(GameCube)

Game Review

Intellivision Lives! Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Sean Aaron

Relive the classics from one of gaming's pioneers.

When the Intellivision launched in 1980 it kicked off what is arguably the first console war with Atari's Video Computer System. Sure there was an earlier price war between Fairchild (the first company to mass-market a removable-cartridge-based games console) and Atari, but Mattel's approach was far more aggressive featuring a full print- and tv-ad campaign in which Intellivision games were shown side-by-side with Atari games to prove Intellivision's graphical superiority.

Whilst Mattel Electronics managed to make a profit in the first couple of years of Intellivision's life, the ad campaign and clearly superior visuals simply weren't enough to shake Atari from its dominant position. By 1980 Atari had an installed base of over 1,000,000 households in America and a price tag that was $US100 less than Intellivision's eye-watering $US299 (equivalent to the PS3 launch price in today's money and hot on the heels of a recession). Most critically Atari had locked-up the all-important arcade game licenses via their internal arcade division as well as having exclusive licenses for hit games from Namco, Williams and Taito. By the time of the video game crash of 1984, Intellivision could only boast an installed base 1/10th the size of Atari's and a catalogue of less than 100 games.

Despite the failure to dethrone Atari, Intellivision was responsible for pioneering complex strategy and war games on home consoles thanks to a controller featuring a full 12-button telephone-style keypad. The addition of a voice synthesis module brought real-time computer-generated and pre-recorded speech to home gaming (though disappointingly only a few "Intellivoice" games were released and the module only managed to sell 300,000 copies before being abandoned). Above all else the fact that video game design was still in its infancy meant the internal Intellivision software development team (unofficially known as the Blue Sky Rangers) was breaking new ground; laying the foundation for the future of gaming.

Intellivision Lives! is the brainchild of Intellivision Productions: a company formed by a couple of former Blue Sky Rangers for the express purpose of licensing the Intellivision games library to help nostalgia-crazed retro-heads who grew up with the console relive past memories, and give younger gamers a much-needed history lesson. Developed by Realtime Associates, this collection contains not only more than 60 game titles (including unreleased prototypes and demos), but also video interviews with some Blue Sky Rangers, an A/V presentation on the history of the console, bonus TV commercials featuring spokesman (and sports writer) George Plimpton and production notes and box art scans for all the games. In short it's just about as much Intellivision as any fan could ask for!

The main menu interface is a virtual pizza parlour called Hal's with the games divided into categories represented by cocktail and upright arcade cabinets. It's a bit weird since these were not only home console games, but for the most part they aren't terribly arcade-like either! There's a corner with photos of the development team where you can view the interviews and the Intellivision history feature; then a jukebox where you can play some original music about Intellivision performed in the style of 1980s pop songs. Irritatingly this music will play even after launching a game, so you're either listening to the tracks all the time or just turning them off completely (we suggest the latter).

The interface is okay, but it's a bit clunkier than it needs to be. You move around the room by pressing the control stick left and right; then up to zoom-in on the chosen category. You'll need to press up twice to view the game lists in each category: one to see the category name and then another to bring up the game list. It's minor, but it can get a bit annoying -- especially since some of the categories are so arbitrary. Sports is pretty self-explanatory; then there's Gaming and Strategy which is card and board games; then Space which is...games that take place in space? And what kind of category is Combat and Sorcery? There's a category called Arcade that seems to be a grab-bag of unrelated games and the Educational Titles section has two titles that are more like arcade titles -- probably just because the developers felt no one would bother looking at this category otherwise. When you have a collection of 60 games on offer and want to find one to play it kind of helps to have an organisational system that makes sense, but this one fails.

Once you zoom-in on your chosen category you'll see a list of titles on offer with symbols indicating whether or not a game can played by one or two players. In the early days of console gaming CPU-controlled opponents weren't that common in sports or one-on-one strategy games, so you'll find several games (especially sports titles) that can only be played against another human player. Others can be played by one player, but require both controllers because the player 2 pad was originally used to set parameters for the CPU player in a single player game. Now we're all for faithful emulation, but it would have been nice to do some programming magic to allow a single player to play a game of baseball without plugging in the player 2 Gamecube pad just because a dead console required it 20 years ago!

The main strength of Intellivision is the more strategy-oriented games like Space Spartans or WWII aerial combat simulator B-17 Bomber, which take advantage of the fact that the Intellivision boasted enough buttons to make an Xbox 360 blush. You have the 12 keypad buttons: 0-9, "Clear" and "Enter;" then 3 action buttons (the actual controller had four, but two had a duplicate function) and a control disc capable of indicating 16 (!) directions. Even today that is a lot of buttons to deal with, and it's not helped by the fact that a lot of the game designers back then were new to video games and thought that mapping a different function to every button on the keypad was a good idea (a problem that still persists to the present day). There were originally overlays to insert into the controller so you didn't have to memorise buttons, but in lieu of this a couple of solutions have been implemented to make these games playable with the modest 8-button, dual-analogue-stick, d-pad-enabled interface available on the Gamecube.

All games have the ability to display a virtual Intellivision controller -- complete with insert card -- by holding Z and pressing the B button. Players highlight the button they want on the virtual keypad with the d-pad or control stick and then press A to activate it. The Z button can also be used as a function key so that pressing L (normally keypad "0") will be the same as the "Clear" button on the keypad and R will be the same as the "Enter" button. Additionally most of the games support holding the C-stick in different directions and pressing R to replicate pressing the 1-9 buttons on the keypad. These solutions are passable, but not without problems.

The virtual controller takes up a full 3rd of the screen -- which is only displayed with a 4:3 aspect ratio -- so you cannot play a game with it displayed all the time. For some reason the image is of the entire controller, including irrelevant bits like the title part of the insert card and the control disc. It's nice for nostalgia buffs, but you find images of the controller on the internet, so this is a massive waste of limited screen real-estate. If the game supported widescreen displays (it was released only a few years ago, so that was certainly possible) or the pop-up display was made smaller you could have left it up all the time and dedicated the C-stick to navigating it. At the very least it would have been nice to allow players to re-map the controls as they see fit; instead you need to memorise the game controls and what the developers thought made a good Gamecube layout, supplementing with virtual keypad presses as needed.

For many games you will absolutely have to read the instructions (thankfully included and accessible via the in-game pause menu) because many of them have different game modes selected with keypad presses and several have complicated controls -- one of the main complaints about the Intellivision when it was released. If you take the time to read the instructions and learn how to play them you will definitely find some worthwhile games here. Old-time sports gamers will enjoy 8-bit renderings of American football, ice hockey and basketball, but odds are if you're playing Intellivision Lives! on a Wii you probably won't want to deal with most of the sports titles when you have Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort available. Your time will be better spent with original titles like Night Stalker, Shark Shark!, Space Battle, B-17 Bomber, Hover Force, Thunder Castle, Space Spartans, Frog Bog and others.

This collection is lacking some brilliant 3rd party games from Imagic and the excellent AD&D games (sans license-infringing names), though these and some Activision games can be found in the PC/Mac collection Intellivision Rocks thanks to a quid pro quo licensing deal. Unfortunately gamers in PAL territories will have to make do with PS2 or PC/Mac versions of Intellivision Lives! since no European publishers elected to pick it up for the Gamecube. As of this writing a DS version is being shopped around for publication in 2010; we can only hope that Intellivision Productions will seek to put out a re-release for the Wii including all the available Intellivision games and a fresh interface in the future.

Conclusion

Despite a clunky menu and inflexible control layouts, it cannot be denied that Intellivision Lives! does what it says on the tin: present a nice slice of classic gaming goodness for hard-core retro gamers. There's a massive library of classic Intellivision games on offer, many of which will provide a quality gaming experience even by today's standards. If you're a fan of the original system, like old 8-bit console games or just want to experience some vintage video gaming for the first time, it's well worth tracking this one down. Long live Intellivision!

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User Comments (43)

bro2dragons

#1

bro2dragons said:

i was so excited by this game... almost an entire console on one disk.... it's a shame i could only find one copy and i'm pretty sure it was broken. perhaps it was just the games, but half of them didn't even work. i think i shall try to track down another, though...

Sean_Aaron

#2

Sean_Aaron said:

I was left with that impression initially, but it really is a case of reading the instructions thoroughly since many of the games require you to press certain buttons (or call up the Intellivision keypad) to choose the game type before you can begin them.

If you lack the patience for that, then you'll probably find this frustrating because I think only one or two games will allow you to start simply by pressing an action button and very few are pick-up-and-play games like on the Atari 2600.

WanderFan91

#3

WanderFan91 said:

Good review, Sean. :)
I agree about the controller issue a tad bit.
But, I do like Shark! Shark! and Frog Bog and Thunder Castle among others. Oh, and Thin Ice being one of them. :)
Space Spartans, prepare for space glory!!!!! I'm sorry, I couldn't resist, Sean, honest. :$
Please forgive me for the 300 reference.

WanderFan91

#5

WanderFan91 said:

Are you new, 3230? If so, welcome to NL. :)
I wonder how the upcoming DS version will turn out?

thewiirocks

#6

thewiirocks said:

This package was so underrated when it first came out. My kids and I have spent hours playing some of the games on this compilation. Which is good, because I'm far too protective of my original 1980-model Intellivision to let them hook it up and play by themselves. ;)

For anyone who's never played Shark! Shark!, you need to play this game NOW. Despite being the original "eat the fish to get bigger" game, it displays a depth and addictiveness of gameplay that is simply unmatched by all the Flash and iPhone fishy games that have followed. (There's an interesting history behind those flash games that, oddly, ended up being completely disconnected from Shark! Shark!. If anyone is interested, ask me sometime and I'll give you the full rundown.)

Astrosmash was an extremely interesting shooter for its time. The game got harder or easier depending on how well you were doing. In fact, your score actually went up and down placing a lot of pressure on the high-score fanatics to nail every rock that came flying at them! Astrosmash was one of those games that you loaded up and then entered a zen state for the next 2 hours. It really is quite the experience.

@StarBoy - Space Spartans! Man I love that game! Having the computer vocally explain status, telemetry, and other information so that you're not distracted by readouts? Not even modern games do that! It really was a unique experience that is difficult to replicate without the keypad controls of the 2600.

Of course, my all time favorite game (which is sadly missing from the GameCube collection) has to be The Dreadnaught Factor. Making bombing runs was nothing new to video games, even then. But making strategic bombing runs was. You weren't just blowing stuff up, you were strategizing about what to take out on each pass such that you could slow the ship down, reduce cover fire, or aim to overheat the vessel. Even more exciting was that you weren't just making strategic bombing runs, but you were doing it under such a massive weight of fire that you really felt like you were attacking an honest-to-God dreadnaught. I mean, this was a game where even the best players were expected to die.

Again, I have never seen anything like it before or since the Intellivision. The Inty truly stands alone as a long-lost branch of incredible video game history.

(As an aside, I have both the 2600 and 5200 versions of The Dreadnaught Factor. The 5200 has better graphics, but it somehow lost the excitement and charm of the original. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I can say that the Intellvision version is superior by far.)

WanderFan91

#7

WanderFan91 said:

Shark! Shark! FTW!!!!!!!!! :)
"Big Fish Eat Little Fish"

Yep, Astrosmash is fascinating. It was a good experience. I liked how the sky progressively changed colors the more score you made. :) I completely forgot about the score going down sometimes.

Snafu was also a good time.

I looked up somewhere online that the Intellivision was the first 16-bit console.

thewiirocks

#8

thewiirocks said:

"Big Fish Eat Little Fish"

Little fish nip Shark to death. Mwhahaha! :p

I looked up somewhere online that the Intellivision was the first 16-bit console.

It was. Though it's important to remember that this was before anyone made a big deal out of such things. Hardware was so expensive back then that just about every system had a weird architecture. The Inty was no exception. A 16 bit processor running with a 10-bit memory organization. The circuit paths were rather weird too. I don't recall the details, but the startup sequence confused a lot of people since there appeared to be no path between the startup firmware and the CPU. (Or something like that. Again, it's been a while.)

"And so I plaaaaaayyyy myyyyy, Intellivisiiiiioooooonnnnn..." :P

WanderFan91

#9

WanderFan91 said:

I love that "My Intellivision" song.
LOL, oh yeah, nipping the shark's tail 'til it drowns is fun! :D

Activision and Mattel make good classics.

Sean_Aaron

#10

Sean_Aaron said:

I have The Dreadnaught Factor for the 5200 (well, to be honest the ROM) and it's definitely one of my favourites for that platform; I had no idea it was available for Intellivison and it's a shame it didn't make this collection.

Shark Shark! is really a little gem. I didn't think it would amount to much, but it's terrific.

Astrosmash, I have to say is one of those Intellivsion games that I'd put in the "too easy" category (apparently this was a complaint about a few games, prompting re-releases with increased difficulty -- Space Battle gets a mention in the production notes in this collection; thankfully they included the tuned-up version). I really had to lose on purpose just to end my game. I kept hoping it would get more challenging, but earning extra ships every 1000 points was a game-breaking design decision.

Every time I hit a rough patch and lost a few lives, I could get back into double-digits within a minute or two. This was on the fastest speed as well. I tried a slower speed in case I misunderstood the relation between speed and difficulty, but slower is definitely easier (not sure why you only get to record a high score for the slower settings).

Amusingly a few of the M-Network games had better gameplay than their Intellivision inspiration -- see Dark Cavern versus Night Stalker as well as the aforementioned Astrosmash.

Great stuff here; makes me all the sadder that Atari and Activision haven't seen fit to release some 8-bit collections of their own for the Wii.

thewiirocks

#11

thewiirocks said:

@Sean Aaron - The ROM? Do you have Sean Kelly's multicart or something? (Since I assume you're not playing on an emualtor. ;)) Those things cost a friggin' bundle. I wanted one in the past (especially since I happen to know Sean Kelly IRL) but I just couldn't justify spending $100+ on one when I could get tons of 5200 carts for the same price.

That, and I got Dreadnaught Factor 5200 new in the box, still sealed. Sean sells some great stuff. :D

I completely hear you on Astrosmash. The thing is, it's not about how long you play. It's about getting your score as high as possible. With the constant ups and downs of the game, that isn't easy. In fact, the games go by much quicker if you push your score higher rather than trying to stay alive. As you said, the game happily obliges you if you want to live forever. ;)

I know a lot of people preferred Astroblast (the 2600 M-Network version) because Mattel cranked up the difficulty. As I recall, they did some market research and found that Atari players preferred short, intense games over longer, more thoughtful games. (Which is a nice way of saying they have short attention spans. :P) This fed into their decision to increase the difficulty on many of these games.

What's interesting is that I have both and I almost see them as different games. Astrosmash is fun for chilling out and shooting a bunch of stuff. Astroblast OTOH is an intense action game that makes excellent use of a properly cleaned and rebuilt paddle controller.

Sean_Aaron

#12

Sean_Aaron said:

I downloaded the game ROM somewhere and run it through Atari800MacX. The controllers on these old 8-bit systems are generally so awful there's no way I'd want the real kit, but 5200 games play very well with a Playstation dual analogue pad.

With regards to Astroblaster, I take your point, but the only challenge I found in getting the 20,000 points required to unlock the TV ad in Intellivision Lives! was in maintaining my interest long enough to do so!

I'm definitely in the camp that prefers an extremely challenging, but short-lived game. I must say this collection is very nice, but I don't really regret not owning an Intellivision back in the day. Nice to be able to have my cake and eat it too!

WanderFan91

#13

WanderFan91 said:

Thunder Castle is an awesome maze game. It has three stages; the first stage with one obstacle, the second stage with two, and the third three. Although, it gets really hard after beating stage one. Defeating these enemies three times is a fun challenge. :)

TwilightV

#14

TwilightV said:

I thought the real selling point for this was the presentation. Even though i've never actually owned an Intellivision, the arcade style menu and music just screamed nostalgia. The extra videos were a plus, too. I'll definitely be purchasing the DS version when it finally gets published.

@StarBoy91: Thunder Castle was my favorite. :)

WanderFan91

#15

WanderFan91 said:

Plus, I dig the English Medley that plays in Thunder Castle. At least, I think it's called English Medley.

Oh, I forgot: Shark! Shark! has a beautiful game over song, imo. :)

thewiirocks

#16

thewiirocks said:

I downloaded the game ROM somewhere and run it through Atari800MacX.

You don't know what you're missing. Yeah, the 5200 is hard to clean and maintain. Yeah, it requires a rebuild every time you leave it in the closet for more than a week. Yeah, it's bigger than a PS3. (Which is saying something! :P)

But it's history, man! Games just don't feel the same or play the same through emulators as they do the real thing. Some translate over okay (as this collection demonstrates) but the best of the best are meant to be played in their original glory. In this case, with a smooshy analog controller and keypad or with a control disc and less smooshy keypad. :D

Just make sure you get a later model of the 5200. You'll avoid the "power supply hooked through the RF cable" weirdness and the controller boots won't disintegrate. You'll still have to take a pencil eraser to the flex circuits, but that's not anything difficult. Just be careful not to pinch the circuits when you put the controllers back together. (I broke a pathway on a controller that way. :()

As for Inty's, anyone looking to get one should avoid the Inty II like the plague. Either get the original model (and give it plenty of clearance for heat dissipation) or get the late-model "Intellivision III" or "Intellivision Super System" version. The later versions were based on the original design with a few positive tweaks. The Inty II was just a cheap piece of plastic designed to reduce costs.

WanderFan91

#19

WanderFan91 said:

As one of the nicest people on Earth (at least, I think I am), I've gotta say that Frog Bog is an enjoyable frog game. Not that Frogger isn't a good arcade classic, it is.
Reptilians eating flies is a good concept.

Sean_Aaron

#20

Sean_Aaron said:

Frog Bog is decent, but I prefer the simpler controls of the M-Network Frogs and Flies -- the analogue controls leave a lot to be desired in this game.

@thewiirocks: I hear you, but collecting that old stuff is just too much work for little old me. If the chip preservation project discussed on Atari Age bears fruit in the form of some kind of multi-cart Atari Supersystem I'll change my tune, but until then the Mac Mini I plan on getting next month is going to satisfy my Atari gaming needs for the foreseeable future. I'll definitely pre-order a compilation if it comes out for the Wii, but first someone has to bother to make one!

Oh, and Europe did get this, just not on the Gamecube. PS2 version should be obtainable.

OldBoy

#21

OldBoy said:

Nice review Sean Thanks. No EU release means I won't be getting this but I do have an intellivision in the loft with 20+ games that I got from a car boot as a kid for a fiver :). I got a lot of enjoyment out of it when I was younger and this seems like a good compilation. You gotta love those controllers, 16 directions!!! Way ahead of it's time :D

WanderFan91

#23

WanderFan91 said:

Maybe I worry too much (I think I'm nice). Oh, what about Space Cadet? The unreleased prototype, I remember having fun with that game.
Hard Hat was interesting.

Sixteen directions is a lot, way more than the MegaDrive's D-Pad (eight).

thewiirocks

#26

thewiirocks said:

hear you, but collecting that old stuff is just too much work for little old me.

Hehe. Fair enough. Thanks for putting up with crotchety ole' me. As you can tell, I love getting my hands on old hardware and try to get everyone to follow. ;)

BTW, I don't think I said it before. Thanks for doing an excellent review of this title. It's one of my favorites and never got nearly enough attention. :)

WanderFan91

#27

WanderFan91 said:

Hooray for phone-like controllers.
[pictures self talking through controller like a phone]
I can make childish replies sometimes. :(

IlikeVideoGames

#28

IlikeVideoGames said:

Holy crap I never even knew this game existed and I have always wanted to try Intellivision games. I am gonna have to check Gamestop someday.

WanderFan91

#29

WanderFan91 said:

Why is it that sometimes I make childish comments? :(
The "My Intellivision" song is epic!!!

TKOWL

#30

TKOWL said:

Good review :)

I saw the original Intellevision as a Convention a couple of months ago, and I wanted to know more about this. Thanks for the info!

Sean_Aaron

#33

Sean_Aaron said:

He reviews bad games for entertainment. If I was to judge a system on the basis of AVGN reviews I'd avoid the NES like the plague!

TwilightV

#34

TwilightV said:

Right. You can't take a person who curses all the time seriously. Especially if you don't know what they're like off-camera. I'm pretty sure he likes a lot of the things he bashes. :P

RowdyRodimus

#35

RowdyRodimus said:

Interesting sidenote about the Intellivision; my uncle was a member of the Matell boys division back in the late 70's to the mid 80's (he helped with the launch of Masters of the Universe, how cool is that?) and according to him the reason the Intellivision lasted as long as it did was due to the popularity of Masters of the Universe and Barbie. The money from those divisions allowed them to keep the Intellivision going even though it was a black hole in terms of profits.

(Not unlike the PS3 and the 360 accounting for losses for Sony and Microsoft today)

WanderFan91

#36

WanderFan91 said:

StarBoy91 hums the game over theme of Shark! Shark!

I am SO enamoured with Shark! Shark! :3

How about that one carousel prototype? That was peculiar, and interesting.

Ah, Mattel. :)

RowdyRodimus

#37

RowdyRodimus said:

Oh and never trust the AVGN. Anyone who drinks Rolling Rock (slightly beer flavored water) is not to be trusted. :)

WanderFan91

#38

WanderFan91 said:

I looked up that the AVGN reviews games that he likes. Although, I'm not entirely sure.

Also, hooray for Thin Ice, whose gameplay reminds me a bit of the arcade game Qix, which forever remains the unpronounceable game title of all time.
The way the penguin is ostracized by his friends (because of his unique trait) reminds of how Mumble from Happy Feet is ostracized by the majority of the penguins (because of his unique trait). Except the Thin Ice penguin likes to skate, and the Happy Feet penguin likes to dance.

greendatsun

#40

greendatsun said:

I just bought a copy of the intellvision lives for the gamecube from gamestop. I am having problems playing the games. I am using it in my wii and only have one controller dose this affect game play. I can not get the overlay controller to show or with games like space armada and shark shark i can not choose one or two players. where can i get a copy of the docs for the game cube game please email me at kharrin432@aol.com

Turbo_Genesis_64

#41

Turbo_Genesis_64 said:

Tower of Doom is the best reason to get this. I would rather play it than Zelda for the NES! It has tons of re-play value with its random generated dungeons. A very satisfying game to say the least. It's amazing!!

Space Battle, Pinball, Shark Shark, and Thunder Castle are great titles too.

The upcoming DS version will have over 40 games. So fingers crossed we will get the D&D and Imagic games.

WanderFan91

#42

WanderFan91 said:

Shark! Shark! is the best game in the compilation, imo. :)
Hmmm, maybe I'll get the DS version once it comes out. :)

atariman

#43

atariman said:

I have the Intellivision, It rocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! but I don't have Have Intellivision Lives! :(

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