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Odyssey 100

Odyssey 100The Game: A simple version of video ping-pong; players use three knobs, one to control horizontal movement, one to control vertical See the videomovement, and a third to control the “English” or spin of the ball. (Magnavox, 1975)

Memories: Caught flat-footed by the success of Atari‘s Pong home console, Magnavox found itself struggling to hang onto the very market that Ralph Baer‘s original Odyssey console had created in the first place. Perhaps not surprisingly, Magnavox turned back to the Odyssey, not just for inspiration but to – at least in a limited fashion – put the machine back on the market. Continue reading

Odyssey 200

Odyssey 200Talk about upscale. The Odyssey 200, released not long after the Odyssey 100, added an extra game to the mix, bringing the machine’s built-in game total up to three. In addition to Tennis and Hockey/Soccer, the Odyssey 200 adds Smash, essentially a vastly simplified game of racquetball. (Magnavox seemed to feel that the extra game – and the slightly more sedate paint job on the casing – merited a whole new unit and model number.) Continue reading

Odyssey 300

Odyssey 300Taking Atari’s lead for the first time, the Odyssey 300 – in its bright yellow shell – saw the console abandoning the trio of horizontal/vertical/English controls that had been in place since the original Odyssey. In addition to mimicking the all-in-one controls of Atari’s Pong, Odyssey 300 – still boasting the standard Tennis, Hockey and Smash variations of its predecessors – introduced digital on-screen scoring. The Odyssey games were no longer reliant on the honor system: at 15 points, one player won the game. Continue reading

Odyssey 500

Odyssey 500With the same trio of games as the Odyssey 400 – Tennis, Hockey/Soccer and Smash – the Odyssey 500, released in 1976 by Magnavox, would appear See the videoto not be much of an upgrade, but in fact, it’s an absolutely critical turning point for home video games: the Odyssey 500 did away with squares and rectangles to represent the player, and introduced character sprites – hardware-generated characters that roughly mimicked the shape of a human being. Continue reading

Odyssey 2000

Odyssey 2000After the baffling backward step of the Odyssey 400, Magnavox’s Odyssey 2000 saw a return to the Pong-inspired, single-paddle control scheme, with digital scoring restored as well – Magnavox had decided to rest the Brown Box design (and the subsequent variations on it) permanently in favor of, once again, the General Instruments AY-3-8500 “Pong on a chip” processor. Packaged in a red casing, this would be the last anyone would see of the smoothly rounded-off, integrated Odyssey console. The next system to bear the name would return to its roots – with wired controllers that weren’t necessarily stuck to the main console – and look forward, with a futuristic new design that stands up even today. Continue reading

Odyssey 3000

Odyssey 3000It adds nothing to the Odyssey 2000’s “four action-packed video games,” but the Odyssey 3000 is a quantum leap in the design aesthetic of the console itself. Finally breaking away from the basic casing design that had been in place since the Odyssey 100, Odyssey 3000 packs four games (well, really just three plus a Tennis “practice mode”) into a sleek, futuristic-looking black wedge with highlights that almost anticipate – believe it or not – the look of the computer screens in Star Trek: The Next Generation (though to be more realistic, it may have been influenced by the design line of Atari’s Fuji logo). The controllers are detachable but hardwired, and nestle snugly into the console itself. Continue reading

Odyssey 4000

Odyssey 4000The 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. Continue reading

Pinball

Odyssey2 Pinball cartridge signed by Ralph BaerThe Game: A virtual pinball machine is presented, complete with flippers, bumpers, and the ability to physically “bump” the table to influence the motion of the ball. Per standard pinball rules, the See the videoobject of the game is to keep the ball in play as long as possible. (Ralph Baer, 1978 – unreleased prototype)

Memories: Ralph Baer’s Pinball, released to the public on cartridge at the 2001 Classic Gaming Expo, was never intended to be a commercially released title. Instead, it’s a tech demo of sorts, a “rough sketch” example of what kind of games Magnavox’s still-in-development Odyssey2 system would be capable of. There are no special graphics to represent the various elements of the game; the bumpers are simply the letter O, and the flippers are forward and backward slashes. Continue reading

Armored Encounter! / Sub Chase!

Armored Encounter! / Sub Chase!The Game: War is pixellated, blocky hell on the Odyssey2! In Armored Encounter, two combatants in tanks circumnavigate a maze peppered with land mines, searching for the optimum spot from which to blow each other to kingdom come. In Sub Chase, a bomber plane and a submarine, both maneuverable in their own way, try to take each other out without blasting any non-combatant boats routinely running between them (darn that civilian shipping!). In both games, the timer is counting down for both sides to blow each other straight to hell. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Armored Encounter! is a somewhat standard-issue variation on Atari’s Tank coin-op (which that company later used to launch the Atari VCS under the name of Combat), only with a vastly simpified map. Continue reading

Baseball!

Baseball!The Game: In Baseball!, you are, quite simply, one of two teams playing the great American game. If you’re up at bat, your joystick and button control the man at the plate and any players on base. If you’re pitching, your button and joystick control how wild or straight your pitches are, and you also control the outfielders – you can catch a ball on the fly, or pick it up and try to catch the other player away from his bases. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Why exactly do I like the Odyssey2 baseball game? What the hell do I care for this stripped-down, ultra-simple, painfully two-dimensional version of baseball? Precisely because it is simple. Modern computer sports games are just too damned complex. Baseball! didn’t force you to pick existing players based on their RBI or average score per game, nor did it make you struggle to make sense of a vaguely three-dimensional display trying to ape ESPN game coverage. Continue reading

Bowling! / Basketball!

Bowling! / Basketball!The Game: Hit the hardwood in one of two sports. Roll your big shiny one down the lanes and try to knock down all the pins in Bowling!, or go for a basket in Basketball! Not possible in Odyssey2 Basketball!: fouls, three-point shots, free throws, most steals… (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Granted, neither the bowling nor basketball games for the Atari VCS which competed for shelf space with this two-in-one Odyssey2 title were significantly better, but they would’ve been hard pressed to turn out significantly worse. Continue reading

Casino Slot Machine!

Casino Slot Machine!The Game: You pays your money, you takes your chances. Pull the lever (or, in this case, the joystick) and try to get the fruit to line up. If you succeed, you’re in good shape; if you don’t, well, you’re out some more change. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: While I actually rather enjoyed the Odyssey2 Las Vegas Blackjack! cartridge, I have a hard time gleaning even the slightest measure of enjoyment from Casino Slot Machine!. Continue reading

Computer Golf!

Computer Golf!The Game: As man eked out his existence in the dark ages with only his animal cunning and the brutal power of the club, so do you in this golf See the videosimulation, in which you putter around nine different courses in an attempt to make a hole in one – or simply to stay under par. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Though Baseball! was a better-playing game, Computer Golf! must be, quite simply, the most memorable Odyssey2 sports game there was. Continue reading

Football!

Football!The Game: Woooooo, Packers. Classic pigskin comes to sluggish life in this over-complicated video game edition. Despite the Odyssey’s full keyboard, the game forces players to look up plays in the manual and execute them with joystick commands. After that, aside from some minimal control of whoever has the ball, it’s a bit like watching an ant farm. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Granted, Atari’s black & white arcade football game didn’t exactly conjure up a pixellated Howard Cosell, nor did any of the attempts to adapt that game for Atari’s own VCS. But when one looks at what an improvement Intellivision’s NFL Football was over either the VCS or the Odyssey2’s football games, one wonders what the Odyssey designers were thinking. Continue reading

Las Vegas Blackjack!

Las Vegas Blackjack!The Game: Place your bets, ditch some cards, or play with the ones you’ve got. The computer offers the usual enticements – double down and insurance – but the odds are firmly in favor of the house. There’s no limit on how big your bet is, so you’re even free to bet an ante that’ll have you screaming “uncle!” if you lose. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: I’m not a big fan of card games. In fact, when I got hold of this rather common cartridge recently, the lovely Mrs. PDF actually had to teach me how to play blackjack. I was hopeless. But it’s grown on me. I’ve now had the opportunity to play both this Odyssey 2 version and a Game Boy Color edition which is part of a card game cartridge called Las Vegas Cool Hand. And I have to say I like the Odyssey version better. Continue reading

Speedway! / Spin-Out! / Crypto-Logic!

Speedway! / Spin-Out! / Crypto-Logic!The Game: In Speedway!, one player guides a race car through an endless onslaught of slower-moving traffic, Monaco GP style; colliding with anyone stalls the game for a moment. Two players are required for Spin-Out!, a copycat of Atari’s Sprint 2 coin-op, in which two race cars zip around a convoluted little track in an attempt to be the first one to rack up three laps. Crypto-Logic! lets you type in up to 18 characters on one line, and hit the enter key to completely scramble those characters. A second player then has to figure out what the jumble of letters was with as few misses as possible. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: The Odyssey2 was born from the ashes of Magnavox’s aborted Odyssey 5000 project, which would have housed 24 dedicated games for 2 to 4 players in a large, silvery console – and chances are, a lot of those games would have been along the lines of Speedway! and Spin-Out!. Continue reading

Alpine Skiing!

Alpine Skiing!The Game: Take to the slopes, in a digital sort of way. Choose between the slalom, giant slalom and downhill events, get a partner on the other joystick, and plow through that white stuff like it’s gonna melt tomorrow. And try not to hit any of the obstacles – before you can even say “I want my two dollars!”*, a collision can send you into a tumble that’ll just carry you right into the next one…and the one after that…and the one after that… (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: Athough rather simple video skiing fare, Alpine Skiing! can be good for some laughs with a good second player. The lack of a one-player option limits it a bit, but it’s on par with Activision’s Atari VCS skiing game. Continue reading

Dynasty!

Dynasty!The Game: Purporting to be based on the ancient Chinese game of Go, Dynasty! is actually more of a variation of Othello. The same strategies apply, and can be played with two players, one against the computer, or – for those who are feeling a little bit lazy – the computer vs. itself. (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: One of the things I always remember about the Odyssey2 game Dyntasty! – and I’ll admit, this is the weirdest possible thing to remember – is its player symbols. For a human player, you’ll see the stock O2 stick man, while the computer is represented by a unique symbol, uP – not really a u, but the Greek letter Mu, used to represent “micro” – hence, microprocessor. Pretty obscure terminology for a video game, but then again, this is a fairly obscure (though easy-to-find) game on a relatively obscure console. Continue reading

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