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bigsocrates

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I examined the Amico's proposed library and it made it even clearer that there was never a real plan.

There’s been a lot of discussion about all the problems with the now dead Intellivision Amico project from its lack of a reasonable market to its price point to its horrible controller. There has been discussion about how bad some of the games look, and the lack of a killer app, but I think one thing that has gone a little under the radar (though not unmentioned) is how badly the proposed game library matches the alleged mission of the Amico. In other words even if these game existed and were good they would not be appealing to the demographic Amico was going for.

Before we start talking about the game themselves it’s worth discussing Amico’s planned market. The team was pretty consistent that their prime market was families who didn’t have a game console and wanted something affordable and safe (in terms of content) to play with their kids, where all skill levels could enjoy themselves with a lesser but still significant focus being put on lapsed gamers from the 80s and current cell phone gamers who also wanted simple fun.

You can see immediately that there’s a tension here. Gamers in the 80s who played games like Astrosmash and Shark! Shark! tended to be competitive and very skill focused. Games in the 80s, especially the early 80s, were expensive and extremely limited in content so if you didn’t enjoy playing the same thing over and over to compete for score or just get better you weren’t going to have a great time. It’s not like today where you can have zero skill and still enjoy clicking through a visual novel or turning the difficulty all the way down to “tourist mode” on Assassin’s Creed and have fun exploring and seeing the story. If you didn’t know what you were doing even a cartoony friendly game like Mappy would chew you up and spit you out. Many gamers from the 80s who fell off did so precisely because games got easier and less skill intensive.

“But wait” you say. “You can just release different games to appeal to different market sectors!” And of course you can! But then you run into the problem that you’re just the Nintendo Switch, but worse. The Switch has thousands of games to appeal to all kinds of tastes. My dad loved Space Invaders and Pac-Man, and the Switch has multiple games from those very franchises aimed at someone like him. It has Dark Souls and Animal Crossing. It has Street Fighter and a heap of hidden picture games. The whole pitch of the Amico library was that it was going to be a much more curated environment where you’d only get a game every week or two but a lot of those games would be accessible to you. So we’re going to judge these games primarily on how they would appeal to the prime market of families looking for multiplayer fun in the same room, with a nod to the other targets if applicable.

Before we begin a couple additional provisos. First, most of these games haven’t been released so they have to be judged on concept, description, and video/reviews. I have played versions of a couple of them and will note there, but by its nature this will involve some speculation. Also I won’t be talking about every game that Intellivision announced or hinted at because so many of them were just vague ideas with maybe a screen shot to give an idea of art style. It’s impossible to say how well something like a new Burgertime would fit without at least getting an idea of what it looks or plays like.

I am also sure that I will miss some games that were shown extensively because none of this is collected anywhere and I haven’t seen everything. Feel free to yell at me in the comments!

I will be rating each game as one of the following:

***** System Seller – A true difference maker that people will buy consoles just to play, like Wii Sports or Halo: Combat Evolved (the first one.)

**** Broad Appeal – A game that may not sell systems but that is broadly appealing to a large group of players and will perform very well. Thinks Forza Horizon or New Super Mario Bros.

*** Solid Performer – A game that isn’t a difference maker but fills out the library and gives people options beyond the top tier releases. Think Sackboy: A Big Adventure or Kirby Return to Dreamland.

** Marginal Niche Appeal – A game that’s either not great but not totally without value or that will appeal to a very specific niche of the market who might like it but not be appealing to people outside that niche. Think Destruction All-Stars or Kirby Star Allies

* Shovelware – A game that might have some defenders but that basically nobody likes and that can actually harm the system by giving it a bad reputation. At this point you know what shovelware is.

NOTE: I will be ranking games based on my impression of the best possible version that could come out. So if a game has bad graphics I will count that but I’m going to assume that all the games will be competently made and control reasonably well etc… Not at all a safe assumption but necessary for this exercise.

THE GAMES

We’ll begin with the “pack in” games, go to the “physical product” games and then move on from there to any stragglers. Then we’ll round it all up in the end and, in a future post, discuss the more interesting question of what’s missing.

PACK IN GAMES:

Astrosmash: ***

Based on an original Intellivision game, Astrosmash looks to be a decent attempt at a simple single screen vertical shooter. The original was actually meant to be a side mode in an Asteroids rip off but got promoted to the main stage after Intellivision worried the rip off would get them sued. It’s fine for what it is and even got ported to other systems. The remake looks like a competent attempt at a circa 2009 Xbox Live/PSN game, with simple hi res graphics and relatively few options. This will be a recurring theme for the Amico, where the best games feel about a decade and a half out of date. This kind of straightforward revival of old arcade properties fell out of favor after the Summer of Arcade promotions and the subsequent increase in complexity of downloadable console games. But it looks pleasant and playable and perfectly matches Intellivision’s vision of simple games anyone could enjoy.

The reason that it doesn’t ate higher is that from playthroughs we’ve seen it’s clear that it’s pretty basic as these games go, and doesn’t have a lot of content. It doesn’t even have as much content or as many bosses as something like Heavy Weapon, a Popcap game from literally 2005, and it looks stylistically quite similar. Heavy Weapon is $5 on steam and $10 on Xbox where it is backwards compatible. So we’re talking about a game that could have been a minor hit 20 years ago, but is kind of filler these days.

Shark! Shark! ***

What a horrible name for a 2023 video game. It reeks of 70s and early 80s naming when there were so few games you could just call them something generic and it was fine because there wasn’t much to stand out against. By the mid NES era this wasn’t working anymore and that’s how we went from games like Ice Hockey to something like Blades of Steel. But setting that aside the game is another fine arcadey experience. In the game you swim around with a fish and eat other fish to grow bigger while trying to avoid being eaten by a shark. In multiplayer each player gets a fish and you can eat one another. I think the visuals are bad but it got a positive review (from an unreliable source) and like Astrosmash it seems that BBG thought it was worth porting. An important note here is that in the review the guy said it was very difficult to enjoy with his family because it was difficult and rewarded skill play, but more fun with evenly matched opponents. Already the Intellivision pitch is starting to fall apart and we’re at game 2.

It's worth noting that this also has a Popcap analog in Feeding Frenzy. Is Intellivision just making Popcap games a decade after Popcap moved on to full 3D Plants vs Zombies shooters? Kind of, except they aren’t making analogs to Popcap’s two biggest hits, Plants Vs Zombies and Bejeweled. And don’t even get me started on Peggle. Peggle is a 4* game!

Intellivision Skiing **

Bland. Bland bland bland. This game has pleasant enough graphics that if it looked like something, anything, happened in it I might be inclined to give it a 3. But every time we’ve seen it it just looked like a boring bare bones skiing racer. There’s a reason those don’t exist anymore and it’s because they are boring. Nobody wants to play this for more than 15-20 minutes total in 2023.

Cornhole **

I know this game was considered the ‘killer app’ by at least part of the Intellivision “hater” community but again it just looks boring. A bland and straightforward version of virtual bean bag toss. Who actually wants this? It’s a tech demo for 17 year old tech. At this point we’ve had motion controls in the last 3 generations of PlayStations and Nintendos and they’re very unexciting. I suppose there are some beanbag toss fanatics who might enjoy it and maybe it could keep very young kids amused but it seems incredibly unambitious for a full game.

Now that we’ve seen an extended demo this would earn one star in its current state, but I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt here and assuming they’d fix some of the issues before release.

Farkle *

A bare bones presentation of a dice game that never seemed to work without lag. This is almost a perfect example of shovelware. Who wants this, let alone as a pack in? You can argue that Nintendo’s Clubhouse Games package was popular but on a dollar per game basis each game in that cost about a buck. the whole thing was presented with Nintendo polish, and critically it was on a portable system with online play. That means that you could play Connect 4 with your brother across the country or take the Switch with you camping and play stuff at night under the stars. It’s a compact way to have access to a whole lot of games (some of which are genuine video games and not board games, such as a shooting gallery and a marble drop puzzle game a bit like Puyo Puyo) in a wide variety of scenarios. Amico was not portable and did not have online. If you’re going to play Farkle in your home you’re going to do it because you want the fun of playing with actual dice in physical space. Of all the games on Amico this one seems the most pointless.

Back Talk Party INCOMPLETE

I don’t think all that much is known about what this game actually is but it seems to be a party game involving modulating recordings of your voice. It’s impossible to get a sense of the quality without seeing more footage or at least a reasonable description. The premise seems promising enough for the target market. It seems like an off brand Jackbox game, and Jackbox games seem like good fits for the family fun demographic.

THE PHYSICAL PRODUCT GAMES

Dynablaster ***

It’s off brand Bomberman. Okay. Fine. Whatever. Bomberman is a fun party game and it’s not like there’s any deep lore or characters. It’s kind of hard to argue it’s a needle mover when there’s actual Bomberman games on every other system, but it’s hard to argue that Bomberman is a bad idea for a family multiplayer focused system.

Missile Command ***

A bad version of yet another old arcade game. It looks cheap and gaudy, there are better competitor products on the market in the same franchise and it’s hard to fully understand what’s going on when you see footage. Multiplayer missile command has always been something of a mess and it’s a game that’s designed for a track ball and never works great with any other controller (mouse makes it too easy, thumbsticks are too slow, etc..) Yet I’m giving it 3 stars because if they get the gameplay balance right at least it’s something where the single player could be addictive arcade action and the multiplayer could be chaotic co-op or competitive fun. Assuming the best possible version of this game it could be a solid contributor. It should be noted that the premise of the original game is NOT family friendly at all, since it’s essentially about a nuclear holocaust and protecting cities from destruction, but at least it’s not gory when the cities are destroyed and hundreds of thousands die. I guess.

Moon Patrol **

This was a game that they promoted heavily by making it the demo game on their app. Original arcade Moon Patrol is a pretty good game and like Astrosmash this looks like a Circa 2009 XBLA remake of it. The reason that I’m ranking it a star lower is that while Astrosmash is an ideal casual multiplayer game, their idea for Moon Patrol, which is that one player drives while the other shoots, flat out sucks. It’s a novelty mode at best. That makes this game a hollow experience ill suited to the system. In 2023 you need more than just a polygon remake of a very old game. Also this is the game that was infamously shown multiple times with Star Fox lore text in it because they couldn’t be bothered to write a quick scenario for it. Red flag on how much effort was actually put in here. Worth noting that the name is bad for a 2023 game too. This was a third tier arcade hit in its day and it may have some cache with older players but if your target demo is young families none of them will have heard of it and it sounds painfully generic.

Rigid Force Redux Enhanced **

I’ve actually played the full Rigid Force Redux game and finished it on PS4, so this is a game I can comment on with some authority. It’s not bad! A decent generic R-Type clone with simple but not terrible graphics it even has some memorable boss fights and a good suite of modes and options. It’s the kind of game you pick up on sale, have an okay time with, and then mostly forget and move on from, but bear no ill will towards. It mostly got 6s and 7s out of 10 in reviews and that’s about right. So why 2 stars instead of 3? Because it’s aimed at zero of Amico’ target demographics. It’s not super hard for a shmup but it’s definitely challenging and will be frustrating for anyone who doesn’t regularly play the genre. It has zero old school appeal because it’s a new IP and doesn’t even really play like a throwback except in terms of its genre. Who is this for on Amico? Why is this not R-Type Dimensions? Also the “enhancement” appears to be a multiplayer mode where one player controls the ship and the other the little satellite thing that attaches to the front or floats freely. This is not a terrible idea for a “little brother” mode where someone can feel like they’re playing without really playing much, but those modes never get much use and this remains a primarily single player game aimed at hardcore (but not necessarily old school) gamers and a bad match for the system. The fact that it is a port is the icing on the cake. The fact that people claimed they were looking forward to it but did not play it on the numerous systems it is available suggests that they were lying.

Finnigan Fox **

My jaw’s hitting the floor! Because of how bad a choice this is. This is a port of Fox ‘N Forests, a platformer from 2018 or so that was released on everything, and has now had all its beautiful pixel art drawn over with mediocre Flash-like graphics because Amico wasn’t supposed to have pixel art games for some reason, even though they’re fine for PlayStation 5. You play as a fox with a crossbow and the gimmick is you can change the seasons through magic, switching between two versions of the level. This was, frankly, done better by Gianna Sisters: Twisted Dreams, especially because the season switch takes time and the alternate music track is bad. I have beaten this game so, again, I feel comfortable talking about it with authority. The claim on the box is that Finnigan Fox is “loosely based” on Fox ‘N Forests, but from what I can tell it was about as loosely based as Super Mario All Stars was on the NES Mario games. Like Rigid Force Redux the game is not very difficult but is frustrating with stiff controls, limited checkpoints, respawning enemies, and other elements (like a focus on secrets and hidden items) that make it a throwback to Amiga platformers of the 90s. While there’s a claim that the game was made easier for this version that would also make it very short (there are only 6 main platforming levels and 2 horizontal shmup levels plus 5 bosses and bonus levels). I just don’t think this game can be made appealing to families in any way, and it’s not a great core gamer title either. The multiplayer aspect appears to just be for the shooter levels, which are fine for what they are but not something you want to play over and over. A mediocre game that’s a bad fit. “Bonus” points for being a terrible fit for the Intellivision controller, which has no face buttons just a control disc, shoulder buttons and a touch screen.

Evel Knievel **

Yet another port of a mobile game nobody cared about. This game looks like a cheap mobile game from 2015 because it is. The license does nothing except detract in 2023, when Knievel is a known abuser and his glory days are long in the past. More young people probably know the parody character Super Dave Osborne though even that is a hazy memory for most (note that his movie got a Blu Ray last year for some reason.) It gets 2 stars because at least the general idea of a stunts physics game is good for a casual audience, but this just doesn’t look like it. Joe Danger was a modest hit in 2010, and looked better than this in every way. The Trials series exists. Multiple rip offs of the Trials series exist. I bought a Switch game called Gravity Rider Zero for literally $0.50 and it’s probably better than this (to be fair, it doesn’t have multiplayer, though Trials Rising and Trials Fusion do.)

Brain Duel *

A rehashed mobile game from the “brain training” craze that was popular 20 years ago after Nintendo released Brain Age. It is very weird how much of the Amico library is two decades behind the times. I can’t imagine anyone actually wanting to play this on a console and the fact that it’s a port of a failed mobile game just makes it a horrible choice. Of all the Amico hardcore supporters nobody even bothered pretending they were excited about this, and they got hyped over Finnigan Fox, so that’s saying something.

Biplanes *

This is basically an Atari Combat type of game, and is one of the modes from an Intellivision Combat clone that had three main modes. I’ve played the original Biplanes on Intellivision Lives! And I hate it, so maybe I’m biased, but I think this game is kind of ugly with its tiny planes, it seems to have very little content, and it couldn’t be more old fashioned of it was called “Dr. Old’s Video Games for your Grandpa.” Again, who is going to want to pay this? Nobody. Remember Luftrausers? That was a $10 game on Steam and console. It had a billion times more style and many times more content. 10 years ago.

OTHER ANNOUNCED GAMES:

Breakout ***

This is a horizontal take on Atari’s old classic made by Choice Provisions, who made the Bit Trip games. That sounds pretty appealing to me, and I was tempted to make this a 4 * game (in fact my whole scale was originally based on this being a 4 * game) but I just can’t based on what I’ve seen. It looks plain and straightforward and a lot like Breakout: Recharged by Atari. I’ve played Breakout: Recharged and it’s very much a *** game. There’s nothing wrong with it but nothing great about it either. It’s just…fine. I doubt this game is as good as Shatter, and while I like Shatter quite a bit that game got a remaster 6 months ago and nobody noticed. This will probably be good if it ever releases, but there are a lot of games that are “good” and deserve 3 *s.

Emoji Charades ***

This is a port of a mobile party game, where you use emojis to get teammates to guess an answer like in charades, that doesn’t seem to have been a big hit. I’m not sure that “Charades” is a good concept for the youngest players but I guess this at least seem targeted at the right audience since it would be a family fun all ages activity thing. Kind of an offbrand Jackbox type game.

Bomb Squad ***

Now we don’t actually know that much about this game, and the Intellivision original is incomprehensible, but this is an original idea and Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes is a very solid casual party game. With really good execution could be a **** game, or bad execution could make it worse. But trying to disarm a bomb and blowing up the city may not be that family friendly, but

SNAFOO **

It’s snake. This game is snake. I’ve played the Intellivision original and it’s snake. On the plus side it looks nice enough and…snake is fun? I’m struggling to justify this here because I kind of like the original Intellivision version. For 99 cents or even $2.99 this could be a fun little game for very young children or very casual competitive play. But it’s snake. The game you got for free on your cell phone before the iPhone was a thing.

Space Strikers **

A fast and fluid neon 2D sports game with gravity elements. It looks simple but deep and difficult, ind of like Rocket League. It also reminds me of the Iron Galaxy published Video Ball, which received positive reviews. So why 2*s instead of *** or even ****? Because it’s a terrible fit for the system. This is supposed to be casual player friendly? If you listen to the description it’s clear that most non-gamers won’t be able to get their heads around this game, and it looks fast and complicated to control. It doesn’t seem to have much single player content so it’s just a hardcore multiplayer gamer only title. Perfect. With no online play this will easily be the worst version of a game that could really use it, but this is not a game that grandma will enjoy at all. The game looks decent but the fit looks lousy.

Flying Tigers **

A 194X style WWII flight shmup. Again, what is this doing on this system? Shmups are not a casual genre. The 194X clone is also a part of the sub-genre that has a lot of entries on other systems, including the 194X games themselves from Capcom on their arcade stadium releases. This just feels like more filler. Maybe it will be a fine game but it makes absolutely no case for the Amico. The only reason that this wouldn’t just be a Switch game is that it would have tons of competition and get lost in the shuffle. That’s pretty damning.

Hot Wheels Crashy Smashy or whatever it’s called **

This is that game where everyone has a car that races around on a track kind of like slot cars and then you lay traps for one another to try and be the last car racing. At some point it had a Hot Wheels license but that maybe got pulled. This one is a decent fit for the system but the problem is It just looks bland and like it has very little content. How much is anyone actually going to want to play this? It has “fun for 15 minutes but no more” written all over it. And this is also a multiplayer only title (but unlike Space Strikers it’s appropriate for casuals.) If it’s deeper than it looks or very polished this could gain a star.

That adapted from VR isometric racing game **

This is an isometric Super Sprint type racer clearly adapted from a pre-existing VR title. It looks like a poor adaptation to Amico and I doubt the machine can run it at a decent frame rate. Maybe this could be reworked to something more appropriate and be a decent game, but it seems like it would be a rough adaptation and it says something that the developers couldn’t find a VR publisher for it. Like most VR games the camera seems very bad for multiplayer. The Amico desperately needs a racing game, but this looks like it needs a lot of work.

Tank Battle (or whatever it’s called) *

This is a very simple single screen top down tank battle game with like 10 maps and some basic variations like capture the flag. It looks like a budget PC title from around 2001. Now you can argue that a game like that can be fun, especially in multiplayer, so it deserves a higher grade, but it looks slow and clunky and like something I would have played for a few minutes and then junked two decades ago. Nobody is going to want to play this in 2023 because if they like video games enough to want to play like this they want to play something better. It looks slow and clunky and boring. Additionally the “deep dive” trailer for this game had to be taken down multiple times for stolen content so…that’s not great.

Pong *

It’s Pong. IT’S PONG! Now to be totally fair there have been some decently fun updates to Pong in the more modern era, like Activision’s “Pong: The Next Level” in…1999. But as far as I can tell this doesn’t have any of that game’s charm or mechanical complexity. It’s just pong with a variety of skins on it and…it’s 2023. This would get a little more lee way as a pack in game because at least it’s something everyone can understand and play competitively, but asking people to pay for Pong in 2023 is…well…it’s something.

Dart Frenzy *

Truly the bottom of the barrel. A very basic motion control dart game where the throwing motion seems more like a button press than true trucking. This looks worse than darts in Carnival Games and much worse than the very competent darts game in Clubhouse Games for the Switch. This would have been a 6/10 as a budget game in 2003. 20 years later its only excuse for existing is to demonstrate motion controls…which have already been around on the last 3 generations of consoles. The Wii came out 17 years ago, so this would be the equivalent of having an NES tech demo game during the time of the Gamecube. A product that’s truly for nobody.

Care Bears/Sesame Street Freeware games *

Charging for freeware is scummy and nobody wants to play these types of simple freeware titles, which are more or less advertising. This is pathetic.

Nightstalker (incomplete)

This is an update to the Intellivision classic Nightstalker, a single screen game where you run around a maze avoiding enemies and shooting them. For some reason this is considered a classic on the Intellivision even though I personally think it’s terrible, and I can enjoy some Intellivision games like Astrosmash and Shark! Shark! The new version looks alright graphically but it’s unclear if it was going to have multiple levels (a must) or powerups (also a must) or more enemies (also a must) or much of anything else. I personally don’t like the original so I’d give this a max of three stars, but some might argue four. Not the worst idea in the world but, yet again, it looks like it belongs on Xbox Live Arcade in 2009, and it wouldn’t even be a standout there.

Cloudy Mountains (incomplete)

This is an update to an original Intellivision game where you walk around a world map and then go into randomly generated levels with various rooms strung together that contain items and monster. You have a bow with limited arrows but can collect more as well as a key. In full disclosure my experience with the game (on Evercade) has involved running around bored out of my mind (there isn’t even music) and then getting killed by a monster moving way too fast for me to shoot it. I’m sure it was cool at the time because of the random level generation and the fact that every game was simple in 1982, but this, along with Nightstalker feels unplayable to me these days (whereas games like Astrosmash, Shark! Shark! And Thunder Castle hold up much better.) The remade version looks like it moves a bit slower, which would be good, but I have a hard time imagining a game that’s in any way a faithful remake being much fun.

Spades/Texas Hold ‘Em/Card games (incomplete)

Tommy Tallarico bragged that card games would be a perfect use case of the controller because everyone could see their own hand but nobody else’s. It’s not the worst idea. This all depends on whether the games themselves would be bare bones versions or have a little bit of presentation to them. Not being online is a minus (who plays cards via video games in person?) but it could work depending on execution. One thing’s for sure, if each variation were its own $10 game that would suck. This has to be more of a Clubhouse Games multipack type thing.

Jeff Gerstmann’s Game of the Year Dolphin Quest (incomplete)

This could be fine? It’s hard to tell. An Ecco spiritual sequel is a very strange choice for this console but it might also legitimately be the best game on the system if it turned out well. Of course that would also make it just a decent game on Switch and PS5 so…that’s damning.

Earthworm Jim (incomplete)

We have no idea what this would have been, but again it’s a very odd fit for the system. Earthworm Jim was known for its edgy and absurdist humor, plus its connection to unsavory characters, plus it’s a cult classic character who hasn’t had a major new game in literal decades. I should note that while I enjoyed Earthworm Jim the character and the cartoon I have always hated the games, which are tough to control and brutally difficult. I could never get anywhere in them and having tried them again recently on Evercade and Switch Online I STILL can’t get anywhere, and I’m a seasoned hardcore gamer who can generally do well in platformers. Fantastic choice for your system for young families!

Summary Table.

Trying to format this as text was impossible so it's a picture now.
Trying to format this as text was impossible so it's a picture now.

Conclusion: Out of the rankable games we have 0 5 or 4 star games. 7 3 star games, 10 2 star games, and 7 1 star games. That’s pretty bad.

Doing this list helped me come around to thinking that this thing became a scam much earlier than I previously thought. This is not the list of games you would be preparing if you wanted to actually sell a machine for families. It is much heavier on the nostalgia and the hardcore games than on anything for casuals. There’s also basically nothing that uses the controller in interesting ways. Bomb Squad, maybe, and then…? This thing always had no chance but it’s also clear it had no actual plan.

I was going to end this with a discussion of what wasn’t planned for Amico but I want to do that as a separate post. I think that looking at what was planned really shows that they just grabbed whatever they could and then funded a few retro remakes appealing to old arcade gamers. That’s not a plan for a console. Atari VCS had a plan (A mini-computer with a cheap custom OS and some Atari themed remakes also available elsewhere.) Evercade had a plan (cheap hardware and games from classic consoles.) Both those products made it to market. Evercade seems to have had some success.

Amico’s library looks like a midlife crisis mixed with desperation. Good luck selling that to young moms!

PLEASE LET ME KNOW ANYTHING I MISSED!!!!!

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