Before Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo battled it out for home console supremacy, there was an old World War I trench battle between Atari, ColecoVision and Intellivision. I never had an Intellivision back in the day as my mom brought home the ColecoVision one fateful Christmas in the early 80’s. But, my best friend next door did, and we would jump back and forth between our two systems all the time. While I felt pretty good about the Coleco’s library of games, there were a couple Intellivision titles I was secretly jealous of! Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and Microsurgeon come to mind. Now I have my own Intellivision with an ever growing library of games, and have come to really like the special style and graphics the Intellivision has to offer.
The Intellivision was originally made by Mattel. That’s right, the same Mattel that produces Barbie & Hot Wheels among other well known brands. Released in 1979, the Mattel Electronics Intellivision (Intelligent Television) also known as the “Master Component” was in many cases graphically superior to it’s main competition, the Atari VCS 2600. It sold well for a few years but then fell victim to the Great Video Game Crash of 1983!
Mattel sold the Intellivision to one of it’s former VP’s who actually kept the system alive until 1990! Mind you it was not flying of the store shelves and the games at that point were only sold by mail, but it did technically give the system a life span of over a decade! Let’s take a closer look at it.
There were a total of three versions of the Intellivision over it’s life time. This is the original version released by Mattel. They would go on to release one additional version before selling Intellivision rights to INTV Corporation who later released yet another version, the Intellivision III.
The Intellivision appears in design to be in-between the ATARI VCS 2600 and the Colecovision, which is natural as that is when it was released. The system is a mix of browns and a bronze colors. It has a wood grain veneer on the front like the original ATARI. The top of the unit is nice and symmetrical. There are two bronze metal plates at the top and bottom which are separated by the controllers and some vents in the middle. On the bottom right panel is a Reset Button and a Power Switch. On the left side is the brand Mattel Electronics INTELLIVISION Intelligent Television.
The controllers on the Intellivision could be stored in the system. Each controller has its’ own bay. Player one is the left side and player two is the right. The controllers on the original Intellivision are actually hard wired to the system. This makes repairing or replacing them a harder project. The cord is coiled and springy which doesn’t allow the controllers to move to far from the system without bringing the system with it! But like all of these classic systems you normally set them on the floor in front of you and played.
- Unit Lifetime: 1979-1990 (US)
- Units Sold Wordlwide: 3 million
- Resolution: 320 x 192
- Colors Available: 16
- Power Requirements: AC-55416
- Sound: 3 Channels, 1 Noise
- Games Released US: 125
The front of the system has no ports or connections and just sports a wood grain veneer very similar to the ATARI 2600. On the Right side of the system is where the game cartridges are inserted. Located in the center is the cartridge slot. The left side of the system is also void of any connections or ports.
On the back of the Intellivision you have two ports. One is for the power supply cable and the other is for the AV cable. For audio and video your only option was an RF box. You run the single RCA Cable from the system and attach it to the RF box which you attach to the coaxial input on the back of the TV.
The handful of Intellivision’s I’ve come across have all been in good shape for the most part. They seem to hold up pretty well over time. Like any 40+ year box of electronics they might need a capacitor or some other internal parts replaced, but they’re also easy to open and work on.
If you don’t have one in your collection I recommend you grab one. With the unique graphics and it’s affordability, it’s an easy system to collect for.
In 1983 Mattel released the first remodel of the original Intellivision, called… Intellivision II. This was a pretty substantial redesign from the original but was basically done for cost savings.
As far as the layout of the system we have a few noticeable differences. It has a much smaller foot print than the original model and the color is changed to white. At the time this gave the system a more modern look. The wood grain was finally removed with the white system having a black face-plate with the Intellivision II logo on the left and the Mattel Electronic logo on the right. The cartridge slot is still located on the right side of the machine. On the top left side you can find the Power/Reset button with a LED. Above those you have some vents for keeping this beast cool.
The back of the Intellivision II is also covered in vents and has three ports. On the far right is the RF AV connection. This still uses a standard RCA cord to run to a RF Box attached to the back of the TV. In the middle is the Power Port, which was switched to have the standard Power Box that plugs into the wall outlet. Next the the AC port is the Channel Select switch (channel 3 or 4) that works with the RF box.
The controllers are now housed side by side on the right side of the top of the machine. They are still stored in the machine which I always liked due to the flush look when not playing. The controllers use the same 9-pin style connector found on the ATARI 2600, ColecoVision and Sega Genesis. A huge change is that they are now detachable (a good thing). Mattel changed the number pad to just a flat surface with the numbers printed on this, which makes it harder to know what you’re pressing without having to look down at the controller, lame. On the plus side the cord was made longer.
The Second Revision
Model #5872 / 5878
In 1984 Mattel sold off the rights to the Intellivision and its game library to a former executive, who put together a company called INTV Corp. They continued to sell the systems and make new games all the way up to 1990. In 1985 they released the Intellivision III. The Intellivision III was basically a re-release of the original Intellivision design with some cost saving changes and a new color scheme.
This systems has the same ports and look of the original except it is now black and silver in color. The controllers used the same style of the Intellivision II (with a flat number pad) but are once again hard wired to the system vs. the detachable controller on the Intellivision II.
With the Atari 2600 on the market for a number of years with its single button joystick design, Matell decided to up the ante. Their controller would sport the first D-Pad design to appear on home consoles. While not exactly like the D-Pad you may be used to, the silver disk located at the bottom can be pressed in any of the standard up, down, left & right directions as well as angles in-between. The nice feature about it was that you can rotate the disk to the direction without lifting your thumb up.
In addition to the new control layout you also got a whopping 16 buttons on the controller. The left and right sides have two buttons on them, an A & B which perform the same action regardless of the side you press, which accounts for left and right handed players. The top of the controller is dominated by a 12 button numeric key-pad. This allowed for many more options in games. The key-pad also allowed for overlays to be inserted over it for each game. Many games took advantage of this feature so you could easily see what each button did.
While there were many new innovations with the controller it is not without its faults. First off is the non-ergonomic shape. This was before the days of the contoured controllers we have now, and it shows. You have to hold it with one hand underneath with its thumb being used for the side buttons, and the other hand cupping the bottom with your thumb up on the D-Pad and moving up when you had to use the key-pad. It take a little getting used to and works, but is definitely a bit clunky.
Another down-side to the original controller was that it was hardwired to the system. There is no plug you can pull out and replace the controller with, you got what it came with and you better be happy with that. The system can be opened and someone with a little know-how and repair and replace, but not the average consumer.
For the 2nd and 3rd revisions of the system the controller remained fairly similar, but with some good changes and some bad ones. A 9-Pin port was added to the controller (like the Atari 2600, ColecoVision and SEGA Genesis controllers), except the 3rd revision which went back to the hard-wired design. But, they changed the numeric key-pad to single bubble sheet verses each individual button having it’s own raised bubble. So you finger doesn’t feel each button, which made it easier to press the right button while not looking at the controller. Other than that though they still function the same way.
The Intellivision had a great selection of games. Much like the Atari 2600, the Intellivision had many first party games created inhouse and a slew of arcade ports.
The Intellivision, like all systems of this era, is a cartridge based system. The cartridges are smaller than both the Atari 2600 and the ColecoVision. They are slim and black in color with single sticker on the top with the name of the game. With a few exceptions they do not have any graphic label on them. The Intellivision had a nice selection of games and brought many of the first sponsored sports titles to the home gaming consoles. NFL, NBA and others all officially licensed games for the Intellivision. The systems games are generally better looking that the same title on the Atari 2600, but not as good as the ColecoVision. But, the Intellivision graphics have a particular look to them that makes it easy to recognize. They using similar graphic or sprite shapes in many of the games, but were able to make some very detailed graphics for the day.
The games came in nice sturdy cardboard boxes with colorful graphic covers. Most of the boxes had a bright border color frame and they look great on a shelf together. You accessed most games by opening the box cover like a book. Inside that was a slot for the game and a pocket on the inside of the cover to hold the manual and other parts. I really like these game boxes and for some reason they have help up very well over the years. Some of the games did revert to the regular “open the top of the box” to get your game out and I have noticed these boxes didn’t hold up as well. Regardless, you can easily find games complete in box with all of the parts included.
There are very few rare games for the Intellivision and all of them are fairly inexpensive. This makes it an easy and great system to collect for. Grab you a copy of Dungeons & Dragons, Microsurgeon and throw in some space combat games and have a blast.