Reviewed: December 31 2003
Released: November 18, 2003
Intellivision Lives! is a compilation of over 60 original titles for one of the oldest home console systems, the Mattel-developed Intellivision. Intellivision was originally released in 1980 after a test period the year before, boasting relatively advanced graphics for the time. At its height, some of its games sold over 500,000 copies. Unfortunately for Intellivision, they never released a "next-gen" platform to compete with 8-bit powerhouses like the Sega Master System, much less the Big N itself. By 1990, the division had filed for bankruptcy because frankly, after ten years, even the most amazing new console feels like a warmed-over turd.
This, then, my friends and myriad mortal enemies, is what has been recently compiled and re-released for your PlayStation 2 home entertainment system. It's obviously targeted at older gamers and retro gaming buffs - there are references to reliving the 1980s all over the packaging, for crying out loud. Being something of an old game aficionado myself, I went into 'Intellivision' with high hopes.
The disc features over 60 games, archived by category, as well as information on each game, developer interviews and even some original commercials for specific titles. It's made for one or two players and is oozing with retro eighties style.
Intellivision Lives! features:
This category is what really matters when reviewing a vintage title. Is it presented well? Is it intuitive? Is there fan service? More importantly, do the games suck or not?
Well, let's start from the bottom up - the games themselves. Intellivision promises over sixty and it certainly delivers. You’ll find games to suit most every in this package, unless you like platformers or RPGs, which didn't really appear until the mid-eighties anyway. Novice old-school gamers be warned: there's no Pac-Man, Asteroids, Centipede, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong or even Pong on this collection because the idea of multi-platform releases was a foreign one back in those days. Each publisher developed its own titles, often based on successful releases for competing systems, while at the same time vying for real-world licensing deals (Olympics games and so forth).
There are, then, rough clones of some of the games I've listed above on this disc. Are they as good as the real deal? Of course not, or we'd be waxing nostalgic about games like Hard Hat and Star Strike instead.
This is not to say that there aren't some very good games on here. Astrosmash, a game of the "sliding spaceship that shoots lasers at falling objects" variety, is horribly addictive and has an absolutely beautiful difficulty scale. Tower of Doom is a direct spiritual predecessor of Diablo, and it's quite enjoyable to crawl around in its randomly generated dungeons slaying dragons and so forth.
There's even a game on here called Shark! Shark! that is completely unique among console games. It's similar to the edutainment title Odell Lake, in which players assume the role of a fish and try to survive a number of turns. However, the kicker in Shark! Shark! is that you always start out as a dinky small fry, and for every 1000 points you earn by consuming smaller fish, you grow one size bigger. Touch a larger fish and it's back to square one. This game mesmerized me and I could have probably played it for upwards of an hour. And don't even get me started on the stark, badly pixilated beauty of Frog Bog, a simple children’s' game that involves making your frog jump and eat as many insects as possible before night falls. I was, and still am, enchanted by it. I'm not sure why... it's just... so cool...
Okay, back to reality. Unfortunately for Intellivision Lives!, most of the games included don't measure up. There's an obvious reason why Intellivision does not, in fact, “live” anymore. Most of these games just flat out annoyed me. Nonetheless, they are all carbon copies of the original releases, untouched except to port them onto a new system. The folks at Crave were kind enough to put in a lot of harder-to-find games, as well. This game delivers exactly what it promises - it's just that what it promises isn't very exciting. There are a lot of different styles of play available, though, and Intellivision buffs should be quite happy with it..
An important aspect of releasing an "archive" compilation like Intellivision Lives! is including plenty of background information and the like. Crave has put together a nice package, if not a terribly extensive one. For each game, there are one to four pages of production notes, explaining something interesting about the game or just who did it and where the inspiration came from. The text is well written and reading enough of these really gives players a feel for what the console gaming industry was like back in the early eighties. There's also one developer interview reel (too short), a slideshow presentation about Intellivision's history and box art from each game's original packaging.
The coolest treat is a bunch of commercials for the games that can be unlocked by beating a specific challenge (most are fairly easy) for a game in each category. For example, scoring 20,000 points in Astrosmash will unlock commercials for all the space-themed games that had one. There's nothing quite like getting to sit back and mock bad advertisements for ancient games. Overall, the likely buyer base of this game was taken into account and there's a nice amount of additional information and goodies for those who care to look.
The controls, on the other hand, are really the low point of Intellivision's gameplay, which is too bad because it isn't completely the fault of the people who put this title together. For some games, controls are blissfully simple. For many, though, a maddening sub-system has to be used in order to play. The original Intellivision controller had 12 buttons and a movement dial, and certain games insist on using them all.
Rather than create button combos for the PS2's dog bone controller, some fool decided to make the Select button bring up a picture of an original controller on-screen, which then must be used to enter commands. After a command is entered, the Select button must be pressed AGAIN to collapse the Intellivision controller and continue play. Why, oh why did they do this? The PS2's controller has 12 buttons (symbols, shoulders and 4 D-pad directions) and two analog sticks that could have been used for controls! The pop-up Intellivision controller covers up a good third of the screen, which is annoying.
Some games can't even be played without two PS2 (and thereby, two on-screen) controllers. These are usually games that require two players (yeah, it's that old), but it's also an extra cost if players only own one controller. Worst of all, a lot of the games have custom control inserts that tell players which buttons to push. These were rendered so poorly that even on a 32-inch screen, I couldn't read what the buttons did! It took me a long time to figure out how to knock (end a game) in Gin Rummy just because the designated button was so hard to read.
On top of everything else, the instructions for each game are way too skimpy. It's a big downer when it's impossible to get past the option screens on a game because the instructions make no mention of which buttons to push. Text doesn't take up much room, and there's an entire 5-plus gigabyte DVD to work with here. Would it have killed them to write more comprehensive instructions? I think not.
The overall presentation of Intellivision Lives! is best described in Graphics and Sound, as it is the most cosmetic aspect of the game.
Wow. What can I really say? It just isn't fair to judge these games against anything made in the last eighteen years or so. Even in the late eighties, the Intellivision was effortlessly outclassed by newer systems when it came to graphics. That fact, however, is unimportant, as fans already know this, and they are the ones who will be buying this game.
On a good note, then, all the original graphics are here. They have not been altered in any way, from the lime-green opening screens to the blocky white "Game Over’s at the end. Players can say what they will about them, but the fact remains that Crave has done their job well and preserved everything for connoisseurs in this department.
Unfortunately, the presentation of the game as a whole is somewhat lacking in the graphics department. Older adults who buy this for nostalgia will probably not notice and certainly not care, but the graphics of the game's "wrapper" are decidedly low-quality given the times we game in.
The access interface is designed as a pizza parlor filled with game machines, one for each category of game offered in the title. While easy to navigate, the parlor was just too static for my tastes, and the graphics seemed a little on the fuzzy side when I peered at the details. There are no virtual people wandering about inside, which is too bad. The only motion I could see besides a badly animated lava lamp was a skimpy particle effect emanating from some of the arcade screens.
Also, the video quality (of commercials and the interview reel) was unnecessarily low. It wasn't quite Myst bad, but it wasn't exactly crystal clear, either. All in all, the new graphics in Intellivision Lives! were obviously an afterthought, but this ultimately doesn't matter, since they aren't the reason your playing this.
Once again, nothing's been changed from the original games, which is good. Sounds can really make a game memorable. Who wouldn't admit that one of the most enduring aspects of Tetris is its soundtrack? It should be noted, though, that most of these games don't have any soundtrack and are limited to sound effects (this is due to size limitations on the original cartridges). Once again, this should be largely unimportant to purists and nostalgia buffs.
There's a singularly annoying ambient music track that plays in both the pizza parlor and in the background of the games as you play them, which was just a bad choice on the part of the creators. However, it can be turned off quite easily, which is good.
On the videos, sound is as poorly mixed as the graphics are, making the voices of some of the developers difficult to understand. Again, this could have been rectified with minimal effort and it's too bad that it was not. Overall, the sound on Intellivision Lives! is unremarkable in every way, shape and form, but at least has retained all the original content of its many games.
Of course, having sixty-plus titles in one disc has to count for something. Combined with the handful of unlock challenges and goodly amount of interesting trivia, Intellivision's vast assortment of play styles give it quite a bit of replayability.
However, it should also be noted that a lot of these games are nigh unplayable, and quite a few more are playable but dull. This is simply a personal opinion, of course, but I feel that most people who purchase this title will end up playing less than 20% of its games on a regular basis. Control issues and crappy instructions don't help, either.
As a party game, while it certainly doesn't touch the likes of Crash Bash, Intellivision Lives! can be good for an hour's entertainment. I'd recommend renting this first, but it's not the type of game commonly seen at video rental places, so my final recommendation is as follows. If you grew up with or otherwise fondly remember Intellivision, then by all means run out and get it. It's quite the trip down memory lane. If you're a hopeless collector of vintage games, the same also applies (unless you prefer searching for individual cartridges). However, for the casual gamer, modern (post-NES) gamer or part-time video game history buff, I can't really recommend it. It'll probably just end up gathering dust.
Intellivision Lives! does just what it sets out to do, which is to bring all of the frustration, enjoyment and occasional disorientation associated with very old video games to the PS2. There are tons of games to play and lots of very interesting trivia tidbits to learn. However, the control scheme falls rather flat, the documentation on actually playing the games can be spotty and the overall presentation of the whole thing is quite underwhelming.
Hardcore vintage gamers and former Intellivision players have here a Holy Grail of retro console excitement. The rest of the world should probably just stay away from this one.