While most gamers think of the Atari 2600 when they think about the consoles that were popular before Nintendo, Genesis and PlayStation came along, Atari did have its rivals in the early 1980s and some of them were successful too. One of them was called ColecoVision, developed by Coleco and released in 1982, five years after the Atari 2600, and rivaling Atari’s console by copying the graphical capabilities of arcade games, many of which Coleco ported to great success among many gamers who would often criticize Atari for how lesser in quality their console ports were in comparison to the arcade original. Among the arcade games ColecoVision would port include Nintendo’s Donkey Kong, which was the first ever home console port of Donkey Kong in history, as well as popular hits like BurgerTime, Centipede, Defender, Donkey Kong Jr., Frogger, Galaxian, Gorf, Pepper II, Popeye, Q*Bert, Roc ‘n Rope, Spy Hunter, Star Wars, Tapper, Turbo and Zaxxon. Even obscure arcade games like Cosmic Avenger, Lady Bug and Venture gained new found popularity after they were ported to ColecoVision, so the system was even kind of a kingmaker.
Coleco was founded in 1932 as the Connecticut Leather Company in West Hartford, providing leather to shoe repairers, over the decades branching into rubber and plastic and eventually manufacturing plastic toys in the fifties. They abandoned the shoe side of their business completely by the sixties, shortening their name to Coleco in 1961 and acquiring companies to manufacture products for them, including above-ground swimming pools, snowmobiles and most famously the Cabbage Patch Kids doll line, but ColecoVision is what many gamers think of first when they hear the name Coleco.
Before that system came out, Coleco had first entered the video game industry with the Telstar, released in 1976 and featuring the video games Hockey, Handball and Tennis, which were all basically variants on Atari’s Pong, something a lot of video game developers were making in the late seventies. Coleco did so well on the market with the Telstar that they released several different models between 1976 and 1978, including the Telstar Deluxe, the Telstar Ranger, the Telstar Alpha, the Telstar Colormatic, the Telstar Colortron, the Telstar Marksman, the Telstar Galaxy, the Telstar Gemini, etc., each with different features and upgrades as well as an ever-changing game lineup.
Due to the oversaturation of the home console market that endangered the video game industry in the late seventies, Coleco almost went bankrupt but they narrowly avoided it when they decided to enter the handheld gaming market and compete with Mattel, specifically by releasing the football video game Electronic Quarterback in 1978, which was one of Coleco’s early success stories and led to further 2-player sports games based on baseball, basketball, soccer and hockey. Coleco also released a mini-arcade series that included handheld versions of popular games like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Frogger, plus educational handhelds such as the Electronic Learning Machine, the calculator-like game Digits, and the computer trivia game Quiz Wiz.
But Coleco couldn’t stay out of the home console market where Atari was having all the fun, so they returned in a big way when ColecoVision came out in 1982, the same year Pac-Man came out on Atari 2600 and was widely ridiculed for being inferior to the arcade version. Coleco emphasized that they were an “arcade quality video game system” in order to get a leg up on Atari and this was successful marketing because they put their money where their mouth was. ColecoVision truly gave Atari a run for their money when it came to the graphical power of their arcade ports.
Coleco not only had quality arcade ports but they also successfully ported games from other home consoles like Atari 2600, Commodore 64, Apple II and MSX, some of the most acclaimed being BC’s Quest for Tires, Frenzy, Miner 2049er, Pitfall!, Pitstop, Tutankham, Arctic Adventure, Bump ‘n’ Jump, Dragonfire, Jumpman Junior and River Raid. A few original ColecoVision games have also gotten a lot of love from gamers including the licensed games Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle, The Dukes of Hazzard and WarGames.
ColecoVision had a successful run despite having a shorter lifespan on the console market from 1982 to 1985, due partly to the video game crash of 1983. Not even a series of hardware add-ons like the Coleco Adam home computer expansion device or the Expansion Module # 1, which allowed ColecoVision to play Atari 2600 games, was enough to save the console. In 1985, Coleco left the video game market for good and three years later Coleco filed for bankruptcy and went defunct.