Mattel Electronics

A Brief History of Mattel Electronics

I have a soft spot for defunct toy companies: Ideal, LJN, Worlds of Wonder, Coleco, Kenner, and my personal favorite, Mattel Electronics. Whether its specific products, the logos or the retro technology, Mattel Electronics is one of those extinct brands that instantly ignites nostalgia in me.

Simply put, Mattel Electronics was just what the name implies. It was a subsidiary of Mattel, founded in 1977, that focused on the creation of electronic games. They quickly became an innovator in handheld electronic games, most notably Football. Then they evolved into one of the pioneers of the home video game boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s with the introduction of the Intellivision and corresponding games and accessories.

Enjoy this classic Commercial

As the video game industry grew, so did the company. They grew rapidly. From 100 employees to 1,000 in 1982 as a response to demand for creating their own game titles. Since many of us have strong memories of the Intellivision it is easy to forget that this storied company was not in business for very long. Due to heavy competition from Atari and new consoles, like the Colecovision, and market saturation, Mattel Electronics suffered from the Great Video Game Crash recording $394 million in losses by 1983.

Those losses were too much for Mattel so it had no choice but to sell or close all of its non-toy-related subsidiaries. On January 20th of 1984, Mattel Electronics ceased to exist. Even though the company lasted less than 10 years, it wasn’t without its impact on pop culture.

In 2013, I began to collect anything with the Mattel Electronics name on it. Through a series of articles I will be highlighting different aspects of the company. Whether its specific products or product lines, there is a lot to reminiscence about Mattel Electronics.

Intellivision Comic Book Ads

I never had an Intellivision. I never even saw one. I saw these ads for Intellivision games, though. I didn’t know they were for Intellivision games, but I knew whatever games they were advertising were awesome. The He-Man one really just gets by on the strength of He-Man (which is, of course, a lot of strength), but the AD&D one is entrancing. Look at all the danger coming at that guy from every angle. I spent a lot of time looking at this ad in the 80s, wondering what would happen next and what I would do if (when) I was in his elfen shoes.

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Retro Gaming with 8-Bit Dracula

Even back at the dawn of the home gaming, some titles dared to scare.  Or, at least tried to scare.  And what better source material than the Lord of the Vampires, Count Dracula?  But, given the limitations of early technology, was Dracula all that fearsome?  Let’s explore some of the pioneering titles.

Dracula by Imagic for Intellivision

Released in 1982, Dracula offered some of the best graphics ever seen on the Intellivision system.  You play as Dracula, biting terrified citizens and drinking their blood or turning them into zombies.  You not only get to rise from a cool coffin, but you also have the ability to turn into a bat.  On the downside, you’re hounded by stake throwing policemen, wolves, and vultures.  What’s worse, when you’re biting someone, you resemble a muppet with a gaping mouth – not dissimilar to Sesame Street’s The Count.

Fun Factor:  3 stakes out of 5

Fear Factor:  1 stake out of 5

Transylvania by Penguin Software for Apple IIe

Also released in 1982, Transylvania was a text and graphics adventure that placed you in the role of an intrepid explorer trying to save a princess.  Although the vampire you’re battling in this game doesn’t introduce himself as Dracula, I think given the location and other similarities, we can safely assume it’s him.  This game has some random elements that significantly ramp up the tension.  However, you’re much more likely to be attacked by a werewolf than Dracula himself.  (This game has recently been re-introduced on the iPhone with a handy text wheel for common words – making it surprisingly playable.)

Fun Factor:  4 stakes out of 5

Fear Factor:  3 stakes out of 5

King’s Quest II by Sierra On-Line for PC

Released in 1985, the King’s Quest games offered some of the most impressive graphics of the era.  In this game, you must travel to Dracula’s castle, located in the midst of a poisonous swamp.  Once there, you must kill Dracula, but he doesn’t seem to hold a grudge since he later attends your wedding.  Without the proper tools, Dracula is impossible to beat – but if you have the right items, staking him is a snap.

Fun Factor:  5 stakes out of 5

Fear Factor:  2 stakes out of 5

In conclusion – early games offered some fun opportunities to either be or battle Count Dracula.  But, don’t look to them to scare your socks off.

M Network Games and the M Notwork Rumor

As a VCS owner who yearned for an Intellivision’s superior graphics, I was excited to see the M Network line of games arrive. This advertisement is scanned from the January 1983 issue of Electronic Games Magazine. Somehow, this ad always reminded me of the Maxell tape commercial where the guy is blown back in his chair. Anyway, what’s easy to forget these days, is that there was once a certain amount of risk purchasing a 3rd party game. Would it work or not? Hard to imagine such a scenario now. But, check out a question from the Game Doctor column from the exact same issue of Electronic Games magazine. Apparently early M Network and Coleco cartridges for the VCS wouldn’t fit in the slots of older Ataris. I wonder if my local video store that sold the cartridges would accept returns on open merchandise in those days?

George Plimpton’s Video Falconry?

A big thanks to Joystiq.com for this amusing video showing us a world where famed Intellivision spokesman, George Plimpton, alerts Colecovision players of his newest game title. At first I thought this joke might have been the work of some alternate reality traveler who managed to bring his VHS recordings with him…wait a minute…is this from our very own Claymation Werewolf by chance?