A History of Gaming Platforms series continues with a look at the Intellivision, a classic video game console developed by toy company Mattel and continued as an independent business for years after being dropped by that company. Need to catch up? Check out the first four articles in the series, covering the Commodore 64, Vectrex, Apple II, and Atari 2600.]
When Mattel released its Intellivision video
game system in 1980, Atari knew it finally had a serious contender for the
console crown. The Intellivision was more advanced than Atari's VCS (later
known as the 2600) and featured distinctive software, clever marketing
campaigns and sophisticated (though 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.
TYPICAL SYSTEM SPECIFICATIONS
Release Year 1980
Resolution 160 x 196
On-Screen Colors 16
Sound 3 Channels, Mono
Media Format(s) Cartridge
Main Memory 2KB
The Mattel company was founded in 1945.
It was then primarily a manufacturer of picture frames and dollhouse
accessories. After the introduction of the Barbie doll line in 1959, the company shifted its focus entirely
Barbie's unbelievable success swelled Mattel's coffers, and it soon
diversified its lineup by purchasing smaller toy companies with unrelated
product lines. Today, with well-known brands such as Hot Wheels, Barbie, and an
ongoing series of acquisitions that include Fisher-Price and Tyco, Mattel is
one of the world's largest and most successful toy makers.
In 1977, Mattel, under its Mattel
Electronics line, produced the seminal Auto
Race, the first all-electronic handheld game. It was crude by today's
standards -- the visuals were represented by red LED lights and the sound
consisted of simple beeps.
But the novel product was a huge success, spawning
several other handheld games such as Football
and Battlestar Galactica. These games
sold millions and gave Mattel the confidence to move into the fledgling video
game console market with the Intellivision
The inside of a 1981 Mattel
Electronics Intellivision catalog, showing the original Master Component and
various boxed games in their respective Network colors.
Mattel successfully test marketed the
Intellivision in Fresno, California,
in 1979, along with four games: Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack, Math
Battle, and Backgammon.
The following year, Mattel went national, and quickly sold out the first
year's production run of the popular systems.
Closeups of the infamous Intellivision controller. Despite
allowing for an impressive 16 possible movement directions, the control disc
was often criticized for its awkwardness with many games. Many add-ons of
dubious value were created to purportedly enhance the control disc's
functionality, like the Intellivision Attachable Joysticks shown to the far