The floors of E3 were swirling with all things pretty and new. Some things we’ve seen a few times before, and some we were only catching a glimpse of for the first time. Among them were a growingly familiar assortment of indie games replicating the heyday of 8-bit and 16-bit gaming. Yes, pixel art and chiptunes are in abundance — some may say overabundance. But what about the real classics? The games that started it all and inspired this new generation of game creators?
Well, they were there too! Thanks to an expanding culture of retro game collectors and enthusiasts, E3 played host to a very respectable showing of 80s and 90s fare. Tables were laid out with old consoles, rare cartridges, unique memorabilia, and even an arcade cabinet or two, all courtesy of the Videogame History Museum. Here’s our tour of some of the retro merchandise we came across at this year’s biggest gaming expo.
Here we have a series of tabletop arcade portables, made by Bandai, Coleco, and others. The Coleco variety are particularly collectible (and expensive!), pulling off a surprising facsimile of the gameplay from their larger counterparts, with colorful, if not primitive vacuum florescent displays.
Some additional portables, this time in boxes. Many of these never made it to the States.
This rare gem is the Atari 2700. It’s essentially a luxury version of the 2600, utilizing then cutting-edge technologies like wireless (radio) controllers, and touch sensitive buttons on the system. A trial production run of the console was produced, but it was shelved for reasons believed to be related to radio interference caused by the controllers.
The ill-fated Atari 5200 was a beast of its time. Not just in terms of power — which owing to its Atari 400/800 origins it had in spades — but also in its sheer girth. The Atari 5100 was apparently an attempt to streamline the console, shedding some of its extraneous plastic bulk for a more accommodating fit. Due to the crash and poor sales, it isn’t surprising this never made it to market.
Here’s something I’ve never seen before. The description card does a better job than I probably could to explain it, but to sum it up, they believe it’s related to the Atari XE, a similar looking console that was pin-compatible with the company’s 65XE computers at the time. It’s an incredibly rare mockup that to my knowledge is the only one of its kind.
I patched two images together so you could get a better look at this system. Magnavox had already kicked off what many argue was the beginning of the home video game market with the original Odyssey, a few years prior to the release of this standalone pong system. The Odyssey 300 seen here wasn’t a big departure from the original Odyssey, in fact, since both were variations on a pong-clone system. Home pong systems were popular in the late 70s, and Odyssey was one of many companies throwing their hat into the ring. The advantage of this one, however, is that it sports a case relatively resistant to mustard stains.
The original Keyboard Component for the Intellivision has a troubled history. It was an add-on that promised to greatly expand on the capabilities of Mattel’s console, during a time when the line between game consoles and home computers was starting to blur. The wood-grained version of the add-on sported a cassette tape reader, and expanded the system’s memory to a respectable 64KB. However, it was plagued by reliability issues and numerous delays. The product was canceled before receiving a full release, making it extremely rare.
The version of the Keyboard Component pictured above is the far more common Entertainment Computer System, or ECS, released later in 1983. It was colored and modeled to mesh better with the Intellivision II, and did not include a cassette reader.
Speaking of keyboard attachments, here’s one for the Atari 7800, a console that had the misfortune of competing with the Nintendo Entertainment System in the late 80s. A couple of software cartridges were planned to be included in the package with this keyboard, such as one called VideoWriter. You know, because people were really looking for some sort of word processor to make the 7800 a worthy buy. Only a few prototypes of the cancelled add-on still exist.
The Nintendo 64 controller was innovative for multiple reasons, but one way that’s often forgotten is its game-specific special edition controllers. It was the first system to popularize the idea of promoting key platform games in this way, and is considered common practice for marketing systems today.
This rare Super Star Fox Weekend cartridge was part of a promotional campaign for the game. Nintendo Power hosted an international competition in various stores and malls in 1993, using a modified version of Star Fox’s single player campaign, implementing just two stages from the game, plus an exclusive bonus stage. Players had to try to get the highest score in a five minute run, with the winners taking home t-shirts, a jacket, and a grand prize trip to London, Paris, Sydney, or Tokyo, or a lump sum of $15,000. An estimated 2,000 of these cartridges were produced.
This is truly a rare gem. By far the most elusive and expensive of PlayStation games, this extremely limited edition of Elemental Gearbolt commands thousands of dollars, with less than 50 believed to have been made. Only a handful of them have been accounted for.
Alright, that concludes our (hopefully) informative trip down memory lane. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with us! Old-school video games are very near and dear to our hearts here at 1985FM, and we took many more pictures than we could reasonably show here. So check out the massive gallery below if you’re still hungry for some spicy retro gaming awesomeballs, and let us know in the comments if anything here tickles the nostalgic bone in you! We’d love to hear your stories!