01 February 1997

How to Start a Classic Video Game Collection Part 3: The System Choices - Non-Atari (originally for Suite 101)

[Suite 101 articles introduction]

In this article, I'll continue my look at the most popular consoles. Last time I covered the three Atari systems, so this time out I'll cover the three major systems not put out by Atari: the Magnavox Odyssey², the Mattel Intellivision, and the Coleco Colecovision. As in the last article, I'll be using the Atari 2600 as the yardstick against which to measure the capabilities of each system.

The Magnavox Odyssey² was an early competitor with the 2600. This system is rather underrated with collectors, which makes it easier to find. The graphics and sound are generally on par with early 2600 games, but unlike the 2600, the games did not improve much over time. The games are, however, often unique to this console. You would be hard pressed to find any controllers other than the joysticks the Odyssey² comes with, and many of these systems do not allow you to unplug the joysticks. The Odyssey² is probably a good choice if you know it has games you enjoy or you find a large initial supply of cartridges.

The Mattel Intellivision was the primary competitor of the 2600. It was released slightly later and has better graphics and sound than the 2600. The games are easy to find, but have a sports bias while the 2600 has an action/arcade bias. This might influence your decision. Although an Atari 2600 adapter was released, it is very hard to find. Intellivision controllers can sometimes be difficult to work with, depending on the game. Also, the Intellivision was not designed to change the controllers, so if one breaks, you're in trouble. Note that an Intellivision II and III were also released. No real improvements to the system were made with either release. In fact, Intellivision II controllers, although they can be changed out, are often considered inferior to original Intellivision controllers.

The Colecovision was released late in the classic era, so it has better graphics and sound than most other classic systems. It competed against the Atari 5200, so its capabilities are approximately equal to it. The games are a little harder to find than other systems’, but are usually plentiful enough if you live in the right places. The Colecovision has what is probably the easiest Atari 2600 adapter to find, greatly increasing the available library of games if you happen to find one. The original controllers are generally sturdy and can be easily swapped out. They are known to sometimes cause hand cramps, but not as badly as the Atari 7800 controllers. Coleco also created some other special controllers, like the Super Action Controllers, which are hard to find, but are considered some of the best controllers made for any system.

That concludes my look at the major classic consoles. In my opinion, a beginning collector’s best bet is the Atari 2600. The 7800 is also a good choice, mainly because it has built-in support for 2600 games. The Colecovision will prove harder to find games for, but is also an excellent choice if you can find the 2600 adapter. If sports games are your passion, you'll probably prefer the Intellivision. The 5200 can be a good choice, but be sure you get some good controllers with the unit or you will become quickly frustrated with it. The Odyssey² will probably provide less competition if you’re up against other local collectors. In the end, the final decision is up to you and your tastes.

Copyright 1997, i5ive communications inc. Used with permission.

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