After writing this month’s “Dear Readers” column, I tried once again to get my Intellivision up and running, and, much to my shock, I actually succeeded; so I thought it’d be fun to pick five of my games for it at random and write about them here. Hopefully someday I’ll actually review some games for the ancient system, too, but for now, let’s just see what wins when we have:
Triple Action (IV) vs. Sub Hunt (IV) vs. Star Strike (IV) vs. Shark! Shark! (IV) vs. Bowling (IV)
Triple Action (IV): As you may have guessed by reading its title, Triple Action is a cart comprised of three different games: Battle Tanks, in which you control a tank and try to blow up that of the second player, Car Racing, in which you try to drive 100 “miles” in the fastest time, and “Biplanes”, in which you continually crash into the ground, various clouds, and an odd structure in the middle of the screen, because you can’t figure out how the controls work. Intellivision has several “destroy the other tank before it destroys you” titles at its disposal, so Battle Tanks here is nothing special, and the other two games, Biplanes especially, just aren’t very fun. Plus, only Car Racing can be played by just one player, so unless you know someone else who wants to boot up this Mattel Electronics system, you’re gonna have to try to use both controllers at once. And believe you me, it’s hard enough to try to use just one of those wacky-in-a-bad-way contraptions.
Sub Hunt (IV): The point of Sub Hunt, like so many other Intellivision games, is to blow things up before you yourself are blown up. You try to navigate the waters in search of things to blow up, and you fail almost immediately, because you don’t have the overlay for the controller, and thus you have no idea if it’s button 1 to shoot, or button 5, or button 9, or one of the side buttons, or if you have to press in the circular pad at the bottom of the controller, or if you somehow just have to fire a torpedo using your mind. It’s really not worth it to even bother — the instructions to this game are longer than the nutritional information for your favorite brand of cereal, and that’s just way to much for a game that’s 23 years old.
Star Strike (IV): Probably the most generic sounding of the games I’m discussing this month, Star Strike actually isn’t, as the title lead me to believe, just another Space Invaders clone. It’s close, though. I didn’t read the instructions before playing the game, so I just kept shooting at various enemy ships and wondering why nothing was happening. But according to Star Strike’s instruction booklet, you must “destroy the alien station BEFORE Earth passes directly over the launch trench”, because if Earth passes directly over the launch trench, it goes the way of Princess Leia’s home planet. This is why it’s a pain to play Intellivision games now — chances are you don’t have the instruction booklet, so you’ll have no idea what the heck you’re supposed to be doing in the game, or what those greenish blobs are, or why you are suddenly given the message of “Game Over” before you’ve even gotten a chance to press the circular pad, and the game doesn’t have enough memory to tell you itself what its objective is, so you just have to randomly press buttons until you see something happen on the screen that isn’t you dying. I’m pretty sure I never saw any “alien station”, anyway, so I’m thinking this game’s only purpose is to make you feel like you just caused the end of the world.
Shark! Shark! (IV): This Intellivision game has a premise almost as cool as its name: You start out as a tiny fish, and you have to eat other tiny fish so you can grow bigger and finally devour those dastardly jellyfish. You never actually get to eat any sharks, but you do get to nibble on their tails, apparently. I never would have thought of that without reading the instructions, either. This game’s great because there aren’t a ton of overly-complex controls to ruin your gaming experience — all you have to do is press the circular pad to move out of the way of bigger fish, and into the way of smaller ones. The game goes on forever, or until you are eaten by bigger fish a whole bunch of times. You can play this game with a buddy, too, eating both each other and various tiny fishies. You have always wanted to eat your best friend, right?
Bowling (IV): I’m starting to think that people who made Intellivision games just liked to program the controllers thousands of buttons do to something, whether or not that something actually added to the gameplay. This would explain the bizarre controls in Bowling, which has you pressing the circular disc to pick up the ball, and then the side buttons to move, then finally another side button to toss your bowling ball then the disc again to add “curve” to your ball (whatever that means). For Luigi’s sake, can’t you just aim the ball and then throw it? It works for Yahoo! games, I’m sure it can work for Intellivision, too. Making a game complicated is only good if it makes the game fun, too, not if it just makes the game annoying to play. I’m surprised they didn’t use button 1 to make your character breathe, or button 3 to make him blink, or button 7 to make him tie his shoes. Spiderman bowling on the PS2 movie game is less complicated than this, and it has you swinging around from the rafters in an attempt to knock all the pins down.
After playing these (and many, many other) Intellivision games, it became obvious to me why this system didn’t last too long: it’s controller, bespeckled with way too many buttons, caused developers to make their games way too complicated to be considered fun. Much like the create-a-wrestler modes in recent WWE games, which have you designing your brawler down to the strands of hair on his left eyebrow, most Intellivision games have just way too much going on. I know that sounds weird concerning games that came out in the late seventies and early eighties, but try them for yourself and you’ll see that I’m right. With that in mind, the winner in this edition of “Versus Mode” is the game that is the least complex, and perhaps thus the most fun, and that game is:
Winner: Shark! Shark! (IV)