On October 22, 2018, Intellivision unveiled the Amico, a family-friendly retro console. The pitch: The games would be simple to play and cost no more than $8. The console itself would retail at about $180 with all games being exclusive to the console. In that initial trailer, the Amico was given a release date of October 10, 2020. A year and three delays later, a lot has changed for the Amico.
Today in 2021, the console now is available for pre-order for $250-$300, the games can cost as much as $20 and they won’t all be exclusives. It would be easier to excuse these changes if the end product seemed exciting enough. But the console’s projected specs, Intellivision’s shady investment pitches, and the poor behavior of CEO Tommy Tallarico make it hard to get excited about the Amico.
Odds are good that you’ve never really heard about the Amico at all, though. Here’s what you should know.
Before diving into the nitty-gritty of the console, it’s worth knowing about Tommy Tallarico, who has become the face of the Amico. Tallarico purchased the rights to the original Intellivision brand name and all of its classic games in 2018. While you might recognize his name from old episodes of Judgement Day or Electric Playground, Tallarico is primarily known as the creator of a concert series known as Video Games Live. He also composed music for numerous games over the last few decades and created the famous Roblox “oof” noise, though not for Roblox.
He’s also quick to speak his mind, which often leads to issues. Tommy Tallarico posts on the Atari Age forums, frequently. He replies to folks around a dozen times a day, sometimes more. Many of these posts are what you would expect, but if you dig around more, you’ll find some truly bizarre posts. Tommy has insulted critics, reporters, and YouTubers who are critical of the Amico, even calling some of these people “gaming racists” and “mentally unstable.” He also refers to critics as idiots, morons and has told them to return to their “safe spaces” when they won’t challenge him in an interview. Tallarico routinely participates in thread wars, arguing with people for hours or days.
A great example of Tallarico’s odd behavior as CEO came after the Ars Technica report about the publicly archived Amico dev portal and all the specs and info it revealed. Tallarico, in response to the report, insulted the author of the article and threatened legal action in an odd (and now deleted) series of tweets that were saved by Game History Org founder, Frank Cifaldi. It was also dragged up during all this that Tommy follows many right-wing, white supremacists on Twitter.
Tallarico’s behavior may be catching up with him and Intellivision Entertainment. As pointed out in that Ars Technica report, an investor video recorded in March 2021 saw Tallarico boasting about hiring the co-founder of Xbox, J. Allard. However, Allard had already left the company after a short run by this point. This is illegal and as a result, the SEC sent a letter to Intellivision asking for clarification on when Allard had left. Intellivision has since removed J. Allard’s name and picture from its investment site.
Kotaku reached out to Intellivision before publication but didn’t hear back.
Back in 1979, two years after the release of the Atari 2600, Mattel released its own home video game console named the Intellivision. The console was moderately successful, but eventually, Mattel left the game industry after the infamous video game crash of 1983. After that, the rights to Intellivision and its games bounced around a bit during the 90s and 2000s. Then the rights eventually ended up in Tommy Tallarico’s hands in 2018.
“We want simplicity,” he told VentureBeat in an interview at the time, “There is no system where young and old and non-gamers can play together in the home. People play on mobile, but it is still a very solitary experience.”
A few months later, in October, Intellivision Entertainment (a new company created by Tallarico) showed off the hardware. The Amico would feature a mix of remade classic and new, exclusive games. All games would be 2D and the controller, which features a touchscreen and motion controls, was designed to be easy to use. From day one, the people making the Amcio have promised a simple console that moms will be able to trust—and with some old-school legacy to boot.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because this isn’t the first time we’ve seen an old video game company get resurrected and turned into a brand that can help ship a new console. Atari did this with the VCS, releasing a PC-in-a-box console in 2020. Before that, Coleco tried (and failed) at this with the Chameleon in 2016, a venture resulting in a transparent prototype with a mostly empty plastic case. There was even a non-functional capture card stuck inside it.
Compared to those past attempts at making a new “retro console,” the Amico falls somewhere in between.
After showing off the Amico in 2018, Intellivision didn’t share too much more until a new trailer was released in August for Gamescom 2019. Here, for the first time, folks would get to see multiple Amico games, including Shark! Shark! and an updated take on Breakout developed by Choice Provisions, the studio behind the Bit.Trip series. The games looked… fine, though some (myself included) noticed they looked a lot like what you might find on mobile devices and tablets.
Over the next few months, Intellivision showed off more gameplay footage of the same lot of games. Some of these titles, like the new Breakout, looked great! Others looked decidedly less great, with some appearing to be nothing more than rough prototypes or low-budget mobile ports. Then on August 5, the company released an hour-long video featuring “new” games and things got a bit confusing.
Evil Kneivel popped up in Amico’s big August 5 showcase. The 2D game features motorcycle platforming, similar to what you might find in the Trials series. It looks nice, with some colorful visuals and bold UI elements. Turns out, Evil Kneivel was released back in 2015 for iOS and Android. It would later be revealed that this port would include a new multiplayer mode, but again, this is still mostly a six-year-old phone game.
This is far from the only mobile port to be showcased on the Amico. A port of a mobile Carebears kart racer has also been announced for the console. But even worse than free mobile games getting ported to be sold for money are the Sesame Street edutainment games, meant for kids to learn new stuff. However, the three games that make up the collection are not new. At one point, they were free flash games that originated on the Sesame Street official website. In fact, you can play them right now via this link. It seems very unlikely that these games will feature any new content or modes, so how these are exclusive to the Amico is currently unknown.
You’d think a console due out nearly a year ago would have some completed games, or at least something different to show after that much time has passed. But new videos released by Intellivision continue to reuse old footage of games that were first shown off back in 2019. A “new” trailer released in 2021 seemed to be mostly the same trailer that was released in 2019, with only a few minor edits. (Oddly enough, the promise of every Amico game being “exclusive” remains in the new version.)
In March 2021, Intellivision started taking pre-orders, except here, the price tag went up from $180 to $250-300, depending on which edition of the console you wanted. While the console does come with two controllers and six games, it’s still fairly steep, especially when compared to modern-day consoles. And looking at the games that are planned for this console—including mobile ports and even an edutainment Flash game—it’s hard to see how anybody outside of super-fans of Intellivision would be tempted to buy this machine, let alone pre-order it for $100.
But the price becomes even wilder when you learn what’s inside the console.
According to a report from Ars Technica published in June 2021, the Amico is basically as powerful as a $100 Android phone released back in 2016. In Intellivision’s own words, before listing the nitty-gritty specs and details for people making content for the console, Ars Technica found this message for devs:
“We’ve found the ZTE ZMax Pro Z981 (Snapdragon 617, Adreno 405) is a good benchmark test and runs just a little slower than the Amico hardware.”
The ZTE ZMax Pro was released back in 2016 at a price point of $100 unlocked. According to Intellivision, the kind of performance devs can expect out of the Amico is about on par with a phone released five years ago.
It gets worse.
The report from Sam Machkovech further explains how limited in power the Amico’s controllers might be. Again, from that publicly available dev portal, the controller’s capacitive touchscreen will measure 3.2 inches diagonally with a pixel resolution of 320 x 240 pixels and a refresh rate of “15-30+ fps.” Even more worrying is that, while these controllers are built with a second screen, everything designed for the controller’s screen must not exceed 1 MB. That includes all sounds, images, and code. Based on these limits, expect mostly static and simple menus, with little in the way of animation or additional gameplay.
Amico does have plans to offer an app for phones that will let people play with their friends using a mix of Amico controllers and smartphones, but we don’t know when this app will be available for customers. The Ars Technica report also estimated a rough total cost of the chips and parts that make up the Amico. In total, the innards of the machine cost Intellivision around $50.
Also found in that dev portal is a series of design rules, presumably created by Tommy Tallarico and labeled as the “Ten Commandments of Game Design.” Here, Tallarico lays out what makes a good Intellivision game, including rules such as “Every game must be 2D or 2.5D (3D models OK but no free-roaming 3D worlds.)” and “No in-game purchasing or DLC.” That last one might sound like a nice thing to many, but considering digital Amico games can only be sold for $10 or less, it might make it hard for devs to turn a profit.
What will definitely make it harder to actually make money on this platform is that Intellivision takes a huge cut of all profits. In a video from March 2021, Tallarico told investors that he estimates the company will take around 50% of all third-party game sales revenue. Compare that to the already iffy 30-15% Apple takes from game devs and Intellivision looks downright greedy.
When asked about this number in a July 2021 interview with NintendoLife, Tallarico said all deals would vary, but oddly didn’t actually deny the percentage or offer any other numbers.
After all this, it’s not surprising that the Amico has suffered three delays, with the most recent happening in August. And while covid-19 has certainly played a factor in the delays, it seems apparent that other factors are at work here too. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a scam, Tallarico’s leadership has created a shitty situation for anyone who has preordered the system, if not developers interested in making something for the hardware.
It was a tall order from the get-go, of course. While Nintendo in part started the trend of retro-inspired consoles with the mega-popular Mini NES back in 2016, others haven’t found nearly as much success. Past attempts at retro consoles and cheap Android-powered machines, like the Ouya, have consistently failed to make a splash once they reach retail shelves and consumers. Even Valve’s attempt at a pseudo-console was a big flop. And considering that family-friendly games are available on Steam, Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox, I’m just not sure who will be willing to fork over $250+ for the Amico.
The Amico is a mess, in other words. And every time it gets delayed, the hardware inside the Amico becomes more and more outdated compared to modern consoles and phones. While it’s possible that the console will turn it around by 2022, the real question is, will anyone still care?