Back to the Past #2: VHS Game Consoles

In its heyday from the late 1970s to the early 2000s, VHS was the king of the home media formats. It was simple, convenient, and easy to use. Then the 1980s rolled around: the decade of experimentation. A decade where people thought, “maybe we can make these video cassettes into video computer games!” And so that’s what they did. Thrice.

In this edition of BttP, we’ll be taking a look at said VHS consoles and why they all fell on their asses from the very beginning.

Worlds of Wonder Action Max (1987)

From the same company that brought you Teddy Ruxpin comes this strange gray box, the Action Max. All you had to do was hook it up to your VCR and stick that red sensor on your TV for light gun detection. Now you’re ready to fight fire with firearms.

In fact, that’s all you could do. Every single game released for the AM (5 in total if you exclude “Fright Night”) was a light gun shooter. Rendered behind the sensor was a black circle that flashed rapidly whenever something shootable appeared on screen: if the target’s flashing matched up with the sensor’s flashing, it was an enemy. Out-of-sync flashing meant that the target was a good guy. When you did shoot a bad guy, the sensor would light up and add a point to the AM’s digital readout. I’m pretty sure this thing didn’t save high scores.

All in all, the AM was less video game console and more “expensive toy”. You could never truly win or lose a game because it didn’t matter what you scored. Hell, you could’ve just popped the game in a regular VCR and watch all the action without shooting anything.

Tapes released:

  • .38 Ambush Alley
  • Blue Thunder
  • Fright Night (unreleased)
  • Hydrosub: 2021
  • Sonic Fury
  • The Rescue of Pops Ghostly

View-Master Interactive Vision (1988)

Seeing how successful the Action Max turned out, View-Master decided to take a crack at VHS gaming as well. And much like its inspiration, the Interactive Vision didn’t last very long. However, it did live up to its name, because it was more interactive than the AM.

The console itself is extremely “late 1980s” in design with the controller looking like those Bop It toys with the circle misaligned. And much like the Action Max, you hooked up your IV to the VCR and the two machines communicated with each other to create the graphics.

That’s where the similarities stop.

Unlike the AM, the IV was capable of playing actual (mini)games in set time periods. The tapes were recorded with two audio tracks, so depending on how you played the games changed the audio outcome. You could also use the VCR to fast-forward and rewind to minigames you wanted to play. Games were categorized down to 4 about Sesame Street, 2 about The Muppets Show, and 1 about Disney.

Overall the IV was an edutainment system meant for young children, and it too didn’t last very long. But at least it had some semblance of games on it.

Tapes released:

  • Disney’s Cartoon Arcade
  • Let’s Learn to Play Together
  • Let’s Play School
  • Magic on Sesame Street
  • Muppet Madness
  • Muppets Studios Presents: You’re the Director
  • Oscar’s Letter Party

It’s worth noting that there was also the Control-Vision that was being developed, but the project got canned in 1987. I find it difficult to cover since there’s little information to work with, so just go look it up on Wikipedia or something.

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