ColecoVision and early home arcade ports

Just like I‘m always saying: I’m not sure how many folks here care about some of the extremely geriatric game relics that I sometimes get the urge to write about. But! Since thread that aren‘t popular very quickly sink to the bottom and go offscreen, I don’t feel like I'm causing much inconvenience by starting them.

Anyway! I was for some reason thinking this morning about the ColecoVision, a console that was a huge big deal when I was around 10, but that was just like everything else almost completely obliterated in North America by the one-two punch of the first big video game crash and the introduction of the NES to the North American market. It was mostly a big deal because at a time when most arcade ports looked like this...

...ColecoVision ports of games looked like this...

Again, this was before the NES, with its excellent home ports of slightly older arcade games. When it launched in 1982, the ColecoVision was essentially marketed exclusively based on its ports-- the was only one game in its launch lineup, Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle, that wasn't a port. As an aside, it's an interesting console for a bunch of reasons, but IC regulars might be interested in it because it's apparently very similar, hardware-wise, to both the MSX and the SG-1000, to the point where there are a bunch of MSX games that have gotten cross ported to the ColecoVision in the last several decades.

So I was thinking I might write a few posts here and there about some of the extremely creaky arcade games from the late 70's and early 80's that got ported to the ColecoVision, and why I find them interesting, not from a technical viewpoint or anything, but I guess more of an aesthetic one. I'm mostly just interested in talking about a bunch of weird games that got passed by (in many cases) and got neither a lousy port on the Atari 2600 or a much better one on the NES, but that are cool and interesting (to me) in their own right. Some of them even have interesting connections to IC-adjacent topics!

If anybody else has any interest in any of this stuff, feel free to jump in and talk about things too!

Okay! So I wanted to write a bit about Cosmic Avenger, a relatively obscure game by Universal (Interestingly enough, Universal years later would be bought by Aruze, who folks here will know as the company who bought SNK in 2000. Also interesting is to find out that Aruze was renamed to Universal in 2005!).

Cosmic Avenger isn't all that interesting on paper. It's a very Scramble-like game that was released in arcades in mid-1981 (Scramble came out in early 1981, so given the laughably short time games took to develop in the early 80's, it's anyone's guess if it was a literal ripoff of Scramble).

In other words, it's a horizontal shooter with forced scrolling, where the player's ship needs to shoot and bomb enemy ships and ground installations while they shoot at you. It doesn't have the fuel mechanic that Scramble has, so you just need to avoid enemies and try for points. But it does have an extremely disorienting speed mechanic where pressing right or left speeds up or slows down the rate of scrolling.

The arcade version has some absolutely wild, acidy colours that was a hallmark of a lot of second-rate arcade games from the very early 80's. I especially appreciate how every single text field is a different colour, haha. The weird domed settlements are also interestingly done.

It's really funny, but playing the arcade version in emulation made me realize that it doesn't really compare well to Scramble at all, even though the two games seem pretty similar. Scramble's level design is extremely good, and there's a surprising amount of variation that they achieved using a very small number of assets. Cosmic Avenger has a real feel of a series of level chunks cut and pasted together over and over.

Anyway, here's the arcade version:

The ColecoVision version plays almost exactly the same as the arcade one, and I think it's pretty surprising how close they were able to get to the arcade original. They managed to reasonably duplicate things like the blocky, tiled landscape, the erratic movement of the UFO enemies, and even details like the spotlight from some of the domed cities pretty well. It even controls relatively close to the arcade version-- it's pretty funny, but it's almost like the reduction in performance might have made the jarring speed changes a little less awkward feeling. Something else to note is that the reduction in colours on the target objects actually makes them easier to see against the domes:

As far as I can tell, this is the only port that Cosmic Avenger ever got. According to wiki, there were Atari VCS and Intellivision ports that were announced but never released. Also according to wiki, this is the final game in Universal's Cosmic series (but then doesn't list the rest of the games, so I had to look them up), which consisted of a bunch of incredibly ancient and creaky games that are mostly takes on existing space games:

  • - Cosmic Monsters
  • - Cosmic Monsters II
  • - Galaxy Wars
  • - Cosmic Alien
  • - Space Panic (an excellent game and influence on Lode Runner)
  • - Cosmic Avenger
  • Hopefully someone has found this interesting! All of these games are available easily in emulation (also it also looks like the ColecoVision cartridge goes for under $5US these days). I'm thinking of digging around and seeing if anything has been written about Coleco's process of selecting games, other than the very famous story of how they signed the deal to port Donkey Kong. I should would love to know how a game like Cosmic Avenger was selected!

    I was thinking I'd write about Venture next, although I'm not sure how long it will take me to get around to it, haha.

    I just got a ColecoVision yesterday from a thrift store I volunteer at. It came with a few games - Donkey Kong, Zaxxon, River Raid, Ladybug and another game that escapes me right now. I only had a chance to play a bit of Kong and Zaxxon. Seems like a cool system. Much better than the 2600 or Intellivision. I am looking to get Turbo, galaxian and Burgertime. Wondering if it might be worth the investment to get a flash cart. The steering wheel and trackball are also intruiging.

    @“tomjonjon”#p134117 it was a really great system compared to its contemporaries! As a microcosm of early 80’s arcade ports (many of which never got any other decent ports) it really shines!

    @“Karasu”#p134126 I grew up with a 2600 (didn’t have an NES) and have a soft spot for old school arcade games. I’ve wanted a ColecoVision for a while and now that one fell into my lap I’m ready to give it some time. For 1982 hardware, Donkey Kong seems like a miracle!

    I got carts for Sega Turbo and Burgertime. I didn‘t realize that Turbo needed the wheel accessory so I can’t really play it, but it doesn't look very good. I guess it might be a bit too much to ask of the system to do justice to the game. Burgertime on the other hand is quite good! Just a small step behind the NES version visually. I wish there was a better controller option for the system.