Intellivision Amico – A family console we really want to succeed

I started my gaming journey as a kid back in 1980 with an Intellivision and the rest is history. While many saw Mattel’s offering as a poor man’s Atari VCS it wasn’t. In so many ways the Intellivision was groundbreaking, with better graphics and sound and a unique controller that took early videogames to a new layer of complexity.

With the help of tie-ins with organizations like the NBA and the NFL and even the first licensed Dungeons and Dragons game – Cloudy Mountain, which I have still been known to play today, the Intellivision was the toy manufacturer’s big pump into a brave new world.

intellivision cloudy mountain
The original D&D license – Cloudy Mountain

We can leave the history lesson there but computers came along and the video game market crashed a few short years later and that was the end of Mattel, and, in the main, Atari producing home consoles. 

Atari stuck around with home computers for a while, right the way up to the great Atari ST and Atari Falcon but Mattel stepped away from dabbling after the failed Aquarius computer.

Industry veteran takes charge of Intellivision

Fast forward to 2018 and the arrival of Tommy Tallarico, an industry music veteran you can find credited on classics such as Earthworm Jim and somebody who has been in the industry as long as I have. 

Tommy has since gone on to break all manner of records with his phenomenally popular Video Games Live music spectacular which has been performed all around the world, as well as being Steven Tyler of Aerosmith fame’s cousin. Anyway, now he’s the head of Intellivision and the new console he’s driving – the Intellivision Amico needs to be talked about sensibly.

I spoke to Tommy a year or so ago as we discussed my delight at the new project and the chance to play family-orientated games with my kids that also connected me to my own childhood.

Since then it’s fair to say that the path for Tommy and Intellivision hasn’t always been smooth. The Amico should have been out a year ago. It’s not, and contributing factors such as COVID have served to derail the best-laid plans.

Last week Amico launched (and quickly sold out) physical boxed copies of the first batch of games (Amico games will come as downloads, all cost a family-friendly $10 or less and so, as a rule, don’t need a box).

Nostalgic collectors

Intellivision realized of course that there was a whole host of collectors, including the likes of me who have a fondness for Intellivision games and their unique packaging, so they released games for a console that currently has no release date and therefore can’t be downloaded and played on anything. Some corners of the gaming press chose to jump on this and use it as a way of poking fun but to me, this is unfair as Intellivision isn’t exactly selling these off the shelf, but herein lies the issue.

intellivision amico woodgrain
Limited edition Intellivision Amico, paying homage to the original’s woodgrain effect

Some quarters of the industry simply don’t want to look any further than Xbox, Nintendo, and Sony. They don’t see a place for a console that perhaps doesn’t fit into the boxes we have come to expect in recent years. They believe that what we have already simply covers all the bases.

Tallarico will repeat like a mantra that the Amico is aimed at families who want to play games together as a unit, sat around the TV, creating memories like I still have of playing with my parents all those years ago.

Of course, times have changed a fair bit, but the shouts of “We already have the Nintendo Switch” are false to me. Yes, we do, but a Switch game can cost around $50, and to truly play multi-player you are either talking about multiple consoles or controllers.

With the Amico, you get the two controllers but other players can just join in by downloading the app and using their smartphone as a controller. Anybody can join in. At a moment’s notice. Even grandparents.

Games are all cheap and pretty much instant to download. They are also all exclusive to the Amico. There’s no Call of Duty here. No Fortnite. The games are multi-player family orientated and simple, and yet from what we have seen still look like a lot of fun – including remakes of classics from yesteryear that you can still find me playing with my kids.

There’s also been further furor as Tommy lost his temper on Twitter – never a good thing – in relation to a story that apparently used leaked documents to highlight that the Amico would be using a $100 processor that was similar to what was found in a smartphone in 2016. This again is taking something so far away from context for a headline it seems almost vindictive. 

The Oculus Quest 2 uses a Snapdragon processor from the same lineage and the games we are set to be playing will not require the kinds of CPU snobbery we currently see in the PC games market – not that you can get hold of them anyway.

The Amico is set to cost $249 so pointing out that a processor “only” costs $100 as if to suggest the console is overpriced seems odd. If you add up all the components in a $1000 TV do they come to a nice round thousand? Maybe they do, but I highly doubt it.

Maybe it’s easy to say “how can the Amico hope to succeed in the face of such competition?” but it’s also a bit lazy perhaps. Maybe we should hope it succeeds so we can get back some much-needed family time with everybody in the household.

For balance I undoubtedly have my rose-tinted glasses on. Many people have pre-ordered the Amico and still have no timeline as to when it will arrive after a few delays already. Now people have bought physical copies of games – albeit more designed as collector’s items rather than actual things to play. Are we actually going to see a console that gets kids playing with their families or a console where parents force their kids to play because they are chasing memories?

The nostalgia I still have for the original Intellivision will doubtless come back to haunt me when the Amico finally arrives, just like when you play Sonic on a copy of RetroArch for the first time in years, I imagine I will want for more, but for the chance to get my kids off the likes of Roblox on their iPads and actually interacting with their parents again it’s a risk I am willing to take.

The Intellivision Amico is due to release before the end of 2021

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