Category Archives: Mattel Intellivision

The Intellivision, a home video game console by Mattel 1980.

Atari Buys Intellivision: What Intellivision Used to Think of Its New Owners

If you’d like to see how the mighty Intellivision was developed and how it impacted the industry, you can check out our history of the console, a history you can read, listen, watch and even play, here at The Dot Eaters:

Big game developer acquisitions like Sony buying Bungie, or Microsoft buying… everything (Activision Blizzard, Bethesda, etc. etc. etc.) understandably shake-up the video gaming landscape. The announcement of Atari buying up the Intellivision brand and game rights might not quite set off such big earthquake alerts in a monetary sense, but it certainly is a monumental event in the realm of retro video games.

The Mattel Intellivision console video game
More top-down view of the Intellivision Master Component, controller overlays and cartridges, 1980 Mattel Catalog

The Mattel Intellivision was released by Mattel Electronics in 1979 as a higher-tech challenger to what was by then, by far the most popular video game system available, the Atari VCS or Video Computer System, later renamed the 2600. The Intellivision was a bleeding-edge game console at the time, featuring a 16-bit CPU and dedicated GPU, and the games Mattel put out for it, especially sports games like Major League Baseball, NFL Football and NBA Basketball, were demonstrably better than similar sports on the Atari.

So demonstrably better, in fact, that Mattel put out a series of commercials comparing its video games to those on the Atari, featuring the gently condescending tones of author and actor George Plimpton, who had made a name for himself a few years earlier by trying out for professional sports teams and writing about his hapless attempts to play at the pro level. In these ads, Plimpton would display, say, Atari Home Run baseball next to Mattel’s Major League Baseball and politely ask which the viewers might find more realistic: Atari’s flickering four blocky players moving around a solid background with four white dots for bases, or the fully-teamed, animated ball-players running around a rendered ball diamond and pitching mound of MLB. The answer was obvious.

A collection of Intellivision attack ads aimed at Atari

So, to “commemorate” the biggest name in video game history finally buying up their strongest challenger, I’ve put my collection of attack ads Intellivision put out maligning the aging graphics capabilities of the Atari VCS into a YouTube video for you to i) enjoy if you were a smug Mattel Intellivision owner back in the day, or ii) fume about if you were an Atari VCS owner in 1980, like me. As a bonus I threw in a response commercial from Atari, as well. This is what, at the time, Intellivision thought of their new owners, and now you can’t say “I didn’t know!”.

Kool-Aid Man breaks through in a video game for Mattel's Intellivision, 1983

Crap from the Crash: Kool-Aid Man for the Intellivision

30 years ago, the video game industry in North America bottomed out. Having enjoyed a meteoric rise since PONG had created a sensation a decade previous, what had been a $3.2 billion industry in 1983 was reduced to maybe $100 million in 1984. It was utter devastation. One of the reasons for the Great Video Game Crash was because of the immense river of garbage product that flooded the market at its peak. In this series on TDE we’ll look at some of these lamentable games.

Games like the one we feature today, Kool-Aid Man, created by Mattel Electronics for the Intellivision under the auspices of General Foods, purveyors of the sugary beverage concoction Kool-Aid. The game was initially part of a promotion where you could get it, or a different version made for the Atari 2600, by sending in 125 proof of purchases to the company.  It later also saw release at retail.

Ad for Kool Aid Man, a home video game for Mattel's Intellivision, 1983

Oh noooooo!

I guess the Intellivision version could have worked, if they had have taken the kid-friendly and action(and sugar)-packed company mascot and put him inside of a compelling game. Instead, we get this dreck: a boy and a girl wander around a cavernous house, collecting the supplies needed for some delicious Kool-Aid: a glass pitcher, a Kool-Aid packet, and the most important ingredient: lots and lots of sugar. A whole bowl of it, in fact. It’s no wonder that Kool-Aid Man has the energy to smash through walls: he’s on a maniacal sugar-high. The kids collect this paraphernalia while avoiding the dreaded Thirsties, who bounce around the house with impunity. If one of these critters touch a kid, they are incapacitated, apparently with thirst. If each kid gets hit twice, no Kool-Aid for you! The player can switch between the two children via any button on the control pad, which they’ll have to, since there are three things to collect and the kids can only carry one thing at a time. If everything is gathered and brought to the kitchen sink, the titular jug then makes his thunderous appearance, causing what I estimate to be about $5,000 dollars damage to the kids’ near-endless domicile. Kool-Aid Man thusly gives the Thirsties their comeuppance while chasing down various badly-drawn versions of strawberries, lemons, grapes and such. This is the closest Kool-Aid will ever get to actual fruit. Then repeat, until diabetes sets in.

Typical for an Intellivision game, the action is slow, here to the point of plodding. Not good for a game catering to sugar-addicted youngsters. Having to schlep back and forth to pick up the various items is tedious in the extreme, with the repetitiveness made worse by the fact that the item placement is not randomized, so it’s just a matter of getting to each one while avoiding the bad guys. There are a few difficulty levels that speed up the Thirsties movement and shorten the time allotted to get things done, but you’re probably better off just getting up off your butt and mixing yourself a real glass.

Below is a video of the game in, well, I guess you could call it action. For more information on Mattel’s Intellivision console, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.