Whither ColecoVision?

by Joe Santulli (1991)

To paraphrase: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  This passage is reminiscent of the heyday of Coleco's ColecoVision, the first "third wave" videogame machine and the powerhouse of the industry, which both amazed and frustrated its loyal followers.  This time period spanned only a few years (1983 - 1985), but during that time, no videogame system could measure up to it, not even its closest competitor, the Atari 5200.

What set Coleco's "third wave" machine apart from the rest?  First and foremost, it had state-of-the-art graphics and sound.  Even their earliest efforts such as Mouse Trap and Zaxxon made the best of the Atari 2600 and Intellivision look drab.  And when the video artists were doing original things like Tarzan and Antarctic Adventure, you really saw the graphic fireworks that the system was capable of.  I can't say I was regularly impressed by the sounds created from the unit, but every once in a while, you'd get a treat.  As weak as the game was, Space Fury exploded onto the screen with an alien commander's head and a magnificent space-age musical piece in the background.

The initial releases for the system were great ones.  Most of them were based on "sleeper" type games (like those in our Closet Classics section) with few blockbusters scattered amongst them.  Big names like Donkey Kong (which was packaged with the system), Zaxxon, and Turbo were the staple of every gamer's diet, with some really classic unknowns like Ladybug, Venture, and Mouse Trap coming into their own.

Right from the beginning, owners became frustrated with Coleco's advertising policy, which promised cartridges and new hardware months before its release and occasionally failed to deliver.  The sorest spot in my memory was the "Supergame" unit, which was shown in the earliest of catalogs.  This advanced unit was to turn the videogaming industry on its ear, with more graphic power and memory.  Needless to say, the "Supergame" module was never released.  There were other no-shows, like the "Tunnels and Trolls" and "Dracula" cartridges (the former of which was only released as a demo), but the real annoyance was the delays on the games that DID finally come out.

As time went by, third party licensees Imagic, Activision, Parker Brothers, and Atarisoft helped round out the title selection, converting some of their earlier successes on the Atari 2600 to ColecoVision gems.  Some of these titles are still the best versions to date: Parker's Frogger and Q*Bert, Activision's River Raid, and Atarisoft's Galaxian.  As this was going on, owners began to see Coleco's own titles released even less regularly, with longer, unbearable waiting periods between them.

Around mid-1983 Coleco released their much-heralded ADAM computer, which was to compete with the Apple and was also compatible with the ColecoVision.  Coleco obviously wasn't prepared for the problems that followed.  Their overpriced, bug-ridden machine just couldn't shake its bad reputation, and it cost the company dearly.  By early 1985 the videogaming community was stripped bare thanks to an abundance of low quality software, and Coleco bowed out near the end.  Their last few titles were barely seen in stores: Illusions, Spy Hunter, Telly Turtle, and Tapper.

At the time, computers - especially affordable ones like the Commodore 64 - were on the rise, and because of the multiple functions a home computer could provide, cartridge based systems like the ColecoVision seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth.

There's a happy ending, however.  The confidence shown by Nintendo and Sega in the videogame market buoyed home arcade systems once again.  This surge must have inspired Telegames USA, a Texas-based videogame mail-order store that not only continued stocking ColecoVision cartridges, but also marketed a compatible hardware system called the Telegames Personal Arcade.  What's more, you can purchase this fine unit for under $40 today!  I have had my unit for nearly a year without fault.  In fact, the controllers are superior to the Coleco version, closely resembling those of the NES.

For a dose of nostalgia, or to pick up an established system boasting over a hundred games, give Telegames USA a call.  Here's where you can reach them:

Box 901
Lancaster, TX 75146
(214) 227-7694

 Here are my top 10 ColecoVision carts:

1.  Ladybug (Coleco)
2.  Tarzan (Coleco)
3.  Turbo (Coleco)
4.  Burgertime (Coleco)
5.  Frogger (Parker Bros.)
6.  Montezuma's Revenge (Parker Bros.)
7.  Tapper (Coleco)
8.  Wing War (Imagic)
9.  Pitfall II (Activision)
10. Mountain King (Sunrise)


Go to Digital Press HQ
Return to Digital Press Home

Last updated: Tuesday, February 13, 2007 06:18 PM