Retronauts Volume III Episode 24: Intellivision

We just recently talked about the ColecoVision on Retronauts Pocket, but this time we talk about its competitor, the Intellivision, and it gets a full episode treatment! Mwahah! (Actually, no conspiracy here — it just worked out that way.)

Admittedly, we’re not big Intellivision intelligentsia — I was the only one of the hosts who owned it, and 18 years after it was relevant. But we’re here to appreciate, and that’s what we do.  As one of the first, biggest challengers to the Atari 2600’s throne, the Intellivision came out in 1980 and was backed by Mattel’s marketing strength, which led to games licensed on sports leagues or Dungeons & Dragons, and nabbing author George Plimpton as their original pitchman. And while Atari got the rights to a lot of arcade hits, some of them came to Intellivision thanks to the Atarisoft imprint — a peculiar part of history we discuss on its own. Altogether, the Intellivision was a formidable opponent, with a library well worth exploring (including homebrew!).

Crowdfunding backer (and therefore official Retronauts FunFriend™) Adam Heberling lent us this topic as part of his reward, so send an internet Thank You, and feel free to discuss your best Intellivision memories and impressions in the comments.

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29 Responses to Retronauts Volume III Episode 24: Intellivision

  1. Can’t wait to hear the episode, I’ve been really enjoying Ray’s theme choices, and this one promises to be another great episode.

    Thanks Retronauts team, hope you guys don’t stop making this awesome podcast after the last Kickstarter episode.

    By the way, the link to the “Intellivision overlays” is missing an “l” at the end of “html”, it doesn’t link to the right page.

  2. Aelfric

    Another great episode! And I am really enjoying the livestreaming. If Jeremy needs suggestions, I would vote either for classics with which he is well acquainted (Bionic Commando? Golgo 13 [or Mafat Conspiracy]? Clash at Demonhead?), or perhaps some Genesis favorites with which he is barely or not at all familiar (Landstalker? Shining in the Darkness/Force? Sword of Vermillion?). Thanks again.

    • Cory

      I had these EXACT thoughts. Let’s all marvel at Jeremy’s gushing love and enthusiasm and laugh at his frustrations with a game he either hates or has never played. Fun times for all either way!

  3. Chris G

    Having never owned an Intellivision (never even touched one actually, I was born in ’87) would the good people of Retronauts recommend going back and trying to pick one up? I had a great deal of fun playing my aunt’s 2600 when I was a kid…

  4. Good to see you guys back!

    During the time, it seemed as though Intellivision had much more of a presence, at least in advertisements. Although Coleco was the far superior system in graphics and software library, I remember seeing Intellivision ads in comics and on TV much more than Coleco. And although I had Real Sports Baseball which sported some really good graphics for its time, because of the way Intellivision phrased its advertisements, I felt that I was playing the inferior version of baseball.

    …that is until I actually played at at a cousin’s house. Oh well, it was an interesting time, though.

    PS. We had the ADAM for like a week until we returned it. Tape version.

  5. Phillip Price

    What a great episode. I still have my Intellivision and play it from time to time. Night Stalker and the AD&D game were great and pretty forward thinking for their time. One game not discussed was SNAFU (basically Snake) but it had a ton of great play modes.

    Also, Utopia was a great early realtime and turn based strategy game that was incredible.

    Finally, for an early licensed game that was good was the He-Man game, which had fairly sophisticated scrolling stages along with dodge/maze stages.

  6. Paul Thacker

    It’s good to hear you guys delve into the less popular systems for a little while. But you shouldn’t close out the systems of the late 70’s / early 80’s without mentioning the Bally Professional Arcade / Astrocade. It never got a huge market share, but it stayed in production for quite a while due in part to its dedicated user community that distributed newsletters, tape software, etc. And I think the carts hold up pretty well. My favorite is The Incredible Wizard, based on Wizard Of Wor for the arcade. Check out for lots of info on the system and games.

  7. Jeremy asked for streaming ideas–you could stream your USGamer FFT playthrough, depending on what platform you’re playing it on.

  8. I would love to see more livestreams. My suggestions would be some of the old Simpsons games for the Snes like Bart vs. The Space Mutants or the Simpsons games for Gameboy. If you do stream something from the Playstation era please stream the original Resident Evil and some of the obscure RPGs.

    Also what emulators do you recommend for streaming Snes and Playstation games? I also stream on Twitch and would like to visit some older games.

  9. bsg

    Funny you mention John Hodgman as a modern day George Plimpton…

  10. I looked up those imagic covers after the podcast, and they are fantastic. I like how the Demon Attack one is literally just some generic dinosaur toys with jet wings attached to them painted silver. It’s kinda charming, even though I imagine it was still pretty hockey for the time.

    Man, I wish I could make it up to Too Many Games to see you guys live. Unfortunately, I can’t quite scrounge up the money for the trip up and hotel this month. Hopefully I can catch the next show.

  11. George B

    Fantastic episode like always! I remember being like 4 or 5 and having my ultra responsible mom leave me at the Intellivision kiosk in our local Harts store (long gone department store) and actually thinking you had to turn the dumb dial controller to use it. And being an uncoordinated little kid, I must have pushed hard enough while spinning the dial so that something actually happened on the screen occasionally. So I remember being an incredibly frustrated little kid trying to play the console by doing it wrong. 😛

    Oh! And there was al least one other console manufacturer who made games for competing systems at the same time. I have a bunch of Sega games on the PC Engine (yay for unnecessary cinematics in Altered Beast and Goldrn Axe!) and I’m not sure if Sega themselves made the Famicom ports of their games, and Tengen just brought them out over here, or what, but there were a bunch of Sega games on the NES too.

  12. Mega_Matt

    Great episode guys. My only experience with the Intellivision is kind of a sad one. My parents have never been into video games but for some reason they had an Intellivision. I had never heard of it before. I was already hooked on games from my NES and Coleco at that point, so when I found out they had one, I knew I needed to play it. I was extremely excited to hook it up and play this skiing game they had, but the console didn’t work. I don’t know what the problem was but I messed around with it for a while with no success. I was so disappointed. Then my parents threw it out…

  13. DRich

    I didn’t have one growing up, but I have the Intellivision Lives DS cart. I don’t think it has the Imagic games, but I still enjoy playing the games on it. And they have all the overlays reproduced on touch screen.

  14. DRich

    Also check out Imagic’s Beauty and the Beast as a platformer:

    And Activision’s Happy Trails as a puzzler:

  15. Jason Wilson

    The Intellivision was my first console. My Dad brought it home one day out of the blue. My brother and I played the hell out of it. Dad would play with us, especially Blackjack, Atlantis, Sea Battle, and Baseball.

    We got a PC not long after, and I played games on both. But to this day, the Intellivision holds a special place in my heart, and every time I think about it, I remember how my Dad helped foster something that’s turned into a career and a lifelong hobby.

  16. Abuele

    I owned an Intellivision, and clearly after listening to this episode, it was memory lane for me. I owned the Advance Dungeons & Dragons game, nevertheless it was short you could still enjoy it. Also I had Space Armada (an Space Invaders clone), Space Hawk, a friend lend me Astrosmash, I also had Math Fun, Burger Time, an excellent version by the way.
    You did talk about publishers, but for example Parker Brothers had their games packed in a nice golden box, even the cartridges had different shape in a slick black color with laber using the same gold frame as the box. Frogger and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back were like this.

    At some time I bought a stick accesory that you would fit in the controller above the disk, which would allow you a different way of control.

    I really enjoyed the baseball game, I did not quite got the football game, and for that reason I avoided football games since I felt they were very complicated, that until I stumbled with TECMO Bowl and then owned a copy of Joe Montana football for the Genesis.

    Great work guys.

  17. Zach Adams

    Only got to listen to the first third tonight, but two quick notes:

    1) Nearly all the Intellivoice games were voiced by members of the Firesign Theatre. I think the only one that didn’t use them was Tron (which used Disney vets like Corey Burton)

    2) The FTC thing makes sense in context, because from day one one of the most-hyped selling points of the console was the Keyboard Module. “Buy this new games machine when it launches in the fall, and within a year it’ll be a computer on par with anything in stores!” So after the third or fourth delay with it seeming as though they hadn’t even really started work on anything salable, consumers felt understandably defrauded and complained to the government. It *did* set a precedent, kind of, just one that’s not as relevant today.

    I have the PS2 version of the Intellivision Lives comp and it’s not bad, though “move the right stick and click R2” wasn’t a great solution. The biggest problem is that it’s missing too many significant games (the Tron titles, Burgertime, all the Activision stuff) due to licensing issues.

    Mentioning XBLA Game Room always makes me super sad. So much potential, so little execution.

  18. Kevin

    Definitely dug this episode a lot! I got an intellivision in the early 90s when my grandma found one at a church sale on the cheap, with some games and the Intellivoice. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the system – as stated on the podcast, there’s some weird games on there, some excellent ports, just good stuff all around. Imagic really was to the Intellivision what Activision was to the 2600 – their programmers knew how to get some top notch stuff out of the hardware.

    Some Intellivision favorites that went unmentioned on the podcast that are worth looking into: Diner (the Intellivison-only Burgertime sequel), Burgertime itself, Thin Ice, Thunder Castle, Atlantis, Beauty and the Beast, Beamrider, Space Battle, Shark! Shark!, and Tron Deadly Discs. I won’t say I like the system more than the 2600, but yeah, it has its own really cool and weird personality.

    So will there be an episode on the Magnavox Odyssey2? Gotta continue clearing out the major consoles of the early 80s and late 70s!

  19. Ryan

    Great episode! The Intellivision was my first and only console for most of the 80s, so I have fond memories of it, even if the controllers were horrid.

  20. Rodney

    Wanted to touch on a couple of things mentioned in this episode:
    1. There were overlays made for Colecovision, Mousetrap had them for sure (still have mine). And of course, Colecovision had a numeric keypad as well and the controllers (for both systems) were awkward to use.
    2. Microsurgeon was produced by IMAGIC, which would have been a 3rd party developer. What I’m not sure about is why they didn’t port this over to Colecovision, since they made cross-platform games.

  21. Sean C

    Out of those early era systems, the Intellivision is the only one I really regret not having. My friend down the street had one and it was so much better than my 2600. I rember being blown away by Night Stalker. Which sounds really weird now. One of the charms was that the further you got the Robot or whatever bosses chasing you would change. So it was fun just to see if you could make it to the next one and see what it’s features where. I remember being wowed reaching the invisible ones. Some of my favorite 2600 games where the M-Systems games ported to Atari 2600 and the Imagic games. The Intellivsion baseball blew away the Atari baseball. But the Imagic games where always better on the Intellivision. The controller was a piece of crap. My friend had to send his in for repairs twice. Good luck finding working controllers today. And those overlays got beat up pretty fast with regular use.

    So as much as I really liked the Colecovision, it’s really unfair to compare it to the Intellivision. They were different generation. I’m going with Intelivision by a hair over Colecovision. I really wish I had one.

  22. In a strange happenstance of synchronicity, I found a model 1 Intellivision, in original box with instruction manual, for $15 -and it 100% works (and is gorgeous -the console itself is virtually pristine, apart from the red refurbished label on the bottom).

    As the first console was had in the home, finding this was definitely a huge nostalgia bomb. I already had a model 2 Intellivision I’ve been using to play games, but that wasn’t the model I had originally. It is actually worth mentioning what improvements the model 2 made to the original design; the controllers were removable, and the console itself looks remarkably similar in size, shape and color to what the NES would be when it landed a few years later.

    So many great games. At the risk of tooting my horn too much, I’m actually the #1 score holder for Astrosmash on Game Room (the only one so far to break a million on that platform) and . I was also very smitten with the Treasures of Tarmin game at the time; so much so that I eventually created an unofficial sequel for the Xbox Indie Game channel, called ‘Ghosts of Tarr-Minos’ (a flawed game, I admit, but a labor of love).

  23. David W

    Just looking up Intellivision in Google brought me to a podcast specifically about the Intellivision call The Intellivisionaries. Maybe they could have been someone to talk to for some information about the system. Their episodes seem to be 3+ hours long and include interviews with the programmers.

  24. Yanick

    Hi Retronauts!

    I just finished listening to your great Intellivision show and there were a few things I needed to address.

    Yes, they had the disc thing and the keypad which at the time we thought was quite convenient to select which baseball player we’d take control of on the field or which direction we would shoot our arrow in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. But the controllers also had 2 sets of side buttons which could be used to perform all kinds of actions.

    I really enjoyed the show as an old console lover. Although I personally used to own a Colecovision myself, 2 of my friends had Intellivisions and we would sometimes swap systems for a few days. This allowed me to play some great games I would never have access to on my Coleco console. I have fond memories of playing the games you mentioned plus tons of others like

    Bomb squad – with the voice synth telling you which parts of the bomb should be taken out in which order.

    Beauty and the beast – from Imagic which I realized was a poor man’s Donkey Kong but much prettier than the Donkey Kong that was available on Intellivision

    Lock’N Chase : A pac-man clone with a feverish humming soundtrack that would put me in a trance.

    And Auto Racing in which we had discovered that you could reach other tracks if you left the one you were driving on. Kind of an early easter egg for us young gamers.

    Also, it’on an Intellivision that I first learned to play Poker and Blackjack as in fact, for the first couple of years, the packed in games with the console were the great Astrosmash and Las Vegas Blackjack & Poker.

    Keep up the good work guys. We retro-fans appreciate it.