How Intellivision’s Amico could be a next-gen dark horse in 2020

On the eve of a new generation of gaming, the battle lines are forming. Nintendo continues to print money with its amazing handheld. Microsoft and Sony prepare to play chicken with huge hardware reveals and cross-platform surprises. Google tries to offset bad press with tech that’s simultaneously impressive and disappointing. Even Atari hopes to get into the action with a machine that we probably need to see to believe. Off to the side, one other contender readies its offering and it isn’t going after the typical customer. In fact, it’s doubtful that anyone reading this will be in its target audience. And that’s the point of the Intellivision Amico and why it could be a dark horse for the next batch of hardware.

Understanding the Intellivision Amico offering

The Amico is a $200 system sitting somewhere between traditional consoles and the retro machines spearheaded by Nintendo a few years ago. It builds on the legacy of the Intellivision, an innovative system from the Atari 2600 days. Nowadays, you wouldn’t say that Intellivision has much retro cred, but the Amico isn’t just a nostalgia grab. It’s using that push for “the old days” to recapture one of the most lucrative markets of gaming’s recent past: the casual crowd who bought the Wii in record numbers a decade ago. They almost purely game on their phones now, but Amico is trying to and could change that.

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Instead of the complex gamepads we’re all familiar with, Amico splits the difference between a mobile device and Nintendo’s Joy-Con. It ships with two phone-like controllers, complete with, a touchscreen, motion, and physical buttons. They also have a dial, a unique navigational tool that could also produce some interesting gameplay designs. Beyond that, the Amico takes cues from the popular Jackbox Party Pack series by making smartphones into additional controllers. This system’s entire concept revolves around couch multiplayer and plug and play. The key to success in that arena — and capturing casual players — lies in ensuring that everyone can instinctively pick up and play without issue. And its hardware is designed to do just that.

What games will be on Intellivision Amico?

This is the same philosophy that goes into Intellivision’s software. The company has promised nothing but family-friendly exclusives that are easy to play with their simplified control scheme. The company has softened its stance to include ports since their initial debut, but the system will likely focus on updated versions of past arcadey hits. The game Intellivision is leading with is a reimagining of Breakout with an official Atari license. It has even hinted at versions of Asteroids and Ecco the Dolphin, which are the types of games that the first generation of gamers remember. They’re the people that didn’t graduate into the 3D era and the people making mobile gaming into a money-making machine.

It’s a big risk for sure. There’s no guarantee that a significant number of people will show up for names that only retro collectors remember. However, it is 2019, and we live in a world that seems fueled by remakes and reimaginings. Technology has evolved at such a pace that every idea seems tailor-made for a new spin, a new angle, a new remake. Even in hardcore gaming, we’ve seen plenty of successful returns to older IP that sell well with a new coat of paint. Amico aims to revitalize an entire generation of 2D games with a system designed for that inherently smaller scope.

Putting video games back in the toy aisle

Intellivision Amico Woodgrain

Beyond even that, there’s a bigger audience that Amico can appeal to: the people you don’t really hear about in our sphere that keeps free-to-play games running year after year. Maybe they’re kids without access to their own funds yet or people that don’t find the mainstream of Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty all that appealing. Whatever the case, these are gamers that devote themselves to casual offerings out of convenience. And the Amico is going for that convenience. It’s been almost a decade since Nintendo transitioned away from the Wii, and this crowd just hasn’t had an alternative in the console space. This is someone who’d never buy an Xbox or a PlayStation, but they might have purchased an NES Classic. Intellivision hopes they’ll buy an Amico too.

And this expansion is good because as a community, we’ve spent so long fighting against the toyetic image that games carried in the past. We want these creations respected as pieces of art and not something that is made to be an action figure. Some of them absolutely should be, but not all games are really worthy of such importance. Movies would be much worse if they only produced Oscar-fare. The TV landscape would be lesser without game shows and infomercials.

Games don’t all need to exist on the same level, and Intellivision knows this. The audience that bought the NES Classic knows this, too. Out of the entire population, they’re the growth potential that will truly make gaming a universal medium in the years to come and show that there is a large spectrum of people who play. The Switch and Wii seemed a little out there but were huge successes, proving that the hardcore is not the crowd that gaming has to solely focus on anymore. We’ve seen so many massive successes in the past half-decade in terms of hardware, and the audience just keeps growing.

If the games are of a high enough quality, players will come. Intellivision has shown that it is serious about bringing interesting and novel games to its platform, and it has shown more confidence in its launch lineup than any platform holder going back generations. It might be foolish confidence on Intellivision’s part, and maybe only fools will buy into a system that could be an outdated piece of tech that no one wants. But for now, it looks to have something worth paying attention to and possibly lining for on launch day if it actually makes good on its promises.