Indeed, getting far into Lock ‘n Chase will take practice, this game is tough. This is probably a good port of the arcade game, but while it is good enough, this game is no Pac-Man, and isn’t as good as games like K.C. Munchkin or Turtles on Odyssey 2 either. This is a quality game worth playing if you like maze games, but between the high difficulty, mediocre graphics, and sometimes tricky controls for using the locks, I doubt I’ll be playing a huge amount of it. Still, it is a decently good game I guess. Arcade port, also on the Atari 2600. The Atari version has much worse graphics as you would expect, but plays similarly. I like the later Game Boy sequel, also called Lock ‘n Chase, a lot more; that game is pretty good. I covered it in my Game Boy Game Opinion Summaries article.

Loco-MotionOne player. Loco-Motion is a puzzle game with gameplay inspired by sliding tile puzzles. The game screen is simple, a 5 by 5 grid of tiles with various train track layouts on them fills most of the screen, and curving loop pieces go off of the sides of the grid around the edges. You move pieces into the blank space in the grid, so you effectively move a black square around with reversed controls. On this grid, a single train car is always moving around. Your goal on each stage is to get it to go around all of the loops on the edges of the screen, beyond the bounds of the 5×5 grid you have control over. In order to do this, you need to move the tiles around so that the car goes around all of the edges. That’s not all, though, that alone would be far too simple! No, you also have a time limit. If you take too long to go around some loops, they will lock off and send an enemy train at you. This removes the loop from the stage without you getting points for it, while also adding a major obstacle to avoid, another train moving around the stage that you’ll need to keep away from the main one!

Yes, Loco-Motion has a simple concept, but it quickly gets very difficult. This game has a great concept and it’s mostly well executed; Loco-Motion is one of the best games I have for Intellivision. It does have some issues, however. First and foremost, the game is very slow paced. The train you’re leading around moves slowly, and the only speed-adjustment button isn’t very useful. You will spend a lot of time in this game waiting, as you watch the train slowly move along its route. Additionally, those reversed controls take getting used to. I get the idea, instead of moving the black square around you are moving the tiles into or out of it, but the game almost makes more sense if you hold your controller upside down, which is a little weird. I kind of wish they let you choose between regular and reversed control options. Still, despite the very slow gameplay, with challenging puzzles and a unique concept, Loco-Motion is a pretty good game and definitely is a game that any Intellivision owner should get. It’s one of the better Intellivision exclusives, the system does this kind of slower, more strategic game well.

Major League Baseball (1980) – Two Player Simultaneous. Two Players Required.  Major League Baseball is one of the early Intellivision games, and it is a title that Mattel advertised heavily as a part of their campaign to convince people to buy an Intellivision instead of an Atari. Like all baseball games at the time, it is a single-screen game which fits a downsized version of a baseball field onto one screen, and is two player only, there is no AI opponent. Later Intellivision baseball titles would add AI opponents, but this first one, which is by far the most common, doesn’t have one. That’s too bad, because as a result I won’t have many chances to play this game. I like baseball, but don’t have many opportunities for local multiplayer anymore. This is a simple game, but it has more depth than 2600 Baseball for sure. There are actually nine players on screen, for one. You can also switch which player you are controlling with the keypad, which is nice. Additionally, while pitching you can try to pick off runners. When fielding it can be hard to tell where a ball is going to land though, there is no ball shadow or arc, it just moves in a straight line until it stops somewhere, hopefully with your fielder nearby. There is a sound giving you a hint at when it’s stopping, but good luck. When pitching you pretty much can just aim it left or right, so batting isn’t anywhere near as hard as in a newer baseball game. You do have multiple pitches, but still batting isn’t too hard. Overall, I can’t really say much about what I think about this game because I haven’t played it much, but sure, for a 1979 release this is somewhat impressive. Looking back flaws like the absence of fly balls and single player are pretty significant, though. This isn’t a game I’ll play much but I am glad to have it. This game is on the Intellivision Flashback Special Edition unit and in Intellivision Lives! collections.

Part two will be next time, once I finish it.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
This entry was posted in Classic Games, First Impressions, Game Opinion Summaries, Intellivision, Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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