Colecovision: A promising new machine

Just as we were finishing our panel testing of the four video-game machines [Astrocade, Atari VCS, Intellivision, Odyssey 2] a new machine appeared in the stores, accompanied by an extensive advertising campaign. Coleco, known for hand-held electronic games and early video games, has produced a sophisticated home video machine, the Colecovision ($200).

The machine is about the size of the four we tested. Its power and reset switches are conveniently placed near the front. The coiled cords of the hand controllers can be stored in a recess in the top. The controllers have a 12-key pad, which looks like a telephone touch-tone pad, and a stubby, mushroom-shaped joystick. Dividers between the keys help you avoid pressing the wrong key. There's a slot to accept a keypad overlay, but none of the games we bought uses one. A button on each side of the controller triggers game functions.

A sliding door in the machine conceals a slot called an “expansion module interface,” for which Coleco has promised a variety of add-on devices. The first of them is a module that accepts game cartridges made for the Atari VCS.

Coleco advises shutting off the power when changing cartridges. If you don't, an on-screen message reprimands you.

Coleco has been licensed to produce home adaptations of several currently popular arcade games. We looked at one, Donkey Kong, which is included with the machine, and at several others that sell for $30 each.

Donkey Kong was so close to the arcade version that any differences we found were judged insignificant. The story was the same with other arcade-based cartridges we checked out: Cosmic Avenger, Lady Bug, and Venture. There were a few minor differences, but all the essential features of the original games were there. The detail in the images, the smoothness of motion, and the sounds were all superb, in our opinion.

Some players didn't like the way the controller is designed. You must press the trigger buttons with the same thumb and forefinger that hold the controller, unless you rest the controller on a table top; pressing the buttons can be awkward and fatiguing. The joystick was positive in its action, but some players thought that it moved a bit stiffly for very young children. A minor complaint is the 15-second wait for the opening title to disappear from the screen when you change games or press reset.

A disquieting note: Two of our four samples failed within a few hours of use. One wouldn't reset; the other stopped in the middle of play, as if someone had pressed the reset button and held it down. Be sure you can exchange the machine if a problem should occur.

Despite its problems, we think that the Colecovision has an edge over the four other video machines. However, Atari reportedly has a new machine scheduled for release by the time you read this. And our experience with the Colecovision suggests that Coleco is having the durability problems common to new products in their early stages of production. Prudent game-buyers will wait—if they can—to make direct comparisons of the new Colecovision and the new Atari before making a final decision.

Consumer Reports, November 1982, p.548