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Useful Notes / ColecoVision

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Also available in a huge white edition. note 

"Oh-ho-ho, ColecoVision! Yeah! This is gonna be a fun afternoon!"
Peter Griffin after discovering a ColecoVision in his belly button, Family Guy, "I Take Thee Quagmire"

The ColecoVision was one of the more powerful systems of its era when Coleco Toys introduced it in late 1982. In fact, it was actually much closer to the Nintendo Entertainment System in terms of overall power than any of its competitors in the pre-1983 Crash video game market. It was expandable, had a fast CPU and a Texas Instruments GPU with its own video memory, and had a decent assortment of attachments (at least on paper). It's probably more famous now for being the machine that brought the first truly faithful port of Donkey Kong to the home user, and for getting sued by Atari over the "Expansion Module", basically an Atari 2600 in a box that could attach to a port on the console. The company also released a standalone 2600 clone, the Gemini.

Like the Intellivision, the ColecoVision used a controller that combined a joystick with a 12-key keypad (which allowed games to include overlays to show how the buttons would be used). Unlike the Intellivision however, the controllers were detachable and could be replaced by third-party 8-pin alternatives such as the Atari 2600 controller. A special "Super Action Joystick" would be released, with some games that could only exclusively use them (such as Rocky Super Action Boxing and Super Action Baseball), and a driving wheel was released as well.

The ColecoVision did well initially, and Coleco decided to take things further by introducing the ADAM, a full PC based on the ColecoVision's motherboard (by way of a daughterboard in a plastic case). ADAM was sold as a complete word-processing system, a big deal in 1983, and as such it shipped with a built-in text editor (which ran on startup), a full-size, full-travel keyboard, a daisy-wheel printer (which the power cord ran through), and a "datapack" drive that used a proprietary, modified cassette tape. It also had a serial peripheral bus called ADAMNET; despite appearing 3 years before Apple's ADB system, its potential was never fully explored and only the keyboard and printer ever used it.

The ADAM could be obtained by itself (in which case it had a Coleco cartridge port), or, at least on paper, as an attachment to an existing ColecoVision. The ADAM was rushed to meet the Christmas 1983 shopping season (which it failed to do—arriving closer to January 1984), and its launch was fraught with problems. The power supply had a high failure rate, and the tape drives were poorly shielded and would erase the tape if not treated with care. note 

Most of the extra software and peripherals Coleco promised for the ADAM never surfaced. However, third-party support for the ADAM was surprisingly large. A new external power supply meant the noisy, slow daisy-wheel printer could be replaced. Floppy drives could be added, and faster modems could be used.

The ColecoVision had very few exclusive games, partly due to lasting only two years in production, partly because Coleco continued to release games for the 2600 and the Intellivision as well as for their own console. (Atari, for their part, released a few games for the ColecoVision under the Atarisoft label.) Most of its game library consisted of ports of arcade games, though these conversions usually turned out better than the versions produced for competing consoles; as noted, its version of Donkey Kong was nearly flawless and came bundled with the system. It was such a good port, in fact, that Nintendo themselves took great influence from the Colecovision when designing The Nintendo Entertainment System.

Both the ColecoVision and the Coleco ADAM were quickly discontinued after The Great Video Game Crash of 1983 killed the market. Coleco itself quickly followed them; while they had a huge hit with the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls in 1984, they eventually lost the license and sold themselves to Hasbro in 1989.

While not as widely known as the Atari 2600 in modern pop culture, the ColecoVision was still an important part of video game history in several respects. The system made a huge impression on Nintendo, which used it as a baseline when designing their Famicom. Additionally, the ColecoVision's port of Donkey Kong was used to demonstrate the capabilities of the Coleco ADAM at the 1983 Summer Consumer Electronics Show. Atari took this as a violation of their exclusive rights to release Donkey Kong on home computers, and killed a tentative deal with Nintendo to distribute the NES in Western markets. The Great Video Game Crash Of 1983 would intervene before Atari and Nintendo could reconcile, leaving Nintendo to distribute their system on their own. The console was also quite influential on Sega. Sega had originally struck a deal to become the Japanese distributor of the ColecoVision. Those plans never came to fruition, but Sega would use the ColecoVision's technology as the basis for their first home console, the SG-1000.

In 2014, At Games released the ColecoVision Flashback, a pretty faithful recreation of the original model system with 60 built-in games that run under emulation. Unfortunately, due to licensing issues many of the arcade ports that made the Colecovision so popular (like Donkey Kong) were not included. At Games made up for this by including several popular homebrew games.



  • The main processor was the venerable (and, in 1983, still quite formidable) Zilog Z80, running at 4 MHz. The ADAM added several Motorola 6801s for running the keyboard, printer and tape drives.
  • Both systems used the same GPU, the TMS9918, which was also used in MSX consoles and (in slightly improved forms) in the Sega Master System and Sega Genesis.
    • Sega's SG-1000, the ancestor of both the Master System and Genesis, was virtually identical to the ColecoVision, to the extent that at least one clone console, namely the Dina 2-in-1, could play both ColecoVision and SG-1000 cartridges. The Dina was also distributed in the States as the Telegames Personal Arcade, though as the numeric keypad on it was built into the console itself (for some strange reason, not to mention that it would be clunky to reach to the console just to press a certain ColecoVision action button), a number of games that require two numeric controllers will not work on the Dina.


  • The main CPU was somewhat starved of RAM—only 1K unless you had ADAM, but both systems had a very generous 16K of dedicated VRAM, making them two of the most powerful consoles of their time.
  • ADAM itself had a full complement of 64K, as well as two different operating systems in ROM. (Or one OS and a word processor.)


  • Used a TI three-channel programmable sound generator, the same as in TI's own machines and the IBM PCjr, and similar in capabilities to the GI/Microchip AY-3-89xx used by the Intellivision and MSX.


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