This week, a coworker made fun of my formulaic writing style in which I begin with a nod to video gaming's past before launching into a review of a modern Xbox game. Well, Matt, this one's especially for you.
In previous reviews, the Atari has come up because almost everyone is familiar with the big A of classic video games. But my favorite games as a child were actually on Mattel's Intellivision game system. Originally designed as a home computing and learning system, Atari's popularity prompted Mattel to switch gears and market the machine as a gaming console. With advertising featuring George Plimpton, Intellivision presented itself as Atari's older brother who graduated valedictorian while Atari was off smokin' in the boys' room. Brighter, more colorful graphics, better sounds and greater in-depth game play put Intellivision in a whole different league than Atari, but this also meant higher prices and therefore less market power. This created a scenario not unlike the PC vs. Mac argument of the 1990s: Atari dominated the market, but Intellivision owners could smugly snicker at their friend's blocky baseball players, knowing that their gaming experience at home was far superior because their players actually had legs.
If this was you, Intellivision Lives! (Crave Entertainment) is a great nostalgia trip. With over 60 classic games, including Astrosmash, Snafu and B-17 Bomber, as well as some previously unreleased titles, this collection makes you realize just how far video games have come because it's all packed onto one disc. While it was cool to see the graphics and hear the sounds again, I didn't need to play very long before I grew bored. Game play doesn't translate well at all to the Xbox controller, because the Intellivision controller featured a 10-digit keypad that was covered by a plastic insert for each game. The physical layout of these buttons made sense on the classic consolenot so for the Xbox.
I may have spent more time trying to figure out the translation if Lives! included any of my favorite Intellivision games besides Star Strike, but neither Advanced Dungeons & Dragons nor Tron Deadly Discs made the cut for the collection. If, and only if, you're a die-hard Intellivision fan, the $20 is worth the price of admission. Otherwise, save your quarters for another retro release: Namco Museum (Namco).
This old-school collection compiles cabinet games from arcades of yore: Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaxian, Galaga, Pole Position, Pole Position II and, my personal favorite, Dig Dug. Also included are a few varied Arrangements of the originals that were released as cabinet games in the '90s, but the real stars here are the classics. Since modern driving games have far surpassed the Pole Position games, they're a bit of a snooze. But the 2D games still pack a fun punch. Using a tiny thumbstick instead of a full-fist joystick can take some getting used to, but within a few minutes you'll be eating power pellets or pumping up dragons like you just left Funland. (My favorite childhood arcade, which is still open in Panama City Beach.)
Like Intellivision Lives!, the nostalgia factor is really the only legitimate reason for buying Namco Museum; unlike Lives!, though, you'll actually find yourself playing Museum even after the day you buy it.