I know I just did a Saturn post a week ago, but I've been working on a few more things, this and one other list which will be done soon too. This one isn't just because I want to make a list, though; I really did just get this system a few weeks ago, so it's an appropriate lttp thread and system history as well as a short-reviews-of-the-few-games-I have thread.
Anyway, yes, I got a Magnavox Odyssey 2 a few weeks ago. I only have twelve carts, with 16 games on them total, it's a start at least. It's an interesting system; I've never had a working second gen machine before, so it's a new thing for me. I do have an Atari 2600 with some games, but it doesn't work, and I haven't spent the money to get a working 2600 or 7800 yet. So yeah, this is my first working second gen console. I'd been unsure for years about how much I really wanted to get into pre=NES gaming -- the NES is the console I knew as a kid, so this stuff is somewhat foreign to me. Games were different before the NES, with so many endless games, multiplayer-only titles, and extremely short games... very different styles of gaming from what would develop starting from 1985 and afterwards. Overall I have mixed feelings about this system; it does have a pretty small library, and a lot of really short or not so great games. Still, the few good games are interesting enough that I feel like it was worth the purchase. You can't play O2 games anywhere else, legally, either -- there are no collections of O2 games on newer systems, something not true for the 2600 or Intellivision.
Very cool box, wish mine came with one!
System looks okay to good.
Hardware and Background History
Now, the Odyssey 1 was of course the first ever home videogame system, released in 1972 and designed by Ralph Baer. This system wasn't designed by Baer, however, but it was the first videogame console that is a successor to an older one. After making some dedicated systems in between, the Magnavox Odyssey 2 was Phillips Magnavox's second videogame console. It is a second generation machine and released in 1978 in the US, so it released over a year after the Atari 2600 that was its main competition. In the US, it was supported from 1978 to 1983. In Europe, where it was called the Phillips Videopac G7000, it lasted from 1980 to 1984. During that time, the system amassed a small, and almost entirely first party, 45-50 game library; the O2 had minimal third party support. In fact, even the first party stuff was mostly by one single guy -- Magnavox didn't have a large staff to make games for its new system to say the least, so basically this one guy had to do most of them. He ended up making 24 games, a majority of the games released for the system during its lifespan. This results in a lot of games with very similar looking graphics -- there's a reason for that beyond the hardware design, most are by the same person. The system has one addon, the voice addon The Voice. It was only released in the US, and adds English-language speech effects to the nine games that support it (plus homebrew titles; most of them support it too). No games require it, however, unlike the IntelliVision's IntelliVoice voice addon; it's optional, flavor-speech stuff.
http://www.dadgum.com/halcyon/BOOK/AVERETT.HTM - An interview with Ed Averett, the guy at Magnavox who made 24 of the O2's games
The Odyssey 2 was supposed to have a successor in 1983, the backwards-compatible Odyssey 3. However, because of the videogame crash that started that year, the US release was abandoned while the system was still in testing. Some prototype O3s exist, but it was not released. This system was released in Europe, however, as the Phillips Videopac+ G7400. I'll call it the Videopac+. The Videopac+ has three exclusive titles, and twelve more games that were released in Europe as dual-mode titles. These games play the same on either a Videopac or Videopac+, but have high-color backgrounds behind the playfield on the Videopac+. Those three exclusive games use the upgraded graphics hardware in the foreground too. Unfortunately Videopac+ systems and games are all entirely PAL region, so you can't play them in the US unless you have a PAL television to play them on. Many O2/Videopac games do work on either PAL or NTSC, but the Videopac+ console itself will not. O3 prototype systems cannot run Videopac+ games without modification, either. Homebrew O2 releases often have Videopac+ backgrounds, but I don't know of any that require it; that'd cut off almost all of your American audience, after all. The system does seem a bit more popular in Europe than here, but still, homebrew games just support it, and The Voice, they don't require either.
So, the Odyssey 2 may have a small game library, and only a relative few of those are good, too. And on top of that, many of the better ones are games inspired by more popular arcade or Atari titles. Even so, I find it an interesting system with some fun games; I don't regret buying this, actually. The system's graphics are simple, but actually in terms of hardware power it's actually more powerful in many ways than the 2600, even if you can't always tell by looking at the games. The system uses an Intel CPU, rare at the time, so programmers weren't too used to it. Some of the homebrew titles released in recent years show that the system is actually capable of much better visuals than are seen in most of the titles released during its life.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcD6qczYIJY - Here's the trailer for the 2012 release Mage: The Enchanted Crystals. This trailer has the Videopac+ background, but apart from that it'd look the same on O2. The music might be from The Voice. Looks like a decent game, and it's in a genre that the system doesn't have much of, action/adventure games. There's a cancelled and thus unofficial-release-only release of Tutankham, this, and not much else.
As with was normal for the era, many O2 games are two player only titles. This is, of course, frustrating today, but that's how games were. This means that some games are more playable than others with only one person, excepting the one player only games of course which are fine. Also there's no saving of anything, so it's vital to write down your scores for the games -- apart from sports games everything else here is score-based, and without any other form of saving, writing down scores is the only way for the games to mean anything.
Beyond those usual basics, though, O2 gameplay has some idiosyncrasies, some of which surely result from one guy making so many of the system's titles. Most (first party, but almost all O2 games are first party; there are only 5-8 third party releases anywhere) O2 games seem to fall into one of five categories. First, sports games (Football, Baseball, Bowling, what have you). Second, games which use the keyboard (there are analogs of Simon, Hangman, Concentration, and more.). Third, action games where you have one life, and start a new game after dying once (the KC games, UFO, Pick Axe Pete, etc.). Fourth, competitive games where you play to ten points (usually against a human, sometimes a computer; examples include Alien Invasion Plus, Out Of This World, etc.). And fifth, timed games, where each game is 2-3 minutes long. Few games don't fall into any of these five categories, though I guess a couple of the racing games could be a sixth category, racing games that aren't timed but instead end after you go through enough laps/gates. Yeah, the O2 has some unique game design elements, most notably in the one-life stuff.
The system also has three boardgames with O2 videogame components. I am very interested in two of these, Conquest of the World and Quest for the Rings. Both sound pretty interesting, regardless of how good they are. The games have a boardgame element, where you move around or strategize on an actual, physical board, and a videogame element, where you avoid enemies, fight eachother, and what have you. Obviously these are multiplayer only games.
As for hardware design, the system looks like something out of its time. That is, it looks very late '70s to early '80s. I love some of the box art design -- the flying letters and logos look really cool. The box art of the system and games is a real highlight of the system, and is one of the reason I'd always recommend getting complete copies of games, or at least copies with the manuals (all of which have the box art on their covers) -- it's great stuff! Sometimes the box art and manuals are better than the games, that's for sure... I'll post some examples of box arts here. Really cool stuff. The cartridges themselves all have handles, which preclude the use of end labels, but the boxes make for good storage devices anyway, with the flap covers, so that's alright.
The system itself is well enough designed. It's nothing amazing looking, but it'll do the job. The built-in flat keyboard is a nice touch. Some games play on the keyboard, so you'll need the system close. Of course, with controller cords as short as second-gen cords all are, you'll need the system close anyway. On that note, the controllers are basic, Atari-inspired controllers, but they're not the same as Atari joysticks. Unlike those these have more throw, so you can move them farther in each direction. They're eight-direction sticks, too, with notches cut out of the sides of the well, so that you can lock the stick into any of the eight directions. This is handy in many titles. It is a digital stick and not analog, but that's okay. Like with the Atari, though, the system has only one button. One more might have been nice... oh well. The system I have has black, hardwired controllers, and a flat keyboard. Six models of O2 systems were released in the US, but the one I have seems one of the most common kinds. I just got it a few weeks ago, and it's working fine. The system attaches to the TV via an RF box. It has twin leads on it, but fortunately they are attached to a small box with a normal (UHF) cable plug on it, so I don't need to buy a special adapter to use it with my television, since of course no TVs from the last 25-plus years have those two-prong plugs on them. It does have one of the old-fashioned slide switches, though, so you need to manually switch it to game mode; it won't autoswitch like the NES and beyond can do. The antenna out part on the switch IS twin lead, so instead of using an adapter I don't connect this system directly to my TV, where the cable input is, but instead hook it up to the VCR. That works well, and I can leave the switch on "on" that way too and not have to keep messing with it. Unfortunately the RF box is hard-wired, so I do need to remove it when not using the system -- and unlike all my other consoles, I can't keep this one plugged in all the time. The system is pretty large and needs to be right at my feet, where my pile of controllers for other systems is... The power supply plug is removable, but the RF and controller plugs are not. (except for inside the system, of course.)
I got the system locally and paid $50, which might have been a bit too much, but I thought it was worth it because it was guaranteed to work, returnable, and came with six games (mediocre games mostly, but games), and all of the games were complete, too. Not bad, I love the boxes as I've said. Honestly with less cool boxes, I might well have passed... but it does. The manuals are all in full color, and are printed with white text on black paper, just like the boxes. They look very stylish, and are full of art, full color screenshots, and very detailed descriptions of how to play the games. The writing is often silly stuff -- whoever worked in O2 marketing and manual-writing were marketing geniuses! Seriously, O2 games trumpet things such as "digital scoring", and the sports games all talk about how "extremely realistic" the simulations of their sport they are. It's great stuff. O2 game boxes are cardboard in the US, plastic in Europe. The cardboard ones are fine, I think. They have flip-open covers, sort of like the IntelliVision. This makes accessing the game in the box easy.
I have twelve games now, those six, plus six others I got from an EBay lot. All twelve are complete.
I don't have this one, but wow is that amazing boxart.
2. K.C. Munchkin!
3. P.T. Barnum's Acrobats!
Honorable Mentions: Speedway!, Alpine Skiing!, Out Of This World!, Pick Axe Pete!, Spinout!
(Oh, before I begin, yes, all titles have exclamation points at the end of their names. It's just a thing Magnavox did.)
My best high scores so far:
Pick Axe Pete: 99 (starting from screen 1)
Acrobats: mode 3: 451. Mode 0: 461. Mode 7: 897. (7 is the easiest mode by far...)
K.C. Munchkin: 317 (mode 1). 136 (mode 2). 110 (mode 4). 189 (mode 3). 1-3 are the easy-hard preset maps; 4 is normal random maps.
Alpine Skiing! - 1979, Two player simultaneous racing game. Alpine Skiing is a very simple ski racing game where two players ski down a mountain. One player is on each side of the screen, and this is a two player only game so either you play on your own, or against someone, but either way both skiiers will be on screen (even if the other is doing nothing). There are three courses in the game, Slalom, Giant Slalom, and Downhill. Each course has a different gate layout, with different spacing between gates as you'd expect from those different events. There aren't really any turns in Alpine Skiing; instead, you just go down. The only turns will be to get through the gates. That doesn't mean that the game is easy, though. Quite the opposite, Alpine Skiing is a hard game. The primary reason for this is that if you miss one gate, it's game over. The only way to get a finishing time is to go through all 44 gates on the course; otherwise, all you'll be told at the end is how many gates you missed. As usual on the O2, once both players are down the hill, the game will lock, requiring a press of the Reset button to continue. The graphics are extremely basic, with the usual O2 "man" character, on skis this time, as the players. The gates look like gates, and that's all there is to the visuals. You have good control of your skiier with the stick, as left and right turn while up and down adjust your speed. Alpine Skiing is a simple game, but if you want to finish in a good time, you'll definitely need practice in order to finish without missing gates. Alpine Skiing isn't a great game, and it is too bad that there's no computer opponent (of course, such things were normal back then, but still, it's too bad), but at least you can play for time with one player. This is an alright game, really simplistic but not too bad.
Game. The left player has missed gates, the right hasn't yet.
Bowling! / Basketball! - 1978, 2-in-1 cart.
Okay cover, though somewhat average for the system.
Bowling! - One to four players. Bowling is a horrible bowling game, and might be the worst bowling game I've played before. The graphics are extremely simplistic, but worst is the physics -- the pins don't move around after being hit, in this game, so there's almost no possible way of dealing with a split, for instance. To play, the ball moves back and forth along the bottom of the screen. Press the button when you want to roll the ball. Once it's moving, you can adjust its movement with the stick. The game is for one to four players, but of course in one player mode you're all by yourself, there's no computer opponent. The gameplay certainly isn't anywhere near good enough to be something you'd want to play with others, either, not with this complete lack of physics or graphics of note. Don't bother with this one.
Basketball! - Two players required. Basketball is a two player only side-scrolling basketball game. I haven't played it properly yet, but it looks like a pretty mediocre game that might be amusing for a few minutes. The graphics are extremely, extremely simple; this is an early O2 game, and looks it. The baskets are barely recognizable as such. The game is side-scrolling 2d, and the controls work like this: So, one player starts with the ball. The other player will take the ball if they pass through the first player. You can shoot, however, with the button. You can't adjust the shot power or trajectory; it'll be random, pretty much. If it goes in the basket, you get 2 points. The takeaway ability is kind of amusing, and that's the only hope that this game has to be any fun at all, I think... I'll have to try it. I'm not expecting much to say the least.
Computer Golf! - 1978, One to four players. Computer Golf is a simple topdown golf game. The game plays on a nine hole course. Each hole has a different design, and you'll have to avoid the sides of the hole and the trees as you try to hit the ball towards the green. Trees and the sides are the only obstacles in the game, but it's enough. Once on the green the screen will zoom in to a green view, where you try to hit the ball into the hole. The game is slow paced, as your character walks slowly and the ball isn't too quick either. Hitting the ball also will take a little practice; read the manual and practice, because it explains which direction the ball will go in from each character position on screen. It's not entirely intuitive just by looking at it, but you'll get used to it. You'll often have to rotate around in order to hit the ball in the direction you want.
Box. Note the map of the course.
Gameplay isn't quite as bad as it might look.
Overall, this is a bland game, but I don't like golf in general, so considering that it's not too bad. I do like how the cover of the box (and the manual) have a map of the nine holes, showing how they actually arrange into a connected course that you never see in the game -- nice touch! The manual also gives you par numbers for each hole and the course, which is good to know. This is a slow, simple golf game, and of course you'll only have opponents if you're playing against another human, but it was entertaining to play through once, at least.
Football! - 1978, Two players required. This is a very basic single-screen football game that I haven't yet played. I don't like football, and this isn't exactly the two player game I'd want to play for sure. The players are all your usual "small person" O2 figures. Decent box though.
K.C. Munchkin! - 1981, One player. K.C. Munchkin is the Odyssey 2's best known, and most popular, game. The game is most infamous for being banned from sale after Magnavox was sued over how much the game is like Pac-Man. Magnavox lost, but ironically, this game actually has some real differences from Pac-Man -- it's not just a straight clone. I think the courts got it wrong. Fortunately the game was on sale for long enough before being banned that plenty of copies are out there, so this is not a rare game.
The box is really cool looking! I love this box.
Gameplay is just as good.
K.C. Munchkin is indeed a game working from the Pac-Man playbook, but it does some of its own things, as I said. First, the game plays on a strict, 7x9 grid. This really is a tile-based game. Press the stick in a direction, and K.C. will move one space that way. You can't stop moving halfway into a space and turn around if enemies have moved into it; you're doomed if that happens. This is somewhat restrictive, but it does work. The upside of this is that this grid system allows for any possible wall configuration -- unlike Pac-Man, this game does not have only one maze, it has near-endless mazes, within the rules. But more about that later. The other major difference from Pac-Man are that there are only twelve dots to eat in each level, three in each corner of the map at the start, and they move. And not only do the dots move, but as you collect more dots, the remaining ones speed up. The last dot on each level will move at the same speed you do, so you'll have to strategize a bit and cut it off. Nice. After a couple of screens, the game will speed up and dots will occasionally go through walls, making things tougher, so it does get more difficult over time.
As you'd expect, there are enemies trying to get you, called Munchers, though only three instead of four like Pac-Man has. With the small playfield, it's plenty. Four of the dots are power pellet analogs which allow you to eat the Munchers. Once you do this the Munchers will change color, and can be eaten. Eaten Munchers will flash white and won't be a threat again until they go to the center block and stay there for a few seconds; only then can they return to life. This takes a while, so often you'll finish the level before they return. Munchers you don't eat will turn back to their normal dangerous state after a couple of seconds, though, and this game is one of the O2 action games where you only get one life (like in reality!), so one slipup and it's game over. K.C. Munchkin has three built in mazes, an easy, medium, and hard one. It also has a random maze option which creates a maze for you. Unfortunately this maze won't change between stages, so once you're playing on it it's set, but still it's a very cool option. The other four game modes are for invisible maze versions of the first four options. In the invisible modes, the map can't be seen while you're moving. If you stop or hit a wall, the walls will appear. Needless to say, this adds quite a bit of challenge. Cool feature.
Lastly, the game has a map editor, so you can create your own map. You cannot remove the rotating thing in the center of the screen where the ghosts start (and on that note, this rotating block is interesting and makes for some great game mechanics in some stages; too bad you can't move it or add more of them), you can't change the one warp (where you travel from one side of the screen to the other), and the dots will always start in the four corners of the screen, but you can put the walls whereever else you want. Of course you can't save custom maps, so the random map mode is probably more useful, but still, for 1981 this has to have been a very cool feature. K.C. Munchkin deserves its reputation as one of the O2's best games; this certainly is a very good game. It's better than I was expecting, too, after having watched some gameplay videos of the game. It may not look like too much in videos, but it's actually a lot of fun to play. Since you have only one life per game games are short, and the game keeps you coming back for more, trying to get a bit higher score next time. All the different maps mix up play quite a bit, too.
Gameplay video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5J0jrd_kuHI
Out Of This World! / Helicopter Rescue! - 1979, 2-in-1 cart.
Box. Great cover art! And note how it only reflects one of the two games in the package... that's saying something.
Out Of This World is decent.
Out Of This World! - Two player simultaneous. Out Of This World, completely unrelated to the other Out Of This World game released much later, is a two player gravity spaceship sim game. It's in the "first to ten wins" category of O2 games. In this quite challenging game, your goal is to connect your spaceship with a floating command module ten times. Think Apollo moon lander modules taking off and connecting to their command modules above before the return to Earth, that's the idea here. However, you have very limited energy (fuel), so getting anywhere near ten connections, and winning the game, won't be easy. You start with just 50 energy, which the manual says is measured in megajoules. When you hold down the button, you'll burn energy at a rapid clip. However, you need to do this, because you have to land very carefully and slowly, or you'll crash. Crashing takes away 10 energy, while landing successfully will score you 20. Meanwhile, the Command Module zips by overhead again and again. You need to touch it again, just right, in order to connect and score a point. If you miss, and you will... well, too bad. You'll probably be too low on fuel to continue, so get your timing just right, every time! That's easier said than done of course. If either player does connect, both are reset to 50 energy (provided that they are alive that is, and the process starts again until either one player scores ten points, or, more likely, both players run out of fuel and lose. If one player runs out of fuel the other can keep going, but scoring a point won't bring back the one who has failed.
The game has three modes of play, each with a different gravity level. There's a very low gravity mode (the Moon), a medium gravity mode (Mars), and a high gravity mode (Jupiter). The manual says that higher gravity should be harder, but I found it a bit easier, because it's a bit easier to hover in place with the tighter controls you get in higher gravity. Of course fuel will burn more rapidly, but control is better. Overall, I liked this game. It'd be fun to play against someone, I think, but even with one player it's got some play value, until you're good enough to connect ten times of course that is. It is of course very simple, but well, second-gen games are like that. This game could be better, but it's not too bad.
Helicopter Rescue! - One player only. Unlike the other game on this cartridge, Helicopter Rescue is a completely atrocious, abysmal waste of time. This game is one of the timed games, and it has no modes or options -- there's only one mode of play, and it's brain-dead simple, two minutes long (literally), and has almost no replay value, either. Yes, this game is that bad. You can tell that it's kind of just thrown on here, because the game box and cartridge only have Out Of This World art on them. Even in the manual, there's no Helicopter Rescue art, only spaceships and such. Even marketing knew that promoting this game didn't make sense... but really, they probably shouldn't have released it at all.
Helicopter Rescue, however, is atrocious.
The problem here is that the game has nothing to it. This is a single screen rescue game where you fly a very large helicopter across the screen, pick a person up from the other building that is apparently on fire (you can't tell, ingame, that anything's wrong with it), fly back to your base, drop them off, and repeat until the two minute timer runs out. Each pickup or dropoff is accomplished by raising or lowering a basket, and this takes some time. You'll probably score about five or six points in this game. The scoring shows double digits, but I don't know if it'd be possible to score ten points. I don't think it's worth trying out. There's absolutely no reason to play it any more and try to get better. The one and only draw here is the rotating chopper blade, which is nice for the second gen I guess, but the "game" is so, so limited that it's kind of amazing that this was actually shipped.
Pick Axe Pete! - 1982, One player only. Pick Axe Pete is a challenging platform action game. It's an okay game, but not great. It clearly took its largest inspiration from Donkey Kong, but it goes off in its own direction in several ways, so this is not just a clone. At a glance it might look like one, with a screen made up of lines, spheres bouncing around you have to avoid, and a little guy with a swinging weapon, but the actual gameplay is quite different. This isn't a game where you just go to the end of a level; instead, it's a more freeform title. The game is difficult and has a fairly high learning curve for a second-gen title; this isn't one I was good at right away. The 16-page manual is essential, too, as it goes into detail about all of the game's systems.
I know it's from 1982, but it's so '70s it hurts!
Simple graphics, okay gameplay.
Essentially, this is a score-based game. As you'd expect, yes, you get only one life per game, so expect short games and low scores, like in other O2 action games. That's alright, the one-life thing is more unique than bad, I think. The graphics here aren't anything new; as usual on the O2, most of the sprite work is reused from other games. I've certainly seen this "person" figure before, multiple times. Passageways are just colored squares, too. Yeah, bland graphics. Oh well, it's not too bad. As for the gameplay though, there are six ways to score points in Pick Axe Pete. First, avoiding a rock via jumping or ducking will score you a point. Next, hitting a Gold with your pick gets 3 points. Getting a new pick gets 5 points. Getting a key gets 10 points. Last, going through a door gets 20 points. While you have a pick, you'll destroy rocks with ease. However, the picks are timed, so after a fairly short amount of time you'll lose it. At this point, you'd better polish up your rock-avoidance skills. To jump in this game, you press a direction with the stick, and then hit the button. Pete will jump, or duck, in the direction you pointed. So, diagonal up will make a flying leap, left or right a longjump, or straight down to flatten yourself to the floor. Pete will point his arms in the direction you're going to jump, before you press the button. The manual shows all the signals. This gives you a lot of different moves, but using them well, and effectively avoiding the rocks, is quite challenging.
In order to get keys, or new picks, you'll have to wait until rocks hit each other. When two rocks run into eachother, there's a chance that the collision will create either a pick or a key. Picks will fall to the bottom level of the field; keys will go to the top one. Both will only stick around on the screen for a few seconds, so the best way to get one is either to stick around the top or bottom of the screen, or to try to get in position to grab it as it goes up or down the screen towards its resting place. If you do get a key and go through a door, you'll go to the stage that the color you went through represents. The game has ten different stages. You can start from any stage, by pressing different keys (0 through 9 will start on each different level), but you won't stay on the one you choose; the keys warp between levels. The levels are all similar, except for the placement of the holes in the platforms, but still, it's a nice touch. Oh, and unlike Mario, Pete doesn't die if he falls; you can fall down holes no problem. Also, ladders appear regularly, but at random, for you to climb up or down levels. The manual suggests that if one appears right under a door, you can get up to the next level anyway (since you cannot pass through doors without a key but have to jump over them) by getting on the ladder and then doing a diagonal jump, which will take you to the next level. This does indeed work.
Overall, Pick Axe Pete is a somewhat complex scoring-based, Donkey Kong-inspired platform action game. It's tough, and I don't know how much fun it is, but it certainly isn't a bad game, anyway, once you get used to it.