Wednesday, December 24, 2014

ColecoVision Flashback system review
6.5 stars out of 10

Perhaps I date myself here to a specific age bracket but when I think of vintage video game consoles, I do not refer to the Atari 2600 or even the later Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) - my mind heads straight to the ColecoVision. I was always fascinated with electronic games - hey, we even had a TelStar (also made by Coleco) with the faux wood-grain console back in the late ‘70’s - but the ColecoVision was the one that made me lose my 10-year old mind.

I can still remember those ColecoVision commercials from the fall of 1982. With the promise of "arcade-like graphics and sounds" and by brilliantly packing in the then-new hit Donkey Kong with their console, Coleco all but guaranteed themselves a hit upon release. And so, the ColecoVision burst onto the burgeoning home video game scene with much fanfare. And there I was, caught up in the 8-bit hoopla.

Jump to 2014 and the news starts to surface that the Coleco name was purchased by a new company and that some of the old products were being reintroduced to the marketplace - including a new version of the ColecoVision called the Flashback that would come loaded with 60 games. These types of “flashback” systems are not new - various permutations of these have been around for years but they have started to shift more towards the retro gamer recently with the games coming in a console reminiscent of the original rather than a clunky-looking controller with built-in games that hooks to your TV.

For better or worse, the Coleco Flashback replicates the vintage experience for all. The cool points is the the system, while much smaller, looks similar to the Coleco consoles of yore. The controllers may have slight color differences and are slightly smaller than the originals but are otherwise fairly close in shape and feel. Bonus points for including the keypad inserts for games like Blackjack/Poker - a very nice touch.

For the bad points… I need to first set the scene for you: There you are in 1982, sitting on the carpet in front of the TV with your game console in front of you and your box of cartridges off to the side. Now the wires for everything were rather short so you were probably sitting way too close to the television and since the wired controllers only had about a 12-16” travel from the unit, you and your co-player practically sat right on top of the console.

That was magical when I was ten. At 42 it means that after 15 minutes, my back is killing me and I wish this thing came with wireless controllers so I can geek out properly on my spiffy West Elm recliner. While there is something inherently cool about retro gaming with an actual console
- stretching wires from the TV as far as they can go and still be stuck sitting on the floor in the middle of the room sucks! Clearly the comfort factor means more to me now than getting the “complete vintage console experience”.

So, let’s stick to the system itself because a console only means so much without games to play. AT Games certainly gives you plenty of vintage bang for the modern buck as the ColecoVision Flashback comes pre-loaded with 60 games. But I can’t say you get 60 classics. While I would not expect Nintendo to grant the license for Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong JR., their absence is strongly felt. I also felt pangs of nostalgia recalling the many other Coleco classics that are not here: Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle, Front Line, Time Pilot, Mr. Do, Looping, Subroc, Lady Bug, Carnival, Mouse Trap… you get the picture.

There are a few bona-fide A-listers here including Zaxxon, Bump ‘n’ Jump, Cosmic Avenger, Venture, Jungle Hunt and Frenzy. You also get a few forgotten classics that really have aged quite well like Destructor, Frantic Freddy, Miner 2049er, Choplifter, Omega Race and Pepper II.

And then you get the C-listers... you know the ones; those games that you may have purchased back in the day because the box art looked cool but in reality, the game was crap. But you played it anyway as you were just excited to get a new game but deep down, you knew it was a dud. That was all well and good 30 years ago but now it leads to about 60 seconds of frustrating gameplay before I head back to the main menu looking for something a bit more satisfying. There are quite a few of these here - most from Imagic, purveyors of the "great box, bad game" concept.

You also get a few "home brew" games which are original games coded for the ColecoVision. These games give a very interesting take on where the ColecoVision could have went - in fact the graphics for Mech-8 are almost reminiscent of the NES proving that there was more life to Coleco had the company been able to continue production.

I wanted to love the ColecoVision Flashback but I couldn’t help myself from feeling that wireless controllers - or at least longer cables on the included controllers - and a few different games would have helped this system get a perfect 10 from me. Instead, the ColecoVision Flashback gets a 6.5.

Something tells me that 30 years ago, I was doing this same exact thing!

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