Perhaps one the most ambitious home video game systems ever contrived, ColecoVision took the world by storm in the early 80s, offering an enthusiastic public seemingly everything under the sun. Unfortunately, the only thing quicker than its ascent was its decline due to promises not kept. For the couple of years it was around though, ColecoVision made quite the mark, and is still fondly remembered to this day.
Few could have predicted the success when Coleco Industries – a company whose roots were sunk into shoe leather – launched itself into the video game universe with its own version of Telstar Colortron Pong in 1976. But Coleco would exceed all expectations when it released ColecoVision in the summer of 1982. By that time, the cartridge-based Atari VCS had set the video game standard and Coleco followed in their successful footsteps. Simple in design, ColecoVision consisted of nothing more than a black box, a pair of controllers with a control disc (similar to those used by Intellivision), and a twelve-digit keypad that varied depending upon custom plastic overlays that came with each game. And of course, ColecoVision’s blessing and its bane came on the front of the main unit in the form of an expansion slot.
Although ColecoVision blew the competition, Atari and Intellivision, out of the water with superior graphics and sound, they made their industry mark not on the T.V. screen but paper. Contracts with Nintendo and other arcade giants put Coleco in possession of guaranteed hits. The first of these was Donkey Kong, the platform climbing classic. The significant expense was tempered by freakish profits as ColecoVision sold over a million units within half a year after its launch.
More arcade favorites followed: Mouse Trap, Venture, Lady Bug, Donkey Kong Jr., Carnival, Zaxxon, Pepper II, Looping and others. Their appetites whet by success, Coleco went one step further by trying to move the competition one step back. Coleco used the expansion slot on the front of the unit to house the Expansion Module #1, a nifty gizmo that allowed users to play any game from the vast Atari 2600 library. Atari predictably sued and won a portion of the profits but not enough to deter Coleco’s growth.
Another Expansion Module followed featuring new game-specific controls. Arcade staple Turbo and other racing games could now be played with an electronic steering wheel and pedal. As if this alone wasn’t enough to preserve Coleco’s place as king-of-the-hill, it was soon followed by the Super Action Controller. A four button pistol grip in one hand and a joystick in the other, the Super Action Controller also had a keypad and a rotary dial control.
Whereas in most cases the third time is the charm, for Coleco it was the doom. The even more ambitious third Expansion Module came hardly a year after the first release of ColecoVision and promised to unite the home video game system with personal the computer. Available either as an accessory to the original or an independent unit, the ADAM had a keyboard, tape drives, a daisy-wheel printer… oh yeah, and it could also play all the games. But with the collapse of the video game industry at the same time, the flawed ADAM sank and took down Coleco Industries with it.
By early in 1985, Coleco ground production of ColecoVision and all games to a halt and sold the rights to Telegames, who tried to redesign and sell the unit as the Personal Arcade. Thanks largely to the emergence of a new behemoth named the Nintendo Entertainment System, they failed. In the end, ColecoVision hardly lasted more than two years. Like the Titanic, its brief voyage was epic. Like Icarus, its time in the sun was amazing and undoing. And like video games, once its extra lives had been used, “game over” was the only end.
But up to the end… what a ride.
Were you ever the proud owner of ColecoVision? Have any favorite game memories to share? We welcome all of your thoughts and recollections in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this iconic game system.