The Intellivision is a home video game console released by Mattel Electronics in 1979. The name is a portmanteau of "intelligent television", and development began in 1977, the same year as the launch of its main competitor, the Atari 2600. Game development ran from 1978 to 1990 when the Intellivision was discontinued. From 1980 to 1983, more than 3 million consoles were sold. When introduced, Atari knew it finally had a serious contender. The Intellivision was way more advanced than the popular Atari 2600 and featured distinctive software, clever marketing campaigns and sophisticated (though a bit quirky) controllers. Mattel cultivated a unique and long-lasting brand identity, and it's not hard to find loyal fans of the system even today.
The heart of the Intellivision was a 16-bit microprocessor from General Instruments -- quite a step up from most other video game and computer systems at the time, which would continue to rely on 8-bit microprocessors for years. The Intellivision's sound chip was also impressive, allowing output of three distinct sound channels.
The machine also boasted a 16-color palette, but could only display eight simultaneous moving objects onscreen. Fortunately, clever programming could minimize this limitation on moving objects.
In the spring of 1983, Mattel introduced the Intellivision II, a cheaper, more compact redesign of the original, that was designed to be less expensive to manufacture and service, with updated styling. It also had longer controller cords. The Intellivision II was initially released without a pack-in game but was later packaged with BurgerTime in the United States and Lock'N'Chase in Canada. In 1984 the Digiplay Intellivision II was introduced in Brazil. Brazil was the only country outside North America to have the redesigned Intellivision II.
The two controllers were permanently attached to the system. They consisted of thumb-operated control discs with 16 possible movement directions, which was twice the number of a typical joystick. They also had 12 button keypads with two action buttons on each side. The top two action buttons were wired together, so in actuality only three unique functions could be performed by the four action buttons. Finally, the control disc and action buttons could not be used simultaneously with the keypad buttons; internally, they registered as the same inputs.
Because of these quirks, Intellivision controllers were notoriously difficult to use. Although the multifunction controllers worked well for games requiring complex input, such as the genre-defining Major League Baseball (1980), they proved sluggish for games that required precise directional movement or timely button presses, such as the Nintendo arcade port, Popeye (Parker Brothers, 1983).
Ultimately, 125 cartridge games were released for the Intellivision between 1979 and 1990, with a small portion requiring the Intellivoice or ECS add-ons. A few additional Intellivision homebrew games for an original console (or through emulation) have been released since 2000.
Looking for the instructions?
Download here the Intellivision manual (PDF).
What's your Intellivision worth in 2021? Here are some recently sold items.
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