I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I consider my videogame library to be a history of video gaming. Now, this may just be a justification dribbled out of my game-addled brain so I can feel good about owning so many little plastic doodads, but I truly believe videogames are art, and as such, should be preserved. I don’t have a Velvet Elvis hanging in my dining room, and I don’t have Deadly Towers featured prominently on the Nintendo shelf, but it’s there, hiding right by Mega Man and friends, because even the worst of the worst have a place in history. It also helps that you can usually buy the worst of the worst for a whole buck. Just hold off on the supersizing and you too can afford gaming history.
The Intellivision, obviously, is a part of Videogame History. In a way, it was the Sega Genesis to Atari’s SNES: it’s widely considered to be the loser of its console generation, but it still offered a complete library of games that are fondly remembered. It also performed a few tricks well before its descendants, like utilizing voice clips or its 16-direction control pad. And it had that number pad, which allowed for a lot more interesting gameplay than just move and shoot. Why, with numbers you could… choose your number of players? Maybe play a video game based on Math? Yeah, that sounds like a hoot.
Like the Atari, the Intellivision didn’t make it out of the video game crash alive. As a result, the majority of the “Nintendo Generation” doesn’t have much of a memory of the Intellivision. In time, that hazy memory has degraded into an almost mythical recall, forcing it into the same “did this really happen?” space as the CD-i, 3DO, or Atari Jaguar CD. The Intellivision likely deserves better (this is the gaming system that didn’t harbor Custer’s Revenge), but no man can control history, and Intellivision has been banished to the recesses of the gamer consciousness.
Or at least that’s the case for most people. Some of us poor, unfortunate souls picked up Intellivision Lives!, and have been left with a disdain for the system ever since.
I want to be clear about something right off the bat: no, I was not expecting anything better than Atari nonsense from an Intellivision compilation. I know full well that the Intellivision/Atari era was the Wild West of Gaming History, well before practically every trope and standard we take for granted was established. Gamers agree that Super Mario Bros. practically invented video games as we know them, and everything before that was… eclectic. You could rely on a computer game of chess to pretty much follow the rules that you’d expect, but a game based on M*A*S*H? That really could be anything in the universe. This is, ultimately, why the video game industry crashed: E.T. (and every game like it) wasn’t just a gamble on whether or not you’d get a game that utilized the license; it was a gamble on whether or not you’d get a game that was playable. The Nintendo Seal of Quality meant something, and that was that you’d be getting a game that, even if it was horrible, at least worked.
And, yes, a lot of Intellivision Lives! doesn’t work.
The first and most obvious problem here is that whoever was responsible for the porting/emulation here… didn’t bother. As mentioned earlier, the Intellivision had a number pad, so that was mapped to… an analog stick. How does that work? It doesn’t. It’s cumbersome beyond reason, and suddenly just entering a “one” becomes a (terrible) game onto itself. Next, there are a number of games in this compilation that absolutely, no exceptions, require a second controller… even if the game itself is one player. Really, why bother modifying billion year old code to account for modern conventions when you can just demand the player plug in a second controller? And, as just a lovely “screw you” to the user, some games feature challenges that require far too much effort for the tiniest payoff. Get that high score in Frog Bog (a game that features the use of one button… not one button and a crosspad, no, one button) and you can unlock a commercial! Oh boy! It’s not like Youtube exists!
But what about the games that actually are playable? Well, I went in with lowered expectations, and I don’t even think this trash cleared that stumpy stratum. It’s kind of dreadful when your “best” games are the two that are aping Space Invaders to the point of plagiarism (Astrosmash and Buzz Bombers, incidentally). There’s Night Stalker, which asks the question, “What if Pac-Man was made by escaped lunatics?” Another major hit is Vectron, a game that is completely inscrutable. I literally have no idea what is happening in that game. It looks like it wants to be Tempest by way of Rampart, but… maybe I was wrong to mention this game in the “playable” paragraph.
But wait, there’s more! You’ve been playing the nonsense that people actually paid for back in the day, and then there’s an entire category of “unreleased” Intellivision games. Demo Cartridge and Hypnotic Lights tell you absolutely everything you need to know about why maybe Intellivision was just as complicit as Atari in this whole “End of Gaming” thing. But don’t miss out on Magic Carousel, which combines all the fun of a Speak & Spell with waiting in line. Good gameplay does not involve waiting for a giraffe!
There’s a checkers game in there. Checkers is pretty alright.
So should Intellivision Lives! be a part of a video game library? The typical answer to this should go something like “it’s a time capsule of Gaming History, warts and all”, but I feel that that does a disservice to the Intellivision. Yes, there are warts on this collection, but somehow the emulation produced even more warts (and it has nothing to do with Frog Bog [mostly]). This is, technically, a collection of a system’s greatest hits, but it’s more like… hm… anybody remember Herman’s Hermits? They weren’t the best band to come out of the UK in the 1960’s, but they were pretty alright, and are indisputably part of Pop Music History. This game is a collection of Herman’s Hermits’ hits… but sung by a random dude in the shower. Is it the same as the original? Hell no. Does it make everything seem much worse? Oh my yes.
That is Intellivision Lives! It makes everything worse.
FGC #124 Intellivision Lives!
- System: Gamecube for the review, but also Nintendo DS, PS2, and Xbox. Technically, this is also available on Xbox 360 in various ways.
- Number of players: Two… sometimes absolutely required.
- Port o’ Call: I feel like I should go find the Nintendo DS version, as that was released later, included a few more games, and, I’m hoping, had a better overall presentation. Like, it couldn’t tolerate the “needs two controllers” hijinks… right?
- Favorite Intellivision Game: I guess it’s Astrosmash, which is basically a combination of Space Invaders and Asteroids. It seems like something that would be kinda fun on a cell phone or similar “play for five seconds” type of game. Of course, Intellivision Lives! ruins it by asking the player to achieve a score that would require at least ten minutes of pure monotony.
- Library Alternative: There’s an Intellivision Flashback Classic Console, which is a tiny console with two real-sized, “original” Intellivision controllers. Since a number of issues with this collection arise from porting Intellivision’s numberpad to modern controllers, I want to guess that the Flashback would be a much better way to experience the library. I’ve had too much Intellivision in my life to try, though.
- Speaking of…: I actually own an Intellivision, but I’ve never actually tested it to see if it functions. I found it in a “hidden compartment” of a bookcase I fished out of a neighbor’s trash. I’m not proud.
- Did you know? The Intellivision was the first gaming system to have its own, built-in font. Interestingly, a number of developers kind of hated it, and did their best to work around it. Some people are never happy.
- Would I play again: No. I want to say that, technically, this is my least favorite Gamecube game by a large margin. I’ve regretted owning this game practically from the first time I popped it in. If I were capable of getting rid of anything, this is where I’d start.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sonic Rivals for the PSP! Oh boy! Blue Hedgehog is going to fight Black Hedgehog and White Hedgehog! Please look forward to it!