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2600 vs. Intellivision - The Atari Times

2600 vs. Intellivision

The world's first console war has only begun.
by Brendan Onfrichuk

May 19, 2007
In 1977 Atari released the world's first widely popular cartridge game console in America. This fabulous machine not only introduced gaming to the masses but it made home computers seem like a new possibility. Many of us have had our first gaming experiences on an Atari 2600 or simply have fond memories of playing it. But whenever a successful product comes to the market another company will want the same thing for themselves. Mattel saw this and developed their own game machine and called it Intellivision (short for Intelligent Television.)

Released in 1979, initial sales of Intellivision were promising and Mattel put forth a full planned assault and a marketing war the likes of which wasn't seen again for a long time. But in retrospect, which machine is better? We all have our own opinions and maybe biased opinions on the topic, but I think of myself as an unbiased 3rd party. I did not grow up with either machine, I do not have any particularly fond memories on one that isn't equaled by another memory on the other. Therefore, I will try to solve this heated debate once and for all.


Because the 2600 was released years earlier it's hardware capabilities don't seem as powerful as Intellivision. Mattel always claimed the Intellivision had high resolution graphics and better sound capabilities. But it has always been apparent that the 16-bit CPU performs considerably slower than the 2600's. Earlier action titles are sluggish and that may have turned off some arcade enthusiasts. But like any hardware the Intellivision programmers found ways to squeeze extra performance out of the system. Of course, the same thing can be said for the 2600 and later titles made the hardware gap between it and Intellivision seem much smaller.

The 2600's controller was delightfully simple. It had one button and an 8 direction stick. This was adequate for most games but others, like Star Raiders, needed an additional keypad. Because the Intellivision controller had a built-in keypad, as well as a 16-directional pad and two action buttons, it supported more complex gameplay. Games such as Space Spartans was easily accommodated by the Intellivision controller.

Intellivision even had a series of add-ons including a computer module, voice synthesizer and an adapter to play 2600 games.

In the end the Intellivision had the more impressive hardware.


Hardware is one thing, but a console is only as good as its games. The Intellivision has a respectable 125 games available but the 2600 has a library nearing quadruple digits and is filled with quality arcade ports. Intellivision has no more than 25 arcade ports and all of them are already available on the 2600. Intellivision was even treated with Activision and Imagic games but more were available for the 2600. And even though Intellivision had a better line of sports titles Atari soon released the RealSports line of cartridges that featured very similar gameplay. The Intellivision is stronger in the category of complex thinking, strategy and simulation games. But this caters to a much smaller group of people.

It is very apparent that the 2600 has a much better selection of titles.

Here are some 2600 vs. Intellivision shots for comparison...

2600 Intellivision

Realsports Baseball Baseball
Realsports Football NFL Football

Star Raiders Space Spartans
Demon Attack Demon Attack

Beamrider Beamrider

Burgertime Burgertime

Dig Dug Dig Dug

Donkey Kong Donkey Kong
Ladybug (homebrew) Ladybug
Pitfall! Pitfall!
Pole Position Pole Position
Space Invaders Space Armada


Atari was always known for having really cool commercials. Who can forget the Pole Position or Mario Bros. commercials? Mattel wasn't afraid to show side-by-side comparisons of the 2600 and Intellivision in their TV and print ads but these were to few and far between. Atari even fought back with advertisement saying that "the competition doesn't stack up" with a picture of a stack of 2600 games next to a console. This was such effective advertisement that it was used in a Genesis vs SNES advertisement years later. It was also very apparent through the advertisement that Atari was more successful at bringing the arcade experience home with all the advertisements for arcade games.

Atari wins this category because Mattel's marketing wasn't able to successfully sell the Intellivision to consumers.


History has taught us time and time again you need more than just better hardware to win a console war. You also need the proper games and advertising before anyone will be willing to buy your product. Enthusiasts will forever argue as to which console is "better", but it's easily apparent that the 2600 won the first console war with it's great library of games, strong marketing, and flexible hardware.

Reader Comments for 2600 vs. Intellivision

Forgot one thing... by Darryl B. on 2007-05-19 15:33:12
...Atari also survived the Video Game Crash, while certain Intellivison websites claim that Intellivision was the only console that did; what rubbish! Plus the 2600 hung on for much longer, being produced in three decades ('70s, '80s, '90s). Nice article though.
Not even close graphically by Atarifever on 2007-05-20 18:30:07
Perhaps to be more fair to the Intellivision the games that would clearly not have been possible on the 2600 should be shown. Diner and Dracula for example would have not happened on the 2600. Ever.

As well, Atari "Golf" compared to Chip shot golf isn't even close.
Here's Atari's "Golf" game:

Here's Chip Shot:

The current screenshots make it look like the Intellivision didn't eat the 2600 alive, which it did. When companies ported games from 2600 to Intellivision (Pitfall), when Atari's game was actually being compied by Intellivision developers (Star Raiders), when Coleco made deficient games (Donkey Kong on both systems) and when there's not much that can be done with the graphics (Space Invaders) it looks a lot closer than it was. It was far from close. And this is coming from a guy who chooses Atarifever as his alias.
Screenshots by Gregory D. George on 2007-05-20 22:51:03
I chose those shots because they were comparable games. I wasn't going to include Diner, Microsurgeon, Dracula etc. becuase there wasn't anything like them on the 2600. Likewise, there are dozens upon dozens of games that don't have Intelly counterparts.
The Intellivision could have beaten Atari... by LS650 on 2007-05-23 20:59:03
... if it wasn't for those crappy, crappy disc controllers. My God, they're terrible - almost as awful as the 5200 controller!
Who -didn't- have a 2600? by JayP on 2007-05-23 23:04:43
Atari would win on sheer numbers. For several years in school, the kids swapped carts like baseball cards. You don't want to be left out, right? /peerpressure/

The only kid we envied was the one with the Colecovison- since DK sucked so hard on the 2600.
INTV Coin-op Adaps. by Alienblue on 2007-05-25 13:31:30
Not all INTV coin-op translations made it to the 2600. Mission X was NEVER made into a 2600
game. Locomotion is only available as a 2600 prototype.

In addition, many INTV translations were just Soooo much better; Venture, Mouse Trap
and Burgertime , not to mention PAC-MAN!

Alienblue aka blufox@midcoast.com
Most does not = best by Atarifever on 2007-05-25 16:27:21
Atari might lose on sheer numbers you mean.

Oh no, Intellivision didn't get gems like Journey Escape and Custer's Revenge? In a minute you'll be telling me it didn't get Homerun or Oink, and then it'll have been totally useless.
In the long run...the 2600 wins by oldgamer on 2007-05-29 09:43:51
I had the vcs, my neighbors had the Intellivision. I thought the Mattel was hands-down the better system then in 1980-82. I was envious. Now I see there was nothing to be envious about. Atari DID catch up with Mattel graphically conciderably (albeit NOT all the way) by 1983. Plus those crummy controllers and sluggish movement really puts the Intellivision at a disadvantage.

Intellivision stalwarts say what you will.....but George Plimpton was only right up to a point!!!
not really... by Darryl on 2007-05-29 10:03:46
It's kind of ridiculous to "compare" a more powerful system with a less powerful one though (although the Intel could NOT handle speed, funny enough); only way you could TRULY rag on another system is if they had pretty much the same specs with each other, yet one produced better, more quality games than the other. Beating up on a system that's older and outdated is idiotic since it was first, and the new system had years and more up to date technology on it's side.
UK thoughts by Astrosmasher on 2007-06-03 17:56:56
There were some good games on the Intelly but overall I think the 2600 kicked its butt. Over here in the UK the INtelly was a poor seller and those controllers did not help. Also which fool thought of hardwiring them to the console? I thought Tron and Lock and chase were good on the Intelly.
ATLANTIS - by A sprite on 2007-06-04 21:04:39
- would be a useful demonstration of both systems at their best.
You forgot this by Old Atarian on 2007-06-12 16:37:54
That over the life of the 2600 a lot of really crappy games got released. These were the days before you needed a license to be a game developer, so anyone with an assembler and an EPROM burner could make a cartridge and sell it, and most of the games for the 2600 look like that is exactly what happened. Also, a lot of the games for the 2600 didn't sell in large enough numbers to be counted in this comparison simply because there were just so many games to choose from that many got lost in the shuffle.This is what ultimately led to the great videogame meltdown of 83. Nobody could gain enough market share to be profitable because there were too many developers out there and consumers were sick of being burned by crap games that looked like they took all of about 10 minutes to write.
Atari had the market plain and simple by Pete 5125 on 2007-06-29 20:33:18
In a kids mind all that matters is A:Having the same thing everyone else has and B: getting the newer better version that gives you braging rights.

I remeber in My Group During the early 80's the Atari 2600 is all anyone had, then the NES came out w/ a gun and Robot and if you were a rich kid then you had 1, after a couple of years everyone on the block had 1, except 1 friend got a Sega Master System (all games always had better graphix but a ton more flicker than the NES), amother friend had a 7800(his parents would only buy a new system if it played his old 2600 games)(I like Atari but the 7800 had a crap controller, few games that could be believed to be equivolent to a NES/Master System Game, and no gun. After that everyone bought a Sega Genesis because the Master system had great graphix so just imagine a 16 bit version. Also believe it or not for about 1 to 2 years the Atari Lynx was popular I remeber 4 or 5 people would play them on the bus to school.
I guess the point is only 4 systems were popular enouth to trade games like baseball cards and that was in this order Atari 2600, NES, Sega Genesis, and to a very small extent Atari Lynx.

Also get around your buddies and start asking about video games in the day few will tell you of the good old days when the Intelevision was king of the land....Atari was so popular that back in the 80's people would say put your Atari up (talking about a NES, Sega or whatever)same as Coke is every soda drink n the south
yahoo for the 2600 by atari fan on 2007-10-09 16:46:34
intellivision should stand for unintelligent television but the atari 2600 rules
Money matters by accousticguitar on 2008-01-01 03:32:43
Atari won the war by making the VCS affordable. I paid $150 for my Atari brand new, and that was a lot of money back then. The Intellivision cost a lot more than that, so it was basically unaffordable. The Intellivision is a good console with some good games, but it was just too expensive!
Atari Is The BEst by NiggersWithAttitude on 2015-07-31 22:21:33
Atari is the best. End of story.
This is biased... by Dreamcyst on 2016-02-16 09:51:34
Sorry, but this is the ATARI Times, plus obviously both systems' potential was never realized fully (crash of '83 happened before they could do that, look at early vs later Atari, Intellivisioin and ColecoVision games. And anyway after 1983, Nintendo and the third generation ****ed any chance of them doing that. Plus the check question...and
Atari 2600: 1977
Intellivision: 1980 US/1982 EU/JP
ColecoVision: May 1982 EU/November 1982 US
Here are the specs for the major second-gen consoles:
No copy/pasting by Gregory D. George on 2016-02-20 11:24:07
Please don't just copy/paste a bunch of specs here. This is for your personal comments. If someone wants to look up specs, they can go to Wikipedia themselves.
My account of the systems... by Tom on 2016-12-11 12:22:15
My first system was a $2 intellivison... had donkey kong and astrosmash. When your a kid and didn't have anything to compare it to (lived in the woods away from other kids)... I thought it was great. I never did find/buy any more games for it and moved on to the SNES which blew away my mind (donkey kong country!) I have one of those plug in play intellivisons for Astrosmash, but I have a small list of good Atari 2600 games.... so now I consider the 2600 to be better for sheer fun factor (aka more games).
Better people by Katy Bailey on 2018-06-19 02:29:39
I loved my Intellivision because the wealthier kids all had it. The lower middle class kids had Atari. That's all I remember because I was pretty drugged out at the time.
Intellivison Rules! by Mike on 2018-07-09 13:11:36
Intellivison was the system that I grew up with first (along with Odyssey 2), but lately I have been exploring Atari history. Graphically, the INTV kicks the 2600's butt around the room (including recent homebrews). Outside of Activision titles or very simple Atari games, I would say the graphics are downright indecipherable at times. That's not to say some Atari 2600 programmers have done some amazing things, but the games are limited by the system.
Arari by Rich on 2019-04-29 10:24:52
The 2600 games had an extension on life when the Colecovision came out with that module that would play the 2600 games. One hell of a good marketing move.
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