In the court of public opinion, bad videogames are considered especially heinous. In the world of classic gaming, these games are often ignored by two separate, but equally important groups: the collectors who hoard them; and the gamers who avoid them. Now, a dedicated gamer, a member of an elite squad of DP columnists, will investigate one of these vicious travesties. This is his story.


JUDGE: (Judge squints while reading the docket) Hmm, Coleco. This is quite unusual. Prosecutor, approach the bench.


JUDGE: (whispers) What are you tryin’ to pull here, son?

PROSECUTOR: Your Honor, I know I was supposed to bring a single game before the court, but to try Intellivision Donkey Kong would be like…like shooting fish in a barrel, sir.


PROSECUTOR: (gulps) Your Honor, Intellivision Donkey Kong isn’t good enough. For God’s sake we must have sixteen of them rotting away on a shelf in the DP store. If we get Coleco we get Intellivsion Carnival, we get VCS Venture…

JUDGE: (angry) Watch your tongue, boy!

PROSECUTOR: (louder, so the jury can hear) …we get VCS Zaxxon! It’s time someone put that one away! It’s heinous!

(The judge angrily slams the gavel)

JUDGE: You control yourself! (sighs heavily, and whispers) Son, you better watch yourself here. Ain’t gonna be no triple jeopardy in this court. You don’t put Coleco away today it’s over. (gets right in prosecutor’s face) You hear me boy? (grabs him by the necktie) Over!

(The judge gathers himself)

JUDGE: (loudly) The defendant, Coleco, is hereby charged…

(The judge stops reading as the jury gasps.)

JUDGE: The…the…quiet!

(The jury becomes quiet. They give one another puzzled, worried glances.)

JUDGE: The defendant is hereby charged with intentionally creating bad videogames for its competitor’s consoles, specifically, the Atari VCS and Mattel’s Intellivision. Prosecutor, call your witnesses.


P-Dot, Digital Press Forums: “I think their earlier titles were indeed a case of deliberately trying to make the other consoles look lousy. It's hard to look at Donkey Kong on the Intellivision, and then see Beauty & The Beast, released the same year, and not come away with the impression that Coleco was trying to sink Mattel's battleship.”

Arcade Antics, Digital Press Forums: “2600 Mr. Do! alone really makes it look like they made poor quality games on purpose. There's no reason it should have been released.”

Adam King, Atari Gaming Headquarters (Donkey Kong Jr. review): “Coleco didn't put much effort into the 2600 and Intellivision version, but an excellent port on its own system. Granted, the ColecoVision is the more powerful of the three, but something isn't right here!”

THE PROSECUTION: The prosecution calls the key witness, “THE BIG RAGU”, to the stand.


THE PROSECUTION: Let me just show you “Sup” there, sir. Ladies and Gentleman, Exhibit A.

(The prosecution presents a Donkey Kong cartridge for the Intellivision. A fat woman in the jury screams.)

THE PROSECUTION: Played this game lately?

THE BIG RAGU: Yes sir.

THE PROSECUTION: Yeah, you fancy yourself an old-school feller, don’tcha?

THE BIG RAGU: Yeah I have an Intellivision laying around.

THE PROSECUTION: I’ll bet you do. And I’ll bet a hardcore, old-schooler like yourself has played just about every version of Donkey Kong out there, am I right?

THE BIG RAGU: I never played the Adam version, and I think there’s a TI-994A version I never checked out.

THE PROSECUTION: I’m sure we’re all very impressed. So…ever play the Colecovision version?


THE PROSECUTION: I’ll bet that made you one happy little boy, didn’t it? Made you feel like you had a Donkey Kong machine in your own living room, right?

THE BIG RAGU: It was impressive.

THE PROSECUTION: Impressive, you say! Since you seem to be fond of brief responses to my questions, give us one word that summarizes your feelings about the Intellivision version.

THE BIG RAGU: Almost adequate.

THE PROSECUTION: That’s two words.

THE BIG RAGU: Cloying.

THE PROSECUTION: Cloying. What does that mean?

THE BIG RAGU: Don’t know, just like the sound of it. (The Big Ragu smiles at the jury and they laugh)

THE PROSECUTION: We’ll let “almost adequate” go.

THE BIG RAGU: How about “serviceable”?

THE PROSECUTION: Fine. That’s what you do, eh, you play games that are “serviceable” and “almost adequate”. That your idea of fun?

THE BIG RAGU: You forgot “cloying”.

THE PROSECUTION: Your Honor, can you bring this evasive witness under control?

JUDGE: The witness clearly means the game is average. Move along.

THE PROSECUTION: So the Colecovision version is outstanding and the Intellivision version is average. That is your opinion?

THE BIG RAGU: Actually my opinion is they are both pretty much unplayable because of the lousy controllers.

THE PROSECUTION: We are not interested in your opinion of the consoles’ controllers. Despite your attempts to avoid my line of questioning, you clearly believe the Intellivision version is inferior. Let’s move along. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Exhibit B.

(The prosecution presents a Carnival cartridge for the Intellivision. People start getting sleepy.)

THE PROSECUTION: I know that you have played this game. Give us your impressions.

THE BIG RAGU: My impression is it’s just stinkin’ Carnival.

THE PROSECUTION: You don’t like it?

THE BIG RAGU: It’s not that I don’t like it. It’s just…there.

THE PROSECUTION: All right, you little wiseass, what do you think of THIS?

(The prosecution produces Exhibit C, a VCS Zaxxon cartridge. The jury averts their eyes. The Big Ragu winces as if he has been struck in the face.)

THE BIG RAGU: Is he allowed to call me a little wiseass?

JUDGE: Prosecutor, finish your questioning and stop wasting our time with these theatrics.

THE PROSECUTION: Tell me, if I were to show you a screenshot of the Zaxxon arcade game and the Colecovision version, could you tell the difference?

THE BIG RAGU: I don’t know. Probably not.

THE PROSECUTION: What’s the matter? I thought you were SO hardcore. I thought you were the kind of old-schooler that could pick out any Colecovision screenshot based on the score display alone.

(The defense objects to this as “badgering”. The prosecution withdraws the statement.)

THE PROSECUTION: Now tell us…, if I were to show you a screenshot of the Zaxxon arcade game and the VCS  version, could you tell the difference?

THE BIG RAGU: Of course.

THE PROSECUTION: Of course? Of course because the VCS version is so hideous? Of course because the VCS version is unrecognizable as (faces the jury) EVEN BEING ZAXXON?

THE BIG RAGU: It isn’t pretty.

THE PROSECUTION: Mr. Ragu, tell us, in your many many years of Activision patch wearing, Konami code activating, Space Invaders frying, Electronic Games reading, Eugene Jarvis worshipping, 1541 drive repairing, Vectrex overlay collecting, Maze Crazing, hardcore, old school, retro, classic gaming existence, have you ever, EVER, seen an arcade port executed so shoddily that it does not even remotely resemble the original?

THE BIG RAGU: No, just this one time.

(The prosecution rests)  

THE DEFENSE: State your name.

THE BIG RAGU: The Big Ragu.

THE DEFENSE: Your real name, sir.

THE BIG RAGU: First name THE, middle name BIG, last name RAGU.

THE DEFENSE: Shall I call you “The”, or “Mr. Ragu”?

THE BIG RAGU: Call me Al. If you would be my bodyguard I can be your long-lost pal.

THE DEFENSE: Avert your eyes, Al.

(The Defense introduces Exhibit X, a VCS Sorcerer cartridge. A man in the jury swallows his tongue. A religious woman in the audience crosses herself. A dog invites a cat to live with him.)

JUDGE: Defense, will you kindly explain to me what the HELL a Mythicon cartridge is doing in my courtroom?

THE DEFENSE: Your Honor, I’d like to enter Exhibit X as evidence for The Defense, as well as (fumbles in jacket pocket) this Cosmic Creeps cartridge as Exhibit 0.

JUDGE: (smiling patiently) You realize, of course, that these are not Coleco cartridges, and therefore not relevant to any of us today, dear Sir?

THE DEFENSE: (holding cartridges in view of the jury) Oh, Your Honor, I think these cartridges are highly relevant.

(The Prosecution objects and questions the jury’s readiness to view such graphic material. The Defense is ordered to surrender the cartridges to the custody of The Court and continue.)

THE DEFENSE: Mr. Ragu…excuse me, AL…in your vast VCS gaming experience, have you ever tried Sorcerer?

THE BIG RAGU: (gulps) Yes, sir.

THE DEFENSE: Can you tell us about your experience?

THE BIG RAGU: Do I have to?

THE DEFENSE: Yes, Al, and let me remind you that you are under oath.

THE BIG RAGU: (weeps openly) It was horrible.

THE DEFENSE: (hands The Big Ragu a box of tissues) Please continue.

THE BIG RAGU: (sobs) That music. My God, that music.

THE DEFENSE: Forget the music for a moment. Tell us about the gameplay.

THE BIG RAGU: (covers ears with hands) I can’t stop hearing that music. I TRY TO SLEEP AT NIGHT AND THE MUSIC WON’T STAHH-AAHHH-AHHHP!!!!

(The Defense embraces The Big Ragu. Jury members start welling up.)

THE DEFENSE: Al, listen to me please? Some very nice men at Coleco are in trouble today.

(The Prosecution objects.)

THE DEFENSE: Al, I want you to stop hearing the music for a minute. Can you do that?

THE BIG RAGU: (chokes back tears) Yes sir.

THE DEFENSE: Tell us what happens when you play Sorcerer.

THE BIG RAGU: When it starts out there is just this stuff. There is just this stuff flyin’ all over the place.

THE DEFENSE: Tell us about the stuff.

THE BIG RAGU: It’s like you have to jump and catch this stuff and then you have to kill these guys….and the music…God, the music…

THE DEFENSE: Would you rather talk about Cosmic Creeps?

THE JUDGE: I am sure we would all rather talk about Coleco games. That is why we are all here today. Are you aware of that?

THE DEFENSE: Your Honor, last night I went to the home of one Mr. Joseph Santulli.

(The jury cheers jubilantly. The Judge slams his gavel until they collect themselves.)

THE DEFENSE: I went to the home of Mr. Joseph Santulli and asked him to, at random, with his eyes closed, choose two VCS games. He chose Sorcerer and Cosmic Creeps!

(The jury gasps.)

THE DEFENSE: Now, Al, I am going to hold up two VCS cartridges.  I want you to point to the superior VCS game. I don’t want you to talk, I want you to point. Understood?


(The Defense holds up Sorcerer in one hand and holds up Donkey Kong in the other. The Big Ragu points to Donkey Kong before it is clearly in view. Next The Defense holds up Zaxxon and Cosmic Creeps. The Big Ragu points to Zaxxon. The Defense holds up Donkey Kong Junior and Sorcerer. The Big Ragu points to Donkey Kong Junior. The Defense holds up Carnival and Cosmic Creeps. The Big Ragu pauses. You could cut the tension in the courtroom with the sloped end of an Intellivision cartridge. The Big Ragu begins to move his arm toward Cosmic Creeps, then shifts and points his finger at Carnival. The Jury sighs.)

(The Defense rests)


Ladies and gentleman of the jury, you might have noticed how The Defense, by way of the most unscrupulous and base theatrics, boldly evaded the matter at hand… the clear inferiority of Coleco’s ridiculous and incompetent arcade ports for the Atari VCS and the Intellivision. Imagine the effort one must undergo to render Donkey Kong “average”, and Zaxxon “unrecognizable”. Keep your mind on that, and don’t dwell on Mr. Santulli’s
”random” selection of VCS cartridges. Are we to believe that with “closed eyes”, he blindly grasped for the likes of a Mythicon cartridge? Were these carts pulled from the underneath of his trade box or his wastebasket? Lucky for The Defense he had not “randomly” chosen Kaboom! and Moonsweeper, isn’t it? How very convenient. You’d think Atari’s own Surround and Demons to Diamonds were brilliant compared to the dross that Mr. Santulli groped at in the darkness. And this is the only defense against the willful sabotage that Coleco imposed on the economically challenged parents of the early eighties, who most likely had to have their place on the unemployment line held for them as they raced to the nearest Kiddie City in an attempt to provide their children with the meager, fleeting happiness of playing Carnival. And now I quote the musings of a great man whose intellect we all admire, The Road Warrior’s Humongous: “What a puny plan!”


One letter. One word.

M Network.

They were “the cure for the Video Blues”, weren’t they?

That’s what Mattel would have you believe. You know Mattel. They made the Intellivision. Did Mattel try to sabotage the VCS with their horrible M Network games? Were those games any better than Coleco’s? Here, I just happen to have a list of all the great M Network games in my pocket.

(Produces a blank piece of paper.)

But what about all those other great third party publishers for the VCS, you may ask. Data Age? US Games? Apollo? Surely their offerings must have beaten Coleco’s into the sand, which The Prosecution would have you believe. After all, they tried to make good games and Coleco tried to make bad games, as The Prosecution would tell it.

But forget Atari; Coleco tried to make bad games for the Intellivision, did they? So they tried to make a bad Donkey Kong that turned out average? “Almost adequate”? Are we to believe they aimed at the dirt and hit the ceiling? Ever notice how much faster Mario moves in the Intellivision version compared to the Colecovision and VCS version? How well the girders in the first stage are reproduced? How satisfying the music is at the end of the level? That must have been an accident. I’m sure someone at Coleco was fired for making Intellivision Donkey Kong too good.


The court finds the defendant, Coleco, NOT GUILTY of intentionally creating poor software for the Atari VCS and Intellivision.

The court recognizes that Activision, or possibly Atari or Mattel, might have produced versions of Donkey Kong, Zaxxon, Venture, Mouse Trap, et cetera, et cetera, that were superior to Coleco’s nationally released efforts. However, the court finds that Coleco’s efforts were on par with, and in some instances superior to, the software produced by comparable third party publishers. Furthermore, the court finds that Coleco’s VCS cartridges are at least comparable to the efforts of M Network. In the instance that Coleco was intentionally creating poor VCS cartridges, the court must question why every one of Coleco’s cartridges is superior to the entire catalog  of Froggo, Mythicon, Zimag, US Games, Ultravision, Apollo, Panda, Vidtec, and Menavision.


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Last updated: Monday, June 12, 2006 04:35 PM