My Dream Game Room: The Best 2nd-Generation Consoles

State-side we consider the 2nd generation of video game consoles as those released1976-83, remembered for its glut of weird and unsuccessful products that caused the video game crash of 1983. It was a lawless wild west of new ideas and everyone wanted a shot.


While the internet portrays Nintendo and Sega as beloved lifelong friends, 2nd-gen consoles feel more like grandparents who grew up during great depression. I tend to agree; my appreciation for them is often framed with phrases like "for the time" and "compared to the competition." Today I'm giving the 2nd gen more love as I set out to design (virtually, textually) my dream game room. It may not be the origin of video games, but its historical significance and breadth make it the most interesting starting line to me. Here are the 2nd-gen consoles I want in my dream game room. (I'll get to games later).


LOCKED IN

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Atari 2600

Let's begin with the obvious. The Atari 2600 sold more than 30 million units (more than the rest of the 2nd gen combined) and spanned an impressive 15 years from 1977-92 on store shelves. It had several hardware reiterations, nearly 600 games released, and is commonly recognized among the top video game consoles of all time.


The console and its best games are still very affordable and easy to come by. Your parents probably have two in their basement right now (mine do). The definitive 2nd-gen experience is readily available, and it's a must-have in any game room.


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Mattel Intellivision

The first and most potent competition to the 2600 makes sense as the next console on the shelf. Mattel sold more than 3 million Intellivision consoles from 1979-90, and had more than 100 games released. It's remembered for quirky add-ons, popularizing telephone-esque 9-key controllers, and some very early Advanced Dungeons & Dragons games. Also, check out the PlayCable service.


They're not hard to come by today. I prefer the upgraded Intellivision II model for its compact appearance and its stylish matching (though harder-to-find) computer and keyboard components.


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Colecovision

The Colcecovision is the most arcade-accurate 2nd-gen console. The controllers and add-ons garner comparisons to the Intellivision, but this packs in three additional years' worth of tech and market experience. Its 2 million in sales library of more than 100 games becomes more impressive when you consider the system was only on shelves from 1982-85, and most of those games were released in two-year span. Considering their tech specs and timing, the Colecovision, the Atari 5200  (and perhaps others) could almost comprise their own sub-generation, i.e. gen 2B.


It's selection of high quality golden-age arcade ports creates a lot of positive association for the console. It feels a little harder to find as a result, but is still affordable and an absolute lock for the game room.


SECOND-TIER

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Magnavox Odyssey2

The successor to the very first home video game console could hardly be more different from the original. The Odyssey2 has Atari-like controllers and a full-blown keyboard that made it one of the earliest devices to blur the line between home consoles and computers. An estimated 2 million units were sold in its life from 1978-84.


Today it doesn't receive the same nostalgia as its competitors, possibly because of its unclear intended audience and small game library. Still, the consoles are somewhat common, the games affordable, and its unique contributions enough to merit a spot in my room.


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Atari 5200

Even if you find an Atari 5200 that works (and a substitute for the terrible controllers), you have to find a place to store this behemoth. It sold roughly 1 million units and compiled a small library of around 70 games during its minuscule lifespan from 1982-84. It's important to me because its poor timing and quality epitomize the 2nd-gen downfall and video game crash.


As previously noted, it's probably best compared to the Colecovision in terms of technology and timing (a race it lost). Size, cost, a library primarily consisting of 2600 ports, and no backwards compatibility hamper the console. However, supporters argue in favor of its superior hardware and ports, even relative to its successor, the 7800. Combine that with historical significance and brand recognition, and it belongs in my dream game room.


IF OPPORTUNITY AROSE


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Fairchild Channel F

The first console of the generation, the Channel F is also the first to use interchangeable cartridges (as opposed to the Magnavox Odyssey's circuit boards) and has the (in my opinion) the best controllers and pong game of the generation. Sadly, the 1976 console didn't sell well and features one of the smallest game libraries here, and it's a bit more rare and expensive to boot; the value proposition sucks. Still, I'd get one in the right circumstances.


RUNNERS-UP

The Emerson Arcadia 2001 (1982) hit the market just before the Colecovision and Atari 5200, but wasn't technically on par with either and failed to distinguish itself from the Intellivision and Atari 2600. It's best remembered for its extensive number of variants and clones.

The Vectrex (1982) is something of a cult classic thanks to selling with a proprietary vector display used to recreate certain arcade games more faithfully than its peers. Unfortunately, its added tech makes finding a fully functional model today an expensive endeavor.

The Bally Astrocade (1978) might be best-compared to the Magnavox Odyssey2 as something trying to blend home computer (out of the box) and console. It was technically impressive, but poor exposure have kept it forever scarce.

Price, appearance and lack of success make the RCA Studio II (1977) uninteresting to me. Built-in key pads instead of controllers, a combination of built-in and cartridge-based games, and the lack of reliable information make it interesting in general, though.

The APF-MP1000 (1978) and Imagination Machine (1979) combination feels similar to the Intellivision or Colecovision with their respective computer components. It may was too ahead of its time, though; its launch price was steep, and it's extremely rare today.


COMING UP NEXT

A (dream) game room would be nothing without games. I'm looking forward to a series of posts highlighting the best, most important, and great-value games I need to supplement the consoles above.

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