12 December 1997

When is a Combat not a Combat? (originally for Suite 101)

[Suite 101 articles introduction]

Question: When is a Combat cartridge not a Combat cartridge?
Answer: When it's a Sears Tele-Games Tank Plus cartridge.

When the Atari Video Computer System (a.k.a. VCS or 2600) debuted, Sears was one of the strongest retail chains in the United States. If you wanted to sell your product at Sears, it had to have a Sears label on it. Thus, when Atari signed an agreement with Sears to have them sell the VCS, it became the Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade. (Tele-Games was the product line name for all video games at Sears. As far as I know, it is of no relation to the current Telegames company, which happens to sell classic video games.)

This was not the first time Atari had dealt with Sears. In 1975 Sears approached them with an offer to sell their new Pong console in return for one year of exclusive rights to do so. Pong became a top seller that Christmas and fueled Atari's development of the VCS. Without Sears, the VCS might never have made it to consumers!

The console was not the only thing renamed. Several of the games received new names as well. It's uncertain exactly why Sears did this. Perhaps it was to confuse shoppers and have them buy what they thought was new game, but was actually one they might already have. To make things more confusing, they named some cartridges after dedicated consoles they had previously released and just added a Roman numeral to the end to differentiate them. The most obvious example is Breakaway IV (a.k.a. Breakout).

Not all games were renamed. Home versions of arcade games Atari had to secure licenses for were not (e.g. Space Invaders, Pac-Man), nor were those based on other licensed properties (e.g. Superman). There were also three games that Atari created, but only sold through Sears. Here is a complete list of Atari cartridges that Sears renamed:

Sears NameAtari Name
Arcade GolfMiniature Golf
Arcade PinballVideo Pinball
BaseballHome Run
Breakaway IVBreakout
Cannon ManHuman Cannonball
CaptureFlag Capture
CheckersVideo Checkers
CircusCircus Atari
Code BreakerCodebreaker
Dare DiverSky Diver
Dodger CarsDodge 'Em
MathFun With Numbers
MazeSlot Racers
Maze ManiaMaze Craze
Memory MatchHunt & Score
Outer SpaceStar Ship
Poker PlusCasino
Pong SportsVideo Olympics
RaceIndy 500
SlotsSlot Machine
SoccerPele's Soccer
Space CombatSpace War
Speedway IIStreet Racer
Steeplechase[Sears exclusive]
Stellar Track[Sears exclusive]
Submarine Commander[Sears exclusive]
Tank PlusCombat
Target FunAir-Sea Battle

It is interesting to note that while Sears similarly renamed Mattel's Intellivision as the Super Video Arcade, they didn't rename any of Mattel's games. The boxes and instructions were different, but the cartridges and overlays are generally indistinguishable from Mattel's normal releases when found loose.

As a collector, you might ask whether the Sears version of games and consoles are rarer and more desirable. The answer is, "it depends." Some collectors who don't care about most cartridge label variations do collect Sears labels. Others don't care, except for the "Sears exclusive" games. In general, all Sears releases are slightly rarer than their Atari counterpart. (Check a rarity list, such as the one compiled by Craig Pell for details.) The same goes for consoles, although according to JerryG, the four-switch Sears console is possibly the rarest of the regularly released 2600's.

Copyright 1997 i5ive communications inc. Used with permission.

[2013-04-29: Craig Pell's list is still online, but hasn't been updated in a long time.  You might prefer searching the database at Atari Age.]

[2013-06-09: This article was modified and re-used in Classic Gamer Magazine a few years later.]

03 December 1997

Re: What was your last thrift purchase??

[Originally posted to rec.games.video.classic. Robert Batina asked, "tell everyone what your last thrift store purchase was and why."]

Five boxed Intellivision games with manuals and overlays for $2 each. (A bit pricey, but that's the going rate for classic cartridges at this thrift, boxed or not. I refuse to buy anything from them unless it's boxed and I don't have it.)

"Recently" bought an Intellivision + Intellivoice ($5) elsewhere and needed more games. Left a couple with boxes, but no overlays and/or instructions.

Boxed Odyssey 2000 with switchbox, power adaptor, and packing foam. (Only lacked instructions, as if I needed them.) Also a Merlin with half the instructions. Five bucks for both.

Desperate to buy *something* so I felt like I hadn't wasted my time. 8) Also, it was a high school band fund raiser and I was in band back in high school, so I sympathized with them and didn't try to talk them down. Besides, I didn't have an Odyssey 2000 or a working Merlin.

[I honestly don't remember either of these very well any more, so I can't give any more details. I'd guess the Intellivision games came from the Breaking Free Rescue Mission Thrift Store, based on the comments, but I'm not 100% certain. — 2 July 2010]