|Every once in awhile game
companies do good deeds. Working Designs released Lunar for the PlayStation. Tiger
Electronics has worked to get every known classic arcade game ported to their game.com.
And now Activision has made available 30 of the most popular Intellivision games on
Intellivision Classics for the PSX. There's no doubt that video games have a long history
at this point in time, most people tracking their lineage over 100 years through pinball
and pachinko games. Every major gaming system throughout that history can be emulated
contemporarily, and other compilations of classic Williams, Atari, Activision, and Midway
hits have done well on various platforms. Unfortunately, while these games possess a
definite nostalgia, and occasionally a very catchy "twitch" characterstic,
revisiting the days of old will generally make you glad that you are past those primitive
Don't get me wrong. I apparently logged more time on the Intellivision version of Dungeons and Dragons than the average joe, because of the thirty titles included on the compilation, D&D is not one of them. It is sad, but from the look of things its inclusion would only have tarnished my golden memories. For those of you who want to see if your Intellivision fave is on the disc, here's the full list: Armor Battle, Astrosmash, Auto Racing, Baseball, Basketball, Boxing, Checkers, Chess, Football, Frog Bog, Golf, Hockey, Hover Force, Las Vegas Poker and Blackjack, Night Stalker, Pinball, Sea Battle, Shark! Shark!, Skiing, Sharp Shot!, Snafu, Soccer, Space Armada, Space Battle, Space Hawk, Spiker! Super Pro Volleyball, Stadium Mud Buggies, Star Strike, Sub Hunt, and Tennis. Phew, that's a long list, and the variety is incredible. The games range from entirely unique Intellivision products (Frog Bog, Shark! Shark!, Armor Battle) to then-popular arcade look-alikes (Space Armada, Astrosmash).
What was really cool about the Intellivision was the controller. As I get older, more and more of my friends can relate happy tales of Super Mario Bros. and Legendary Wings, but their knowledge of gaming stops there. A very common rationale for this is that the systems got two complicated. There is a belief among certain twenty-somethings that two buttons was enough for a controller. "Why can't games be simple, like in the old days?" is what they whine. In retaliation, I always like to inform them that long before their Mario days the Intellivision controller had an amazing 15 buttons. Twelve were on a phone-style numeric keypad, there was a button on each side of the controller, and a directional disc that could be pressed as a button. The games came with thin, vinyl cards that you slid into the controller, covering the keypad. By pressing on icons on the pad you pushed the buttons on the controller, creating a very easy way of managing many buttons.
Of course, you hoped that you memorized the button configuration before the overlay was either demolished or lost. After that, the controller could often be a mystery. And that's kind of what happens on the PlayStation. I think they should have manufactured PSX versions of the Intellivision controller. Then the games would really be presented properly. You can pull up an Intellivision controller on the screen by pressing the L1 & L2 buttons at the same time, and it's damn cute looking, but just not as practical.
Fortunately the control on the games if damn simple in most cases. That's an up considering the lack of sophistication on the PSX controller, but a down as far as gameplay goes. On games like Frog Bog you push left, then right, then left, then right. They can be uber-repetitive. Armor Battle is just a simple game of point, then shoot. Very slowly. The mines are almost useless, and it's a mystery as to why they're there.
No, most of these games aren't very much fun to play unless you played them before. Oftentimes the cover art is much more engaging than the actual game. Intellivision Classics is definitely for nostalgia and/or video game history buffs. Or parents who feel too popular with the kiddies. While it's good to keep in mind where we've been, and the importance of old systems, Intellivision included, is undeniable, we can all feel lucky we live in the present. To help us understand just how cutting edge the Intellivision was, and to get a feel for the industry as it was in the 1980s, Activision has included interviews with Intellivision programmers and developers. I felt bad cringing at their enthusiasm for a game I was fed up with in just a few minutes.
But, new school cynicism behind, we shouldn't denigrate nostalgia on our lockstep march toward bigger and better things. It is great to stop and see where we've been. For anybody who really loves gaming, it's about more than the smoothest textures or most complicated trade system. It's ultimately about where you are at the moment. Video games are transitory beasts; they're only with us for a little while. And we play the hell out of them while they're here. So popping in a disc full of Intellivision Classics is, in a lot of ways, a memoir of my childhood. It's like looking through a photo album my hair's always dorkier than I remember and things don't look like I remember them. But that's where I was, trying to avoid the dragon and pounding holes in the little vinyl insert. At a buck per game (SRP is $29.99), Intellivision Classics is an economical trip down memory lane. As a $2.95 rental it's even better. And if you haven't ever played an Intellivision game, a rental is required. Intellivision Classics will put you in touch with the roots of gaming.