At a time when TV-gamers are busily sorting out which new software company is making games for which established system and perhaps deciding whether to purchase the much-publicized ColecoVision as well, along comes the Arcadia-2001, courtesy of Emerson Radio Corporation. Who? What? When? Huh?
Emerson’s director of marketing Barry Brittman explains: “What we did after taking a long look at the TV-game market is come up with a high-quality system that combines the playability of Intellivision and the low price of Atari’s Video Computer System (VCS). It is very important that we don’t get lost in the shuffle.”
If Emerson can get the $200 (list price) 2001 to the stores this fall and manage to make a profit on a suggested $99 sale price, then the company could have a hit on its hands. But this is down the road a bit. First, the public has to determine whether this sixth TV-game (following the VCS, Astrocade, Odyssey², Intellivision and ColecoVision) is up to snuff. I had the privilege to test one of the first 2001s to roll off the assembly line. Here’s what I found:
That long look at the market Emerson took is evident the moment you set eyes on the Arcadia-2001. Sleek and handsome like Intellivision (the black plastic and walnut finish box measures 11½ by seven inches and is three inches deep), it has neat storage slots for the two hand controllers (Intellivision) and an opening on top in which cartridges snugly fit (VCS, Odyssey²). Just below that opening are five buttons marked reset, select, option, start and power. To Emerson’s credit, a handy red LED light lets you know at a glance whether the power is on or not. The 2001 is also lighter and more compact than its predecessors.
Again, comparisons are in order. Long and narrow with firing buttons on either side, a 12-key keypad, overlays and a multi-directional disc … how could you not compare these controllers to Intellivision’s? What’s different about them? Well, you can attach a joystick to the center of the disc if you wish. Not a bad idea at all.
In a “Cartridge Chart” Emerson included with its other publicity materials, 24 different games for the 2001 are listed. Each one is briefly described and then compared to a particular TV-game or games. Missile War is Missile Command, Ocean Battle is Sea Battle, Space Vulture is Phoenix or Demon Attack and so on (see chart). Only Emerson’s five Japanese arcade licenses—Pleiades, Red Clash, Jungler, Spiders and Funky Fish—are spared this indignity. Even though it’s helpful to know what’s what, I’m troubled by the company’s lack of imagination. Its lab of hackers seems to have spent too much time copying popular games and too little time coming up with new ones.
In some cases, however, Emerson’s hackers have created truly exciting renditions of original titles. Baseball, Soccer and American Football are good examples of this. But, in others, there are unnecessary hardships, such as a time limit in Alien Invaders (three guesses for which game this one is “different but competitive to”), which make for less enjoyable play. Continuing on the negative side, most of the arcade-type games are inexplicably one-player only, and the menu of variations leaves something to be desired, especially for those with hearty video appetites.
THE CARTRIDGE CHART
A first-rate cousin of Mattel’s Major League Baseball, Emerson’s Baseball allows you to control all nine players on the field at once simply by depressing the corresponding button on the mylar overlay and then maneuvering the player with the disc.
Here’s a neat trick: When a ball is hit to the outfield, an enlarged picture of that area of the field appears on the screen until either the fielder catches it, it passes over the wall (home run!) or it falls to the video turf. The field then returns to full size.
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Despite its name, Tanks A Lot is a good game, pitting your so-called Bazooka Man against a fleet of deadly tanks. The blue tank is your most mobile opponent; its main objective is to destroy your Commanding Base Vehicle. Meanwhile, four yellow tanks aim primarily for Bazooka Man.
At the highest level of difficulty (there are four mazes) the yellow tanks multiply to eight while the blue tank reappears five seconds after it is destroyed.
There are four variations, offering warp and barrier powers with options for warping the Command Base Vehicle to up to four different locations. Tanks also has a “freezing” feature—just press the freeze key on the right-hand controller and the game grinds to a halt until you decide to resume play.
Atari’s Combat is kindergarten compared to Tanks A Lot. In the latter, the fire from both your Bazooka Man and the tanks can whittle the mazes down to an alarmingly small number of bricks, whereas the combat field remains solid throughout. But, lest we forget, combat is a freebie. (The 2001 comes cartridgeless.)
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Cat Trax is listed as competitive to Pac-Man, N.A.P.’s K.C. Munchkin and Mattel’s Night Stalker but has more in common with Exidy’s Mouse Trap (to be released by Coleco). You’re a cat being chased by dogs in a maze. While you collect bits of catnip (dots) a fish randomly appears once per maze. Go for it and then start sending those hostile hounds to the doghouse at the top of the screen for big bonus points. Your cat retains its temporary superpowers for a good half-minute, which allows you to clean up the maze when you’re not playing dogcatcher. For those accustomed to the power pill’s short life in Pac-Man, this will seem extravagant at first. I’ve yet to get used to it.
The variations include warp, number of exits and a speedy red dog. One embellishment that Pac-players surely will appreciate is the clock that tells you precisely when your powers are about to disappear.
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Emerson’s Alien Invaders begins with the refrain from “Sprach Zarathustra”; it is repeated ad nauseum at the start of every game.
These 70 bland, cramped invaders have two unusual powers: they can scroll off one side of the screen and return on the other; and, as they descend, the buildings on which they are perched begin to shrink.
There are no game variations to choose from here. (No invisible invaders? Gasp.) There is, however, that ghastly five-minute time limit I mentioned above. Imagine having just to wipe out the last two aliens on the screen and it goes suddenly blank? I don’t know about anyone else, but if I’m going to lose the neighborhood anyway, I’d rather do it playing Atari’s infinitely more ingenious version.
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In the Defender department, we have Space Raiders (not to be confused with Atari’s Star Raiders or Raiders of the Lost Ark). In this explosive free-for-all, you have plenty of reasons to worry: Alien creatures, flying saucers and ground-based missiles are all prepared to reduce you to a cosmic blur. Watch your fuel count and land for petrol when you are running low. Though Atari’s Defender has a bigger cast and more interesting tasks and challenges, Space Raiders doesn’t pale by comparison.
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The Bazooka Man from Tanks A Lot returns in Escape, Emerson’s version of Berzerk. In this game of you versus “them,” as it is detailed in the brochure, you must “run for your life (you have four of them) and shoot from the hip.” Beware the Spinner, a twirling critter that spins for 30 seconds before releasing itself in you-know-who’s direction. The Spinner—like its mentor, Evil Otto—can penetrate walls and is indestructible. “They” can fire any number of bullets at you, depending on which variation you choose to play. You can also select how many of “them”—8, 12, 16 or 20—you want to pack the maze with.
With the Arcadia-2001, Emerson has achieved what it seemingly set out to do—deliver a playable TV-game system at an affordable price. Though its games lack originality, there are occasional sparks of innovation to be found. But, for a hundred bucks, who’s expecting Picasso?