When one thinks back to game consoles from the 1980’s the chances are you’ll probably think first of the Atari 2600 (in all its wood veneered glory) or the Nintendo Entertainment System. These two machines were undoubtedly the most successful of the early and late parts of the decade respectively, but there were other consoles around too. The Mattel Intellivision had a good innings, but the games console from the early Eighties that I always wished I had owned myself was undoubtedly the ColecoVision.
You’ll be forgiven for never having heard of the ColecoVision if you’re not from the US, since whilst it was available in the UK and Europe it was a very rare beast to find in the shops, which is a real shame as the system was actually very good indeed, capable of producing arcade quality versions of some of the biggest names in videogames at the time.
I only ever managed to get to play on a ColecoVision once. I used to go to a weekly computer club and one of the other attendees had brought their one along to show off to everyone there. The machine itself wasn’t much to look at, little more than a big black rectangular box, with two wired in controllers with a funny little knobbly joystick and a keypad of 12 big square buttons. There were also a couple of buttons on the sides of the controllers too.
However who cared what the console looked like? It was the games that mattered, and the first game I saw running on it was the best version of Donkey Kong I had ever played on a home machine (until MAME came along of course). Seeing this near perfect version of one of my favourite arcade games made be instantly fall in love with the ColecoVision.
The chap who owned the ColecoVision had a couple more games for us too see, but I was already hooked after seeing Donkey Kong. The games he had were Zaxxon, a diagonally scrolling isometric 3D shoot ’em up (another near perfect arcade port) and an original title based on The Smurfs. Both had graphics and sound which knocked the spots of my Commodore Vic-20, and I came away at the end of the evening feeling very jealous.
The ColecoVision was first released in 1982, and over the next couple of years went on to sell at least 2 million units. Sadly, it never got a real chance to thrive, as in 1983 the videogame market suffered a huge decline and many companies decided to cut their losses and get out of the games business over the course of the next year or so. ColecoVision was no exception and it was phased out in the summer of 1985.