Coleco thinks retro games are set for a comeback (update)

Console maker Retro VGS has teamed up with Coleco to debut a new gaming platform aimed at being the modern home for 8- and 16-bit-style video games. They call it the Chameleon.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar
4 min read

Update 3/1/16: Be sure to read an update at the bottom of this story about the continuing controversy surrounding this item.

Update 3/2/16: Coleco is now threatening to remove its brand from the Chameleon. More details below.

Update 3/8/16: Coleco has pulled out of the deal with Retro VGS.

I'm the first to turn my head when I hear about retro games making a comeback. And with its newly acquired Coleco branding, the Coleco Chameleon just might have the right legacy chops to capture the minds (and wallets) of a nostalgic generation fed up with expensive Internet-connected consoles.

Just unveiled at Toy Fair 2016, the Coleco Chameleon -- which still needs to be funded through an upcoming Kickstarter -- wants to separate itself from the consoles that rely on DLC and patch updates.

Coleco/Retro VGS

Retro VGS, the company making the hardware, says publishers have expressed interest in putting out new games with the aesthetic of 8- and 16-bit games. Retro VGS President Mike Kennedy said he'd love to see even the biggest publishers work with the Chameleon platform. "What if a company like EA made a 16-bit version of Madden again?" he posited.

It's tough to deny the popularity of games that pay homage to the days of pixelated side-scrollers. Successful titles like Shovel Knight, Axiom Verge and Broforce make up just a small slice of the genre's growing momentum. But are players willing to spend $150 on new console just for that type of experience?

Kennedy thinks so. Because the Chameleon won't rely on DLC, patches or any of the annoyances of modern gaming consoles, players won't ever need to worry about servers going down or a game's support being pulled.

Coleco/Retro VGS

The Chameleon will use a proprietary cartridge for games, which will allow for legacy brands to port their software over to the new console. That means it's not totally unfeasible that a handful of classic games from platforms like the NES, SNES, Atari and others could inexpensively be ported over. It also opens the door for DIY homebrew developers to bring their creations to life, instead of relying on shadier software emulation that always tends to walk a questionably legal line.

I get where the passionate makers of the Chameleon are coming from. But the notion of spending $150 on a throwback console (which does have modern amenities like four USB ports and an HDMI-out) isn't exactly an easy pill to swallow. If I'm an established developer or publisher why do I spend the time and money making a game for this platform? And if I'm a potential customer I'm going to need to see some pretty serious software support before I pull the trigger on yet another box for the living room.

The Coleco Chameleon Kickstarter begins on February 26. You can follow updates from their Facebook page.

Update 3/1/16: Well, this has turned into quite the mess. There has been widespread speculation that the Retro VGS machine showed off at Toy Fair 2016 was really a SNES Jr. crammed inside a Jaguar plastic shell. There's some pretty damning evidence that suggests a generous amount of electrical tape was used to disguise the console's secret at Toy Fair, too.

After a delay in the Chameleon's Kickstarter, Retro VGS published images to its Facebook page showing off a translucent console with a circuit board inside. However, this was quickly debunked by members of the AtariAge forums, pointing out that the board inside was actually an old PCI capture card, not the guts of a game console.

Here's the part where you slap your forehead.

Update 3/2/16: Due to the controversy surrounding the Chameleon, Coleco is hiring independent engineers to inspect the Retro VGS model prototype. According to Coleco's Facebook page, if the findings fail to convince Coleco that the project is on par with their standards, they will pull out of the deal.

Update 3/8/16: Coleco has pulled out of the Retro VGS console deal. According to the company's Facebook page: "Retro VGS has decided that the work that they have created is not sufficient to demonstrate at this time. Consequently, we can no longer proceed with the project, and the Chameleon project will be terminated. This separation is amicable. We wish them luck in the future. - We thank the gaming community for their continued support, input, vigilance and trust."

I reached out to Retro VGS for comment and then realized its Facebook page and website have vanished.

So there you have it. What appears to be the final nail in the coffin. We'll update this post accordingly if there any more updates.