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Intellivision Amico vs. Atari VCS: Comparing two baffling retro consoles

I still don't quite understand what either of these are. Do you?

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- 04:33
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The Intellivision Amico, and its iPod-like controllers. The system's been delayed until 2021. 

Intellivision

"Retro" can mean a lot of things if you're a gamer. Retro game console sets, like plug-and-play mini Sega Genesis, SNES and Turbografx systems loaded with old games to play? Sure. Gaming compilations that play on fancy new systems? Of course. But what about fancy, mysterious reinventions of classic gaming brands? Meet Atari and Intellivision, the Bizarro Consoles.

Intellivision Amico: A family-fun box that looks like a couple of iPods

The Intellivision Amico looks like a pair of '90s cordless phones in a charge cradle, or a couple of weird knock-off iPods. But those phone-iPod-things are actually the controllers, and the box below them is the console. The Intellivision Amico was first announced two years ago and was expected later this year, but the system's now been delayed until April 2021. Pre-orders are available however.

The Amico is totally focused on family-friendly group games. The system has six pack-ins, including Farkle (a dice game) and Cornhole (yes, beanbag tossing, officially licensed). It already has partnerships lined up with Mattel, Sesame Street and MLB, as well as a sequel to the Genesis game Earthworm Jim and a bunch of retro reboots of games, including Astro-Smash, Break Out, Missile Command and Battle Tanks. 

The game list has a lot of Intellivision reboots from the past and some board game adaptations. Almost all of them emphasize party-based, same-room multiplayer modes.

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Earthworm Jim 4. Do you remember the other 3?

Intellivision
  • Earthworm Jim 4 (with multiplayer, no less)
  • Sesame Workshop (a Sesame Street learning game series)
  • Mattel Hot Wheels
  • Rigid Force Redux Enhanced (a side-scrolling shooter)
  • Telestrations (a party game adaptation)
  • Blank Slate (a board game adaptation)
  • Finnigan Fox (a Rayman-like platformer)
  • Bomb Squad
  • Incan Gold/Diamant
  • Intellivision Monster Spades
  • Liar's Dice
  • Space Strike
  • Moon Patrol
  • Missile Command
  • Intellivision ACL Cornhole
  • Nitro Derby
  • Intellivision Battle Tanks
  • Breakout
  • Evel Knievel

A wheel and a display makes the controller almost iPod Nano-like, but that's true to the spirit of the original Intellivision controller in a way, with its weird paddle controllers and a number pad. The odd controller looks interesting if you're a lover of paddle games, which the Amico seemed to be tripling down on in the announcement video. The extra display on each controller (a 320x240-pixel screen) and force feedback makes it also a bit like a Wii remote crossed with a Dreamcast controller and a Wii U gamepad. The wheel has colored lights and is pressure-sensitive, too. The Amico supports eight-player multiplayer, if you buy extra controllers.

The TV-connected console has LED mood lights, a microSD card slot for extra storage and 32GB of onboard storage. Games will be around 300MB to 1GB. There's a woodgrain version, much like the Atari VCS. The system has HDMI and plays games in 1080p, supporting Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and RFID (?). The "8-core, 1.8HGHz" unnamed processor with 2GB of RAM looks like it can deliver nice-looking retro games, as opposed to bleeding-edge stuff. A lot of the Amico's most interesting ideas seem to lie in those controllers.

The Amico costs $249 with two controllers and those six preinstalled games. New games are going to cost $3-$10, which at least is less than other consoles.

I love the Intellivision Amico's focus on family fun, and the controllers look interesting. But the price of the whole system looks hard to swallow.

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The Atari VCS looks familiar. But it's more like a mini PC.

RC Rivera

Atari VCS: A streaming 4K gaming Linux box?

Last year, the Atari VCS was announced as a fancy reboot of the Atari brand, promising what looks like a revamped Atari 2600. But the Atari VCS is actually a 4K-ready, Linux and Windows-capable (?) retro game-running mini PC in a box (sort of).

The Atari VCS will support subscription-based retro game service Antstream, and it looks like it'll also stream videos and play games in 4K. It has an AMD processor with Radeon Vega graphics, and you can apparently install your own OS and add extra peripherals via two USB 3 ports on the back. 

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There's a 100-game classic Atari collection, but some of the 4K game enhancements, according to Atari's website, require a "subscription service" to work.

The Atari VCS has a classic joystick controller, and a more normal-looking "modern" controller. Both come in the VCS 800 wood-grained preorder bundle costing $390. The Atari VCS is still expected by year's end, but maybe not until the end of December.

Will it be any better than other similar types of compact mini PCs, or a whole lot more awkward? It's really hard to tell right now, but the Atari VCS does not seem like a classic Atari I remember.