As somebody who essentially grew up on video games (I played both Pong and Space Invaders in the arcades when I was young), I am endlessly amazed at how far video games have come since the early golden days of arcades to today’s modern, do-almost-everything consoles. I was thinking back to the very first console I ever owned, the Magnavox Odyssey2, and how amazing it seemed at the time. For those who are unfamiliar or have never heard of this dinosaur, let me fill you in on what it was like.
I first came across the Odyssey2 at a friend’s house, where I was immediately entranced. I played games like football, golf, and baseball with my friend at every opportunity. These were only fixed-screen games (no scrolling) involving block figures and dots for balls, but for the time the graphics compared quite favorably to the Atari 2600.
Unlike the 2600, though, the Odyssey2 had a keyboard (membrane type) and could even be considered a kind of rudimentary computer. Like nearly all systems of the time, it was cartridge-based and could support two controllers. The controllers were quite simple with one fire button and a joystick that allowed for eight-directional movement. Unlike the controllers for the 2600, the Odyssey2 controllers had thin joysticks that worked better when controlled by the tips of the fingers. The 2600 controllers could also be controlled this way, but most 2600 owners I knew simply wrapped their hand around the beefy joystick to play games.
The first generation of games for the Odyssey2 were basic sports titles and a few simple arcade-type games. Magnavox realized that these games would only take their system so far and began to work at their own versions of popular arcade games. These included K.C. Munchkin (a Pac-Man ripoff), U.F.O (an Asteroids-type game), and Freedom Fighters (an attempt at Williams’ popular arcade game, Defender). Some of these games, such as U.F.O., actually made for somewhat similar experiences to the arcade games they were attempting to emulate. Others, like Freedom Fighters, fell far short.
One of the biggest difficulties for a kid with the Odyssey2 was the availability of games. While today you can simply walk into your nearest GameStop or Best Buy and find a slew of choices for all the popular systems, the same was not true for the Odyssey2. Occasionally electronics stores sold the games, but to find the more obscure titles, I generally had to have my mom take me to the nearest Magnavox store (yes, they actually had their own stores back then). This was a bit of a hassle, but since I was only 12 and not exactly burdened with excessive wealth, I wasn’t constantly waiting around to go buy games anyways.
As ridiculous as it might seem to today’s gamers, we actually used to play these crude video games for hours and hours on end. For even though they were extremely low-res and primitive, they still required what is essential in any video game: Good reflexes. While you weren’t able to pull off super combos or exotic offenses, you could still out-maneuver the computer (or your friends) by simply having a supple wrist and excellent timing.
It has been 30 years since I played my old Odyssey2. It was replaced by another faster, slicker, but less reliable system (Mattel’s Intellivsion). I’m sure it eventually got lost during a move or thrown away, but I still remember fondly the first home system I ever owned.