In early November, I wrote a preview article about Intellivision Lives! that outlined the history of the franchise, described the hurdles that Intellivision Productions, Inc. had to leap over to get this game released, expressed my excitement over finally being able to play this game, and warned that anyone ordering from the developers directly would be expecting a wait on their product. Does this emulation package work on a platform that more closely resembles the original console than other keyboard-based emulators on PC and Mac due to the Nintendo DS’ touch screen, or does the Nintendo DS hardware create a whole new set of problems?
The first thing you see when you fire up Intellivision Lives! is a menu system that lets you choose from the available games. Intellivision software has always been organized by category since 1980, so seeing the familiar headings such as Space, Arcade, Battle and Simulation, Sports and Gaming and Strategy was no big shocker. The menu also has a Multiplayer section that when chosen will try to link up with another Nintendo DS running Download Play to receive game data. Single-Cart Multiplayer: CHECK.
The main issue that with this menu system is that each category is represented by a full-screen image, so you can only see one category at a time. When you choose a category, you are shown box-art of available games, one game at a time, in similar full-screen quality. It would have been nice to have alternate views of the available games such as an alphabetical list of games, a list-tree showing categories with offset lists of games per category, maybe a customizable favorites menu so I have quick access to the few games that you may be playing most. This menu looks like it was thrown together at the last minute with very little polish put into it. Considering the entire collection is an emulator playing pre-existing ROMs, the menu is really the only place where the developers could have been more creative. This menu looks like it was written in 2004 and left on a shelf for 6 years. Does this menu system work? Yes. Is it pleasant to use? Not really.
With over 60 games available in this collection, there are some games you will like and some games that you will not. Since these are established 30 year-old games, I will review how the emulation holds true against the originals. I did not play all of these games when they were new, nor have I played all of the games in the collection, yet. I did play the games that I have familiarity with so I am able to make comparisons to see how well the emulation holds up.
There have been a number of emulators written for PC and Mac over the years such as Bliss, Nostalgia, and an emulator released by Intellivision Productions, Inc. released as Intellivision Lives! and Intellivision Rocks!. Each of these is able to emulate the original console with a high degree of accuracy. With this past experience of making emulators for other devices, I would have expected the Nintendo DS version of Intellivision Lives! to “live” up to the challenge. Unfortunately, there are areas where this falls short. I will show a number of differences, glitches and changes that I have noticed in this version compared to the original.
Part of the charm of the original Intellivision is in how sound effects were used. Many games used the same “cheer” sound in sports games. Few games, such as Checkers or Sub Hunt, used the same “fanfare” song when you win. Gamers new to Intellivision would not notice these differences, but these jumped out at me like a sore thumb. Bliss and Nostalgia emulators were used to duplicate the original console in the following comparison videos. Here are a few examples:
Baseball – differences in the between inning cheer and the “YER OUT!” sound.
Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack – differences in the shuffling sound.
Checkers – “Thinking” sound removed.
Space Armada – A space invaders clone. The original gave you an option to play the game from the start or “practice” the last level that you completed, meaning the next level would be the level you did not finish. This feature was handy to work on the skills required later in the game without having to play the first 10 or 15 minutes of the easy content over again. This feature has been removed from the Nintendo DS version.
The following glitches affect game play, but with a little fighting through the issues, the games are still playable:
Baseball – Video glitch when the ball reaches the top row.
Royal Dealer – Card suits are not visible.
Sub Hunt – Other games, such as Auto Racing, are affected too in one degree or another, but this one is the most obvious. I believe that this one needs a little explanation. The resolution of the original Intellivision and the Nintendo DS are similar, but the horizontal and vertical resolutions do not have the same comparative ratios between the systems. As a result, small sprites that have components that are one pixel tall can sometimes get lost. The Sub Hunt video below shows this:
Astrosmash – Early levels when the background is darker do not have this problem, but when you reach level three with the light blue background, the darker green asteroids that are falling do not animate smoothly. This is admittedly the weakest of my “major” annoyances, but it was quite distracting to me and I could not wait to get back to level six when the background was black again.
There are a few glitches that make some games completely unplayable:
Buzz Bombers – This centipede clone does have a bug in the original game that sometimes causes the player to get stuck against flowers on the right side. On the original console, this bug did not surface very often. On the Nintendo DS, it happens every time. The video below shows me getting stuck on the flowers on the right. It is not easy to see that I am trying to move away, but you can see the screen move slightly as I press the left directional button.
Crowns of Kings (AKA Cloudy Mountain) – This game is a dungeon crawler where the goal is to find the pieces of the Crown of Kings in Cloudy Mountain. To get there, you must locate a gate key, an axe to traverse forest, and a boat to travel on the river. These are all protected by beasts that must be slain. You start the game with three arrows and must find additional ammunition in the other caves. The original had a feature that would tell you how many arrows you had in your quiver by the number of clicks the game returns when you ask for this information. Ten clicks meant ten arrows. Since more difficult game settings gave you fewer arrows found in the caves, arrow inventory management is a must. The Nintendo DS version has this feature removed.
Space Spartans – One of the games that used the Intellivoice add-on module to add spoken English into some games. Some of this speech is to inform the player how many aliens remain or if the power level is low. The dynamic portions of these sentences are not played in the Nintendo DS version. You hear “Aliens” instead of “Aliens Three”. You hear “Power Level” instead of “Power Level Low”. This makes the game much more complicated than it is intended to be due to the lack of required information being available at all times.
Games such as Night Stalker and Crowns of Kings have movement controls with the “disc”, emulated with the D-pad. The keypad is used to fire in the direction you wish to shoot your bullets or arrows. Using the original controller, this is not as uncomfortable as on the Nintendo DS’s lower touch screen due to the size of the controller and the alignment of the keypad. As I stated in the first article, the original keypad is shaped like telephone’s touch-tone keypad, more tall than wide, with little on either side of it, so it is easy to reach whatever button you want to press. On the Nintendo DS, due to the screen width being larger than its height along with the buttons and D-pad on either side, it is not always a smooth transition to and from the bottom screen overlay when you need it. A possible fix to this may have been to allow a per-game customization of the controls.
There is a high score system set up for some games, but it only allows you to enter in your initials after you have selected to exit the game and go back to the menu system. It then gives you entry for three characters. Once you’ve completed this step, it goes back to the menu again. If you want to see where you placed in the rankings, you have to select to go into the game again, pause the game, then select high scores. I hope you remembered what your score was, because the game no longer knows. It would have been nice to see the top five list before going back to the menu.
Overall, the Intellivision Lives! collection consists of good games with emulation problems. Younger gamers who think that Nintendo 64 games are “retro” may find some of these games diverting and worth the $15 price tag, not even realizing most of the problems that I have addressed. However, Intellivision Lives! is targeted for the hard core Intellivision fan and collector. Those not in this small set of gamers will likely pass this game up. Those that do pick the game up, as I have, will have high expectations that fall short.
VG Tribune gives Intellivision Lives! a 6.0/10
This review was based on a copy of Intellivision Lives! purchased directly from Intellivision Productions, Inc.