The final member of the Odyssey stand-alone console family tree, the Odyssey 4000 boasts more games than any of its predecessors since Ralph Baer’s original Odyssey, and was only the second of the dedicated Odyssey consoles to feature color (after the experimental Odyssey 500). And for those who have ever held the joystick of a Magnavox Odyssey2 in their hands, the Odyssey 4000 offers another familiar element – its joysticks are exactly the same mold as those of the Odyssey2, only rotated 90 degrees, and sporting some major differences in internal mechanisms. Though multidirectional, the joysticks are designed to favor vertical movement and offer some resistance to horizontal movement.
The usual Odyssey offerings are available here (Tennis, Hockey, Soccer and Smash), along with Basketball (unusually clunky when limited to the Pong-esque paddle sprites, and yet remarkably similar in structure to Odyssey2 Basketball!), and a bizarrely foosball-like game called Gridball, subtituting rows of vertical bars for foosball’s rows of miniature players.
All of these games are selectable from an eight-position front-mounted switch (Smash and Basketball include single-player practice modes), and in a preview of Odyssey consoles to come, the joysticks are hardwired to the console itself.
The Odyssey 4000 wasn’t the planned end of the line, however. Magnavox had plans to market a 24-game dedicated console called the Odyssey 5000, but as plans for that console were progressing, Fairchild stunned its competition with the Channel F Video Entertainment System, whose programmable ROM cartridge capability meant that, theoretically at least, the sky was the limit for the number of games its new console would play. In the end, Fairchild didn’t release many Channel F games at all, but the idea was taken up by Atari, whose engineers had been cooking up a similar console called the Game Brain. Atari abandoned Game Brain and instead ramped up another R&D project which became the Atari VCS.
Magnavox could no longer compete with its dedicated consoles, no matter how many games were built in, and began scrambling to put together its own cartridge based system. Philips released a console similar to the now-abandoned Odyssey 5000 in Europe, marketing it as the Odyssey 2100, while in Knoxville, Ralph Baer was fighting to prove the viability of a cartridge-based console built around the Intel 8048 chip. He designed a simple pinball game (not the later released Thunderball!) to demonstrate the new hardware, and combined with his passion for keeping the project on track, this secured the future of the new Odyssey2 system.
(Shown above: Tennis, Basketball, Hockey)