This week is the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The latest in consumer technology will be displayed. Numerous televisions, computers, MP3 players, Blu-Ray disc players, automobile accessories, you name it, they will be displayed. Microsoft gave its last (for now) keynote address in which they showed off the latest version of Windows, Windows Phone and, of course, XBOX.
XBOX represents the current state of home video games. It has innovative controllers like Kinect and high resolution graphics. It is the penultimate gaming console for this generation. Now, let’s rewind some thirty years and take a look at gaming in the early 1980’s, specifically, the Emerson Arcadia.
Emerson Arcadia? I bet you’ve not heard of that one. Well, that’s OK. Most people probably won’t either.
Emerson has long been a brand in the United States. For quite some time, in fact, it was as ubiquitous as General Electric or RCA. Your parents or relatives may recall watching Emerson TV’s or listening to an Emerson console radio.
Well, during the early 80’s, video games were hot. The management at the company decide that it, too, needed a console. They wanted to compete with Atari, who was still cashing in on the VCS, THE console to have at the time. Arcade games were all the rage and Atari was cashing in with home versions of those games. Emerson saw a huge market. The Arcadia would be more powerful than the Atari and, at least on paper, on par or a little better than Atari’s competition, the Intellivision.
So, in 1982, the Arcadia hit the market. To build up the library of games, and hoping to cash in on the arcade phenomenon, Emerson brought out copies of hit games. Problem was, most were not licensed and licensing the arcade games for home use was becoming a lucrative deal. Companies began to sue and win. The most famous such case was against Magnavox and the KC Munchkin game. KC was an Odyssey 2 game based loosely on Pac-Man, THE hottest game at the time. Fearing the lawsuits, Emerson exec’s panicked and many of the clones were either reworked or cancelled. As a result, Arcadia had few games at launch that anyone would recognize. The system was cancelled almost as soon as it was released. It hit clearance bins almost immediately. Couple that with the release of the Colecovision, which featured arcade quality graphics and sound, and you can see that Arcadia was obsolete before it got going.
Arcadia failed right away and Emerson withdrew from the market. I cannot say that had they stuck with it, we might be playing EmersonStations today, but I think the system COULD have found a following. It wasn’t all that bad and was superior to the VCS. It more closely resembled the Intellivision. It’s graphical ability was similar and the controllers were near copies except they had little screw on joysticks for the controller discs.
The games for the system were mostly re-worked clones, of which a few are standouts like CatTrax, a Pac-Man like game. There were a few actual licensed titles like Jungler, but those were games that were not nearly as popular (and probably why Emerson could license them, they were probably cheap to license.) In fact CatTrax and two other games were ported to the Atari VCS and were moderately successful on that system (probably more so than on the console for which they were developed.) I have played CatTrax and love the game.
I don’t know how collectable the Arcadia really is, I’ve not yet been able to acquire one, though I would love to so. I have played around with the games via emulation and they are mostly mediocre, but the CatTrax game is clever and fun.
Comparing this console to something like the XBOX or the Wii is not fair to either system. But, there is something to be said about the rather simple nature of the Arcadia (and, indeed, most of the games from that time) games. I may be addicted to Call of Duty, but I get just as big a kick from CatTrax. Emerson is no longer a household name (nor a standalone company for that matter) and their only true contribution to video games is a console that went straight to the bargain bin yet there is that question ‘what if’. What if they had done things right? What if they had not out and out lied about the abilities of the system (claiming it had 28K memory when it like 2k) or what if they had more hit games to sell the system. What if…
As was the case with the Magnavox Odyssey 2, this system was sold overseas and actually did fairly well in some areas, though it still did not have a long life. The system was sold with strange design changes and, worse, the cartridges were not always electrically compatible with the US counterpart. I guess that just confirms most people’s opinion of the console: Odd. It was an odd console. It was odd for Emerson to put so much effort into the product, only to pretty much abandon it at launch. Very odd, indeed.