?The Intellivision was a weird videogame system. It was a great system in many ways, but it was also very, very strange. It was marketed to parents as a tool for improving kids’ brainpower (thus the name), and sort of forgot to appeal to the kids themselves. It didn’t help that the controllers were a total love/hate thing — some loved them, some hated them, and Atari owners laughed at them, since frankly that system had perfected early joystick technology. To top it off, Intellivision employed George Plimpton as a spokesman, because, you know, editing the Paris Review means serious gaming chops.
And the oddities didn’t stop with just the system — it spread to the games, too. Some are fun, some aren’t — but these 10 are all, in some way, just plain weird.
10) Buzz Bombers
There are a couple of freaky things about this game. First, you as a player get to be a spray can. That’s right, not a guy holding a spray can, you’re the aerosol can itself — and you have arms with with to push down your own head to spray bugs. Even in terms of early gaming short-hand, this is creepy. But the real strangeness is that the game designers made a mistake on the game box, and referred to the one-player game as being for two players. So, what to do? Reprint the boxes maybe? Nah. Just have a temp cross that line out with a black marker on every single game box. Yeah, that looks professional.
The original boardgame “Operation” is one thing — you’re just lifting plastic bread baskets and the like out of electrically-charged holes in a cartoon patient. But this takes that charming simplicity and sort of turns it all crazy-time with a bizarre, terrifyingly inaccurate map of the human body — what the hell is that hole in the back of the skull supposed to be? — and graphics that look like a clown vomited on your TV screen, then exploded. It’s actually a pretty fun, Incredible Journey-type game, and the predecessor to games like Trauma Center. But curing tapeworms with your friends for fun? More than a little odd, especially in the early ’80s.
Intellivision set out to do what they said can’t be done, which was to make a great game about driving a semi on the American highways. And they did. Well, in fact, they made a very realistic truck-driving game — but the weird thing is that in the interests of that realism, they included the really boring shit too, like planning routes, loading up cargo, and even resting. Resting. The game makes you rest. Whether or not you use the facilities while you’re stopped is one of the few things this game leaves to your imagination.
7) Electric Company Word Fun
?How in the world do you make an Electric Company game called Word Fun and not include some sort of silhouette-game in which two cast-members combine word fragments to jaunty soft-jazz? Instead, this features monkeys and spaceships and… well, very little that reminds you of the PBS series in which Easy Reader was king, and Spider-Man was mute.
6) Donkey Kong
The arcade classic Donkey Kong never survived the translation to home systems well, save for the version released for the Colecovision — which is where the Intellivision case gets screwy. The Intellivision Donkey Kong was bad — so bad, in fact, that some suspected Coleco of sandbagging the design in order for their own, then-new system to look that much better. Of course, no conspiracy has ever been needed to create a terrible arcade port, so it’s more likely that it just plain sucked — but still, weird.
5) Frog Bog
Okay, here’s the bizarre thing about Frog Bog: it doesn’t end. Never. And there are now levels. So the player simply hops about on those two lily pads shown above… forever. Even for games that use basically the same screen, levels give a sense of accomplishment; Frog Bog is a Sartre-ian nightmare from which players can never escape… unless one of the players tires of flopping back and forth from one lily pad to the other and says “screw this, I’m going home.” Frog Bog is the gaming equivalent of facing two mirrors together — it’s like gazing into eternity. A very boring eternity.
4) Kool-Aid Man!
A marketing ploy more than a real game, the sort of off-putting thing about this cartridge was that you play two kids, clinging together in terror (or so it seems), running from the Thirsties. And if they get caught by said Thirsties, they let out a pretty blood-curdling scream. Oh yeah! No matter whether you find this disturbing (as the management of Kool-Aid reportedly did), or pretty damn funny (as most players did), it’s still a little nuts.
3) White Water!
You’d think that the entirety of this game would consist of guiding a raft through rough river rapids. But you’d be wrong. In fact, the rafting itself is only part of the game — the other part of the game happens when you beach your raft, hop onto dry land…and apparently into some alternate dimension in which random dudes challenge you to collect flags in order to win a golden vase — and if you don’t, they chuck an axe at your head. This, of course, is the heart of white water rafting — golden vases, flag-capturing, and over-competitive axe-wielding maniacs
2) Jetsons Way with Words
?Man, I remember those crazy days in the early ’80s when everyone was talking about The Jetsons. It was like a Spacely Sprockets Renaissance, and it was all Rosie-this and Astro-that, and everyone kept repeating the “Jane, stop this crazy thing!” line. So it makes sense that Intellivision would capitalize on that wave of popularity to design this game meant to teach… what’s that? All that never happened, and no one’s given a shit about The Jetsons since the ’60s? Oh. Well, then it makes no fucking sense at all, then.
1) Mr. Basic Meets Bits n Bytes
A set of three mini-games, none of which were notable at all beyond the fact that they were designed to help users learn BASIC. It didn’t help that the games were unrelated to one another, or for the most part to computers at all (vampire bats? Human cannons?). Weirdest of all, the instruction book is so long (72 pages!), it had to be spiral bound. Which helped, in the sense that it gave you something to club yourself over the head with when you realized how much you’d spent on this so-called game.