For many years in the 70s and early 80s video games meant exclusively Atari, specifically Atari 2600. A lot of competitors tried to challenge this colossus over the years to try and gain slices of market but all the attempt eventually failed. Just two consoles were good enough to threaten Atari: Mattel Intellivision and ColecoVision and this last is the protagonist of today’s post, since it’s celebrating this September its 35th anniversary.
The story in a nutshell
After the swarm of PONG clones and similar stuff Coleco released in the late 70s under the generic name of Coleco Telstar, the company decided to move to the 2nd generation releasing a console capable to fight against the biggest competitors, especially Atari that, in those years, was on the market with two consoles, the 2600 and the 5200.
The goal was to produce a console capable of rendering at its best the arcade games of the era in order to beat the 2600, if not in the amount of titles, at least in graphics and gameplay.
The idea proved to be a good one but we cannot say the same about the timing: Colecovision was released in September, 1982, on the brink of the video game chash of 1983 so the new Coleco flagship had a shorth but successful lifespan.
Here we have one of the few cases of console without a Zilog Z80 CPU. However the NEC D780C-1 that beats in the console at the frequency of 3,58 MHz, is actually a clone of the famous Z80. Plus, the CPU is the same (along with the video card) of the Sega SG-1000 and of the MSX: this made easiest the job of the developers at Bit Corporation which released in 1986 a clone console, the Dina, capable to run also MSX and SG-1000 games. Being the processor very similar to the one used in the Sega Master System is possible, with some tricks, to emulate the ColecoVision games and run then on the Sega console.
The ColecoVision controllers are very similar to the ones made famous by Mattel Intellivision with the numeric keypad. The main difference is the absence of the dial and the presence of a small joypad that, for sure, make easier to play the games.
They are detachable and they have their own slot on the console (just like the Intellivision ones) but Coleco ensured also the compatibility of the famous Atari 2600 controllers, although they’re actually useless with some of the games that requires more than two buttons.
I don’t know if it’s just me but I tend to think of the console pre-NES as something archaic, PONG like and the post-NES as modern consoles with complex and graphically good games. This clear division maybe comes from the fact that the NES was the first successful consoles after the crash and that is nowadays considered one of the best consoles of all time.
However the division between the pre-NES and post-NES is not so clear but is more nuanced and after reading and studying the history of home consoles I’m always more aware of it. If you have a look on the graphics of the ColecoVision you’ll be positively impressed: 16 colors, 32 sprites on-screen at once and 256×192 pixels resolution. The sound chip instead is a 4-voices (3 tones + 1 noise).
Are known approximatively 150 games for the ColecoVision. According to the most referenced sources 129 games were U.S. exclusives, then there are some other with very limited release or released outside the U.S. (mainly Canada), some released for ColecoVision clones (namely the Dina) and then some unreleased prototypes. In the last years rose a large community of homebrewers and other games were published, more than 100, almost doubling the original library.
The most famous game for the ColecoVision was a port of Donkey Kong which was also the best selling title of the console, even because it was sold bundled with it. During the lifespan of the console it sold aroun 1 million copies.
Since Atari got almost all the licesnes to port the most famous arcade games of the time, Coleco tried to do its best in translating some less successful if not obscure games and they did this job very well, giving the opportunity to play sit comfortably on the couch games like Pepper II, Space Panic and Mouse Trap.
Other quite successful games were Burger Time, Ladybug (a very loose clone of PacMan) and Carnival that were also the first games released for the console. An honorable mention also to Turbo, an ambitious but well made racing game that features some pseudo-3D settings that is sometimes considered one of the best for the ColecoVision.
For other essential games one of my references is Issue #167 of Retro Gamer, in which, for the 35th anniversary of the console, they indicated as essential games also Miner 2049er, Wargames (another one of the best titles), Frenzy and Venture.
After 1983 crash and the decline of gaming consoles, began the era of home computers. Coleco tried to recover from the shock by releasing its own home computer, the Coleco Adam, but poor sales due to the high retail price and another crisis, that this time affected the home computers market, killed again Coleco’s good intentions and the company eventually retired from the electronics market in 1985.
During ColecoVision lifespan some accessories and clones were distributed.
The most famous were the three expansione modules, of which the first, named very simply #1 make the ColecoVision an Atari 2600 clone. This module represented the first big contender for Atari that sued the company and lost the cause since all the components of the 2600 could be freely reproduced and modified (time later Coleco released also a proper Atari clone, the Coleco Gemini). The Expansion Module #2 was simply a driving wheel for the console while the Expansion Module #3 convert the ColecoVision in a Coleco Adam, adding a keyboard, a printer and two cassette readers.
In 1983 on the brink of the crash, Spectravideo released the SV-603 ColecoVision Video Game Adapter for its SV-318 computer, allowing all the games library of the ColecoVision to be played on the computer.