Intellivision’s E3 Presentation Broke My Brain

Intellivision’s E3 Presentation Broke My Brain

In the same show where we got a look at StarfieldForza Horizon 5, new 2D Metroid titles and all types of fascinating indies, Intellivision made sure to give us the … Cookie Monster.

In a world where you’ve got publishers talking about bringing AAA games to MacBooks, phones and tablets through livestreaming, there’s a unique brand of dissonance to see gaming’s annual conference stop for 10 minutes to talk about a new Intellivision console.

Called the Amico, it’s a small console that almost looks reminiscent of a Roomba. It comes equipped with two Bluetooth controllers that each have their own screen. It’s almost like a miniaturised take on the same idea the Wii U had, although there’s extra directional input from the dial on the controller.

Of course, the Wii U could at least offer Mario Kart 8 or New Super Mario Bros. U. Even the “bad” Zelda games on the Wii U are about a million times better than most other franchises.

The Intellivision … doesn’t have that.

Watching Tommy Tallarico sell the Amico, a $US249 console that’s barely cheaper than the Nintendo Switch, is like falling down a well and landing in an alternate dimension. Tallarico begins the presentation (after mentioning that he’s the voice behind Roblox‘s oof sound, which was a whole legal drama) by talking about the old times, when people used to get together in a room to play video games.

“When I was growing up, we didn’t have the internet to play video games,” Tallarico argued. “I bet if you’re a hardcore gamer, you’re probably like me, and I bet your fondest memories of playing video games was when you were playing with other people in the same room together.”

That’s a totally fair point to make. But also: times change. The internet has made games better, not worse. It hasn’t killed couch co-op. People grew up with it, and designers created new ways to make different types of games that couldn’t have existed otherwise.

But Intellivision isn’t living in that world. At the end of the presentation, Tallarico announced that 3 signed Earthworm Jim prints would be given away — to people who sent in an email with the subject line “Groovy!”.

I’m not kidding.

Image: YouTube (Intellivision)

In the same way that the internet has found better ways of running giveaways in 2021 than sending emails, Intellivision’s entire pitch exists on the principle that gaming hasn’t really found a better way of making games that are accessible to everyone. It’s that vibe that says video games are worse in 2021 than they were in, say, the early ’90s. Or the ’80s. Or the ’70s.

It ignores the cool ways developers have made games more social in the decades since then. Look at the Jackbox Party Pack games, for instance, which is more accessible and palatable than anything advertised by Intellivision. And there’s a good idea in targeting accessibility and a much wider audience than just the “core gamer” demographic.

But people who don’t play video games don’t buy video game consoles. They get interested in video games, almost 99.99999999999% of the time, via friends, family or acquaintances who are interested in video games.

Much like the astonishingly overpriced Atari VCS, which retails in Australia for more than a PlayStation 5, the Intellivision is the answer to a question that nobody is really asking. But beyond collectors and people who grew up with the Intellivision originally, it’s hard to imagine who, or why, anyone would buy this.

And all the answers from Intellivision don’t make sense in the real world. Sure: there’s absolutely an appeal in saying that your products won’t have loot boxes or microtransactions or any form of paid DLC. But also if I’m a developer, does that mean I have to release a whole separate game every time I want to update a product? DLC expansions – paid DLC expansions — make games better. Those things aren’t on the same planet as the gambling-like mechanics of a FIFA Ultimate Team pack, and shouldn’t be treated as such.

But also, even if you’re going to remove all of those from the equation, the response to not having any of that basic online connectivity is not to say we “have an online leaderboard system for most of our games”. Games have that already. Drop-in, drop-out co-op? Games have that already. It’s not a selling pitch for the Intellivision.

Content is what sells systems. Sure, there might be some potential in the original Ecco the Dolphin developer’s new exclusive Dolphin Quest, but are you really going to drop Nintendo Switch-level money on a spiritual successor to Ecco the Dolphin? And for the developers out there, what’s the impetus to develop on the Intellivision anyway? Because it’s different? Are developers really that free with their time and resources to take a flyer on something like this?

Image: YouTube (Intellivision)

I don’t mean to be cruel or cynical, and I honestly hope the Intellivision team achieves everything they’re hoping for. But at the same token, in the position of being media that’s designed to be critical of an industry that gets far too much of a free pass, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask a simple question.

Why would anyone, families or otherwise, buy an Intellivision when you could buy literally anything else — especially when every other console does what the Intellivision promises, but miles better, with better family-friendly games? And why market this directly to the most hardcore gamers — the only people liable to watch E3 conferences live, or watch them afterwards — if you don’t have any content they’ll be interested in? Why not just advertise it via infomercials or something that might actually reach the console’s supposed target market?

The whole presentation is only 10 minutes long, and you can watch it via the embed above or directly on YouTube here.

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