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The Best Vintage Video Game Consoles

Updated on April 6, 2012

Classic Video Game Consoles

Let's take a walk down memory lane. . .

Vintage video game consoles helped shape the future of gaming as we know it. Through their development, evolution and failures the video game market rose and fell until it revived in 1985 like a phoenix rising from the ashes. And those flames burn brightly to this very day!

Below we will journey through the eyes of a child during the initial release of these technological wonders. We will discuss popular systems and games, through their triumphant successes and dismal failures.

Let us together remember the Vintage Video Games Consoles of the past!

Do you remember game consoles made by Atari, Colecovision, Intellivision or even Magnavox? These were among the first home video game systems to ever exist!

With them came a slew of games that would excite, surprise and even inspire gamers for generations. Next to a television, these games became the single most advanced piece of technology in many homes! And the games, let me tell you, showed us things right out of story books. They took us on adventures through the jungles, to undersea exploration, competing in sports on a digital landscape and even battling aliens in space. There were no boundaries any longer, these video games brought our dreams to life!

For the purpose of clarity, I have limited the scope of this article to all consoles prior and leading up to the great video game crash of 1983 which ended in 1985.

Atari 2600 - Spiderman Commercial

Did you have one?

Here I have made a list of several of the most popular Video Game Consoles of the past. Listed in no particular order:

Which Vintage Video Game Console was your first?

See results

My first Video Game Console

Although I was very young I still remember my family's first video game system, the Atari 2600. It wasn't easy prying either of my two brothers away from the console to get a try at the games, so usually I resorted to crying and soon my mother would step in and force the issue. It's important to know how to get things you want, even as a child!

So there I was, sitting on the carpet playing breakout and pac-man and space invaders and asteroids and joust and. . . Oh my gosh, it was just incredible. Our controller was only a simple black plastic joystick with a single red button. But that was more then enough. Pulling the joystick left, then right, then left again, all the while pressing the little red button so many times I'm surprised that we all didn't grown up with permanent calluses on our fingers!

I think we were one of the first on our street to get a video game system and this meant our living room had become the hub of activity for every pre-teen in the neighborhood. Much to my father's chagrin, his home was now a public community center!

It wasn't before everything started to change. Our friends slowly worked on breaking down their own parent's resolve at birthdays and special occasions, and soon enough new gaming systems started to pop up everywhere. A good friend of mine was given a Colecovision game system for her birthday. The greatest thing about it was that she had no brothers or sisters to share with and I was basically her best and only friend.

Together we flew through the air blowing up fortresses and robots in Zaxxon, shot invading space aliens in Galaxian and climbed ladders while dodging barrels to save the girl in Donkey Kong. It was great, especially with no pesky brothers to fight over turns with. But down deep, I was a little bit jealous since this system provided so much more interesting game play than my little old Atari. For one thing the controller wasn't just a stick and a red button. Sure it had a control knob which basically did the same thing as my joystick but it also had two trigger buttons and a number pad that resembled the push button phones, like the one I saw at the doctor's office since we had a rotary phone at home.

Magnavox Odyssey

Legacy of the original Video Game Consoles

Let's see a list of some of the more popular systems of the period. By no means is this a complete list as there were literally dozens of systems when you take into account all of the licensed clones.

I've tried to assemble an effective list of games systems from the early 70's leading up to the fall of the Video Game Console in 1985.

I know what you are going to say: What about the Commodore video games and the Texas Instrument games and the . . . Well, those were computer systems and are not included in the Vintage Video Game Console category. Sure some of the games were great, but those systems were tasked not only for games but for accounting, finance and word processing. No very game like for the purpose of this list.

So here they, the ones I found to be most popular:

Colecovision

1982-1985

Originally released with only 12 titles

Officially discontinued October 1985

Over 2 million units sold

145 titles released

Coleco Gemini

1982

A popular Atari 2600 clone manufactured by Coleco

The Gemini was more compact then the Atari 2600, cheaper and the controllers had both a joystick and a paddle in one.

Played all of the Atari 2600 games!

Later sold through Columbia House Records as the Columbia House Arcade.

Intellivision

1979-1983

Manufactured by Mattel

Over 3 million units sold

125 titles released

Intellivision II

1983-1984

Manufactured by Mattel

Due to security features that ultimately did no keep 3rd party programmers out the console was buggy with several Intellivision games.

Atari 2600

1977-1984 (Original System)

1985-1991 (Revamped and sold as 2600 Jr.)

This was the longest running video game console. Over 14 years!

Up to 900 titles released if the 2600 Jr. is taken into account until 1991

Over 30 million units sold

Magnavox Odyssey

1972-1975

Worlds first video game console!

This system predates the Atari PONG consoles by 3 years!

The original system can be seen at the Smithsonian Institute!

Used the first ever 'light gun' for a shooting gallery game on the television.

Magnavox had sued Atari, Activision, Coleco, Mattel and several others over patent infringement. They settled or won every case! Even Atari was sued and settled for PONG as it resembled the Magnavox tennis game.

Odyssey model numbers 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 2000, 3000 and 4000 were sold between 1975 and 1978 until the Odyssey 2 computer was released.

Over 300,000 units sold of the original system

Philips Odyssey

In 1974 Philips purchased Magnavox

These continued to release their own version of the Odyssey in 1976

Odyssey 200 in 1976

Odyssey 2001 in 1977

Odyssey 2100 in 1978

Arcadia 2001

1982-1983

Manufactured by Emerson Radio Corp.

Considered the DOA or dead on arrival game system due to poor programming and stability.

51 game titles

Atari 5200

1982

Release suffered due to its initial incompatibility with Atari 2600's giant game library, regardless of the superior graphics.

Over 1 million units sold

Atari 7800

1984 release

1986 re-release to 1991

3.77 million units sold

Vectrex

1982-1984

Manufactured by General Consumer Electronics from 1982-1983 and Milton-Bradley from 1983-1984

Completely used vector graphics

Had a built in display

First console to feature 3D

28 game titles

Bally Astrocade

1977-1985

Designed by Bally's video game department, Midway.

46 game titles

Fairchild Channel F

1976-1979

Manufactured by Fairchild Semiconductor

27 game cartridges released, totalling some 32 games, some cartridges with multiple games

Pitfall by Activision - With a very young Jack Black!

Intellivision

Vintage Video Games - Oh, the wonderful games!

The game marketing was savvy, yet highly misleading. Children flocked with their parents to stores and glared at boxes with fantastic pictures of monsters, space ships, action sports and many other fabulous sights. In truth, the games were NEVER that good, or that slick or that clean. But we didn't care! At least not at first.

Several famous game titles endured for many years and even spawned modern creations.

Magnavox Odyssey:

Prehistoric Safari, Dogfight, Cat & Mouse, Hockey, Baseball

Atari 2600:

Berserk, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Yar's Revenge, Pitfall, Combat, Missile Command, Joust

Intellivision:

Frogger, Masters of the Universe: The Power of He-Man, Motocross, Pitfall, Popeye, Tron Deadly Discs

Colecovision:

Boulder Dash, Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom, Centipede, Congo Bongo, Defender, Donkey Kong, The Dukes of Hazzard, Galaxian, Pitstop, Q*bert, WarGames, Spuhunter, Burgertime, Time Pilot

Vectrex

The North American Video Game Crash of 1983

Probably the single worst occurrence in video game history! Lasting from 1983 to 1985 the video game market shrank.

What caused the crash? Some believe it was because there were just too many low quality games released that the public lost interest or faith. So many new startup companies began to release console systems, new games and clones of existing systems that the public was just overwhelmed. Add the fact that established systems also released poor titles and that was probably part of what broke the camel's back. Care to check for yourself? Try playing E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial game, based on the hit movie, on the Atari 2600 for a while and notice how tears of pain form at the corners of you eyes. Atari even buried the copies they couldn't sell at a landfill in New Mexico!

So many of the newly formed video game companies began laying employees off and even filing for bankruptcy or just closing up shop. Prices plummeted and profits bottomed out.

It wasn't until a Japanese company named Nintendo came along and had a North American release of their Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985 that the industry began to turn around again. Until that point, many business geniuses were predicting that video game consoles were not going to be viable and that they were just a fad. Boy, were they wrong.

Colecovision

The Bottom Line

Emulators vs. the real thing? No question there! The real thing is what it's all about. Nothing can replace the feel of the old controllers, the originally intended response times of the game and the unique resolutions the games were created to display.

Sure, the home computer developed at the same time in the form of the Microcomputer. It had better graphics, more memory and even the ability to do accounting and word processing, not to mention loads of games! But that is another story since they were not considered dedicated gaming consoles!

Collector, enthusiast or just a nostalgic video game player, anyone can pick up an old system for relatively little money and delve into those old greats one more time. Call it historic research if you can't justify any other way! :)

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    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      How far video game systems have come these days.

    • bechand profile image

      bechand 5 years ago

      they were awesome - and funny - my sister still has the Atari 2600 set up and running - as well as the orig. Nintendo - :O) we play every now and then :O) great stuff

    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 5 years ago

      This lens makes me feel old, as I remember those big, old video game consoles! We thought they were absolutely awesome, and had so much fun.

    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 5 years ago

      This lens makes me feel old, as I remember those big, old video game consoles! We thought they were absolutely awesome, and had so much fun.

    • profile image

      BillyShears 5 years ago

      Awesome Lense! Sadly I remember some of these consoles very well.!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      My generation of games was immediately after these ones, though I did play on an Atari 2600 a good bit at some friends' houses. Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • WJT LM profile image

      WJT LM 5 years ago

      Amazing lens! Reminds me of my childhood. I use to skip lunch in school so that I could save up all my lunch money for an Atari console! Good old times!

    • profile image

      Namymartyn 5 years ago

      Nice lens with excellent information........

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 5 years ago from Concord VA

      Well, this is a trip down memory lane. :)

    • profile image

      Krofek 5 years ago

      I never have something like that?

    • profile image

      Edutopia 5 years ago

      Ah E.T. what a game. They made more copies of E.T. than there were number of consoles out in the market.

    • kimark421 profile image

      kimark421 5 years ago

      We had the Atari and I wore that thing out playing missile command,space invaders and Asteroids. Wore my thumb out too.

      Great lens!

    • ImmatureEntrepr profile image

      ImmatureEntrepr 5 years ago

      Really enjoyed this walk down memory lane. WOW was ET a horrible game lol. Squid Angel blessings for you!