Think that when you’ve said “Atari, Mattel and Magnavox” you’ve said it all when it comes to game systems? Think again. Because if the big three are Fords and Chryslers and Chevys. a system called ColecoVision is bucking to become the Rolls Royce of the game world.
The word “unique” gets a special workout when you’re talking about ColecoVision. It combines superior graphics, twice as much RAM as its major competitors and the capability to be compatible with other manufacturers’ games.
All this adds up to make ColecoVision the system to watch in the months to come. It probably comes closer to resembling the Mattel console and controllers than Atari’s VCS and 5200, but on the outside and inside, Coleco’s system combines and surpasses many of the features gamers favor in other video game systems.
It’s a handsome black and silver unit about 15” x 9½” x 3,” with a large well in the top left side for storing the two keypad/joystick controllers. Nearby are two switches: one latching type that turns the console on and off, the other a light-touch recessed button for resetting the game.
What sets the ColecoVision apart from every other game system on the market is a unique sliding door on its front right side which pulls up to reveal a slot for adding accessories and modules. This Expansion Module Interface slot will ultimately accept an Atari-compatible adapter (designated “Expansion Module #1”) available for about $60. It’s designed to allow the playing of any VCS game on the ColecoVision system. Also coming up is a driving module that will allow real hands-on steering and acceleration for Coleco’s version of Sega’s famous Turbo arcade game. Already on the drawing board is Expansion Module #3, a keyboard module designed to tum the ColecoVision component into a small, but fully functioning personal computer. (I’m not going to hold my breath for that last one, knowing how long it’s taken for the legendary Intellivision keyboard component to get on the market.) A spring-loaded slot on the top of the console accepts the Coleco game cartridges, which are a little bit bigger than the standard Atari VCS or Intellivision cartridges. The Coleco carts contain considerably more ROM (Read-Only Memory) than those for other games. at least as much or more than those designed for Atari’s 5200 or their Model 400 computer.
A six-foot cord connects the ColecoVision to its plug-in power supply (#55416), which has got to be the largest external transformer of its kind I’ve ever seen. It resembles a large, black brick, weighing at least a couple of pounds. A four-pin cable feeds both five-volt and 12-volt DC power to the console. Since this power supply has two built-in transformers instead of the usual one, it’s not hard to understand the reason for its size and weight. I must warn users that during my extended tests. this power supply got very warm to the touch. even after playing games for just a couple of hours. As the manufacturer recommends, it’s a good idea to unplug the transformer when the console isn’t in use.
Next to the power supply jack is a phono jack for the 15-foot RF cable, with a small switch to choose between channels three and four. I had a few problems with Coleco’s modulator, which sometimes caused a lot of interference on channel three. I solved the problem by switching it to four, which seemed to work fine, despite the fact that my area already has a TV station on channel four.
Evaluating The Controllers
The ColecoVision controllers are unique, essentially combining the basic design for the Intellivision keypad with a short, stubby VCS joystick. Each controller measures about 6⅜” x 3” x 1” and features two large grey pushbuttons on the top sides as firing controls. Twelve light-touch membrane switches comprise the keypad. The controller comes with an attached five- foot coiled cable.
The Coleco joystick, which resembles an Intellivision disc paddle combined with a round handle, takes a lot of getting used to, especially if you now play with Atari’s VCS joystick. I found the ColecoVision joystick to be a little cranky and unwieldly for my admittedly fumbling fingers; I often found myself longing for the more responsive Atari joystick. Just on a hunch, I tried plugging the Atari joystick into the ColecoVision console, and voila—it mated perfectly with the jack and worked like a charm. The only problem is that since all ColecoVision games require selecting the number of players and the difficulty level, you’ll have to do some quick joystick swapping at the beginning of two-player games. I noted that the Atari CX-21 Video Touch Pad will likewise fit the Coleco and can be used for game selection and other numeric keypad entries as well.
A ColecoVision spokesman disagreed with my opinion of the controller, explaining that their joystick provides more precise control over the game action than competitive models. The Coleco controller does offer the ability to change the speed of the action during certain games, but the games I’ve evaluated at present don’t take advantage of this feature. Joystick selection is a very subjective decision for any game player, so I’ll agree that your conclusions may not be the same as mine. But for my money, the simple Atari joystick is easier and more comfortable to use and that’s that. It is to Coleco’s credit that they give you the choice of using another company’s joystick.
An Elephant-Sized Memory
Some of you cynics out there may say. “OK, great—that’s all well and good, but what about the games? That’s where we really separate the men from the boys!” Glad you asked. The ColecoVision console is the first on the market to offer a whopping 32K of internal RAM—double that provided by either Intellivision or even Atari’s 5200—making it the most powerful video game console in the world. It’s really out of the league of most mere home games, crossing over the threshold into the world of the small personal computer, like Atari’s model 400 or 800. Granted, there’s no keyboard, disc drive or printer yet, but my guess is that the ColecoVision is just as capable of interfacing with all of these peripherals as a genuine 32K computer. With all this memory, the video and sound output of the ColecoVision sets a new standard for video games now on the market. Let me say that again, to make sure you heard me right: The ColecoVision is my new favorite, no two ways about it. Based on the Coleco carts I’ve evaluated (including Donkey Kong which comes with the console), I’d say that the ColecoVision comes closer to providing true “arcade-quality” graphics for the home than anything else I’ve seen. For $200, the system is a steal-right between the list price of the basic Intellivision and VCS consoles, and about $70 less than Atari’s 5200. With the added bonus of the VCS expansion module, it would seem to be a perfect way for Atari owners to advance to a world of better games without obsoleting their present collection.
So far, more than twenty ColecoVision game cartridges have been announced: Donkey Kong, Venture, Cosmic Avenger, Lady Bug, Smurf—Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle, Carnival, Zaxxon, Turbo, Mouse Trap, Spectar, Rip Cord, Side Track, Space Fury, Mr. Turtle, Smurf—Play and Learn, Skiing, Head-to-Head Football, Head-to-Head Baseball, Ken Uston’s Blackjack and Poker, Horse Racing, Tunnels and Trolls and Chess Challenger. The first nine of these will be available in both VCS and Intellivision versions. All will sell for around $30 except for Turbo, which will be about $80 (including the Steering Expansion Module #2).
I’ve had a chance to carefully evaluate the ColecoVision versions of Donkey Kong, Venture, Cosmic Avenger, Lady Bug, and Smurf at press time and enjoyed them all immensely. Because of the ever-changing game screens, the high-quality graphics and the imaginative music and sound effects, I found the games to be always entertaining and rarely boring—no easy feat, with my limited attention span. If anything. my only complaint is that some people might find a few of the ColecoVision games to be too difficult—something that you don’t usually hear about a standard game. This can be good or bad, depending on how competitive you are.
The ColecoVision games put other versions to shame. The VCS Donkey Kong, for example, gives you a simplistic “bare bones” display, without any of the subtleties or the arcade-like background music of the ColecoVision game.
The VCS omits the last. most difficult level, the infamous “elevator level.” By comparison, the ColecoVision version was a near-perfect duplication of the arcade classic, with all of the sound effects and most of the visuals left virtually intact.
The ColecoVision execs are extremely proud of their system, which they consider to be the first Third-generation programmable on the market, right after the original Atari VCS and Odyssey² (first-generation) and the Mattel Intellivision (second-generation). As one spokesman told me: “The coin-op designers are always worried about keeping the home versions of their games as accurate as possible and so far we’ve had nothing but praise for our ColecoVision designs.” I’d have to agree with his assessment.
The only question that remains is whether or not Coleco will be able to get their system and games on the market fast enough. So far, dealers have been clamoring for the ColecoVision consoles, which have been in extremely short supply since their introduction this fall. My bet is that those consumers who are lucky enough to be first on the block with a ColecoVision will find the wait well worth it. The system is great, but there’s one thing Coleco has to fix. Before any game you have to stare at the words “ColecoVision” for 12 seconds. And when your game is over, you have to stare at it for another 12 seconds. Maybe Coleco wants to let us run to the refrigerator between hours of Cosmic Avenger, but when I play, I just want to play.