Yeah, I’m not so sure about that one.
A few months back I wrote about the fact that there’s a strange new version of a classic console war brewing. Both the Atari and Intellivision brands are poised to re-enter the hardware market at some point in the not too distant future, which is honestly a pretty crazy thing. The terribly named Atari VCS is still something of a mystery, with very little in the way of actual information or declaration of why anyone would actually want it over any of the hundreds of other consumer products on the market that do the exact same thing, but this fancy new Intellivision has a plan. One its creative team seems to really believe in. Affordable console entertainment that’s family friendly and encourages couch co-op. I’m still not sold on the idea of that concept being particularly profitable, but I can appreciate where it’s coming from. So I guess that’s something. But even after the minds behind this interesting new doodad spent some time online telling everyone about their vision, there were still a metric ton of questions.
On October 22nd, they provided some answers in a new trailer revealing the console’s aesthetic design, the controllers, the name, and a whole lot more. So, what’s this thing all about?
Well, the new console is called Amico, and while it’s not the worst console name I’ve ever heard, it certainly isn't the best. Honestly, a lot of my negative feelings toward the name stem from the logo design. That is not an attractive logo. Like, at all. It looks like a department store logo from the 70s. There’s nothing even remotely sleek about it. But most importantly, it looks cheap. Not affordable, cheap. There’s a big distinction there. That word in that design just screams “Dollar Store” to me, and that’s not a good look for something that’s supposed to be cool new tech.
Then we have the system’s design itself, which I honestly can’t say I’m a fan of in the least. There are elements there that I like. It's got reactive lighting on the outside of the console that glows different colors in time with things that are happening in the game. It's a neat, if completely unnecessary, trick. I think having the controllers rest in the top of the console like the days of old is a solid move too. But aside from that, this looks like a piece of medical equipment from the future. And when I say future, I mean what people in the 80s thought the future was going to look like. As I look at it, I can see where they took inspirations from the original Intellivision consoles, but those things, especially the 2nd and unreleased 3rd iterations, look like better modern pieces of tech than this futuristic bathroom scale. Just look at the evolution of this brand.
Sure, the first one screams 70s loud and clear, but the INTV 2 and 3 are pretty nice-looking machines. They're Just smartly designed, and aesthetically pleasing. More importantly though, they’re inviting and cool, which could actually be a real problem for the Amico. When discussing the console’s philosophy, the Intellivision team referred to the Wii and its brilliant design as an inspiration. The Wii was inviting for everyone to play. There weren’t a ton of bottons on a complicated controller. You picked it up and no matter who you were or where you came from, you could understand what you’re supposed to do. This Amico thing doesn’t look simple. It looks like something you have to learn. Nothing about its design says “fun.” This design is in direct opposition to its philosophy, and that can only be a problem for them going forward.
That brings us to the controllers. This was always going to be a problem with using the Intellivision brand for a new console. The original’s controllers are legendary, but not necessarily in a good way. They have their fans, of course, but for many, the Intellivision’s controllers just aren’t very good. The disc instead of a joystick/D-pad, the overlays for the numeric keypad, their overall lack of weight, they just aren’t great controllers. But they are iconic and inextricably linked to the brand. I have to say, as far as modernizing the INTV controller goes, they certainly could have done worse. These critters don’t exactly look horrible, but they don’t look like a dream either. They still have the disc, and they still have their buttons on the side. However, they replaced the numeric keypad with a touch screen, they’re wireless, they have speakers, microphones, what looks like an SD card slot, gyro sensing, force feedback, and separated from the console, they look pretty approachable. Thanks to their innate simplicity, they can also be more or less replaced with your existing cell phone thanks to a free app, which will make large group multiplayer games a much more attractive prospect. It’s all really going to come down to functionality though. Intellivision is touting old-school games as one of its defining features, and a lot of old school games like Pitfall and Donkey Kong were notoriously difficult to play on the Intellivision because of that ridiculous disc. There’s every possibility that they’ve managed to make this new one far more usable than the old version, but it still isn’t a great piece of nostalgia to be holding on to.
The single most important factor in any game console’s potential though, lies in its games, and that’s probably the biggest question mark of all right now. They’re making some bold claims right out of the gate, and I can’t help but respect that. To start, all the games are going to be console exclusive. I’m pretty sure I remember them saying that these games aren’t going to be on PC either. All the system’s software will only be able to be played on the Amico. No ports here. They’re all going to be rated E or E-10+ by the ESRB. This means that there will never be a Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty for the platform. Those games simply aren’t the point. If it isn’t family friendly, it’s out. End of story. At first glance that seems like it could be pretty limiting, but if you think back to what the Amico is harkening to, the Atari 2600 and Intellivision had some pretty sizable libraries and very few, if any, of the games on those systems weren’t okay to be seen and played by children. Didn't stop people then, maybe it won’t stop potential buyers now. There’s a claim that there will be strict quality control thanks to the Blue Sky Rangers seal of approval. Basically this looks to be what people thought the Nintendo Seal of Quality was back in the day. A tightly curated online shop of games is something nobody has managed to accomplish before, but if they’re really going for the less is more approach, it’s totally possible. It seems like that’s the sort of thing that could again severely limit the number of games that could possibly hit the platform, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing.
They’ve also promised that all games will be priced between $2.99 and $7.99. That’s a bold claim right there, but not completely unreasonable. It looks like they’re trying to strike a middle ground between the Apple app store and Nintendo’s eShop. The games aren’t so cheap that they’re garbage, and they aren’t so expensive that they become too complex for everyone to play. Again, this is a great idea on paper. We’ll have to wait and see if it all works in practice.
So what are these magical cheap, family friendly games? There seem to be several flavors. Obviously, Intellivision classics are going to be a part of it. That’s where the namesake comes from, that’s the history they’re trying to revive, so getting those classic fun games in new hands would clearly be a great first step in realizing that goal. Classic Imagic games are in the mix too, which is pretty cool. They spotlighted a handful of arcade classics getting the remake treatment as well like Miner 2049er, R-Type, Kung-Fu Master, etc. It’s nice to see some of those classic IREM titles being dusted off once more. The one that really caught my eye thought was this one.
Atari classics remade exclusively for Intellivision. Atari has a new console coming out, and they’re also making games exclusively for this thing? What the heck does that mean? Why would Atari do that here and not on their own system? The last thing I expected when watching this trailer was to be more confused about the Atari VCS, but here we are. What a strange time to be alive.
Now, this thing isn’t slated for release until October 10, 2020 (10/10/2020! How fun!), so there’s still a lot that could change between then and now. It’s also shooting for a $149.99-179.99 price point, which might be a little high for the market they’re going after, but like I said, a lot can change between now and then. I’m skeptical for sure, but I can’t help but at least partially want to be on board for this contraption. People really don’t make games like this anymore, and to a certain extent, that’s a shame. Games in the old days were a very social thing. Families played games together because everyone who picked up a controller could essentially understand what they needed to do. There are some great new games that work like that, but they’re few and far between. An entire console dedicated to recreating not just the classic games, but the classic gaming experience of days gone by is something I can’t help but want to get behind. I honestly can’t see this thing being an actual success, but wouldn’t it be kind of magical if it was? I’ll be keeping a very close eye on this project, and I personally hope it beats the odds. I’d be pretty happy to have my smart TV meet Intelligent Television.