If you haunted arcades during your middle school years, you know how special the ColecoVision is. For a time, the ColecoVision was as close as you could get to an arcade experience at home. It inspires a devoted following today, and clean units in working condition command a premium, often selling for over $100 complete in box. At the other end of the spectrum, for as little as $30, you can pick up a dirty, untested unit, which may turn out to be a delightful bargain or a relic as useful as a Cabbage Patch doll. ColecoVision units have been plentiful on eBay for some time now. Don’t rush to buy, and your patience will be rewarded with a quality unit at a good price. With a lot of diligence and a tiny bit of luck, you will be able to experience “The Arcade Quality Video Game System” as it was intended and for about $50. I’ll go over the symptoms of malfunctioning units, model variations, desirable extras, reasonable prices you can expect to pay, general buying and selling strategies, how to expand your collection, and additional resources.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG
The ColecoVision is a delicate beast, prone to more problems over time than its main rivals back in the day, the Atari 2600 and 5200 and Mattel Intellivision. Consider yourself lucky if you buy an untested unit that proves to be fully-functional. Based on my experience, the odds of this happening are about 3-to-1. The severity of issues ranges from minor to “break out the soldering iron,” so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with what can go wrong, as sellers often have no idea whether a unit is working properly or not. Here are the main issues to watch for:
- malfunctioning controllers
- no or quickly disappearing game option screen
- bad power supply
- garbled graphics
- cosmetic issues
Of all of the maladies suffered by the ColecoVision, semi-functional controllers are the most common. The joystick may register in some directions but not others, or one or both of the fire buttons may be kaput. Many units will come with the original pack-in game, Donkey Kong. You should ask the seller if Mario has any trouble going left, right, or up or down the ladders. Unfortunately, only the left fire button works for jumping, so another game is needed to test the other fire button. Cosmic Avenger is a nice, common choice because the left fire button drops a bomb while the right fire button shoots a missile. If the joystick moves in some directions but not all, usually the culprit is oxidation on the contacts. This is a pretty easy fix if you are willing to open the controller. The keypad usually works even when the joystick and fire buttons don’t, so the seller can test most of the buttons by selecting all eight game options from the blue game option screen on most Coleco releases (see Figure 1). ColecoVision controllers are generally compatible with Atari 2600 controllers, so you can play the majority of one-player games that require only a single button. Plug an Atari 2600 controller in Port 1 and a ColecoVision controller in Port 2, using the latter to select the game.
Be careful not to “hot swap” controllers while the ColecoVision is turned on. Over time, the internal components seem to have become more sensitive to electrostatic discharge, and unplugging and plugging in controllers while the unit is on can blow what is called the octal buffer IC. Just to be on the safe side, I unplug my ColecoVision before swapping controllers.
A game character (such as Mario) moving in a direction (usually left or right) without your moving the joystick at all is probably due to a bad octal buffer IC, not a bad controller. This problem is much more serious than a bad controller, as it requires the bad IC to be desoldered from the mainboard and replaced with a good IC. If the seller discloses that the game character seems to move on its own, you should pass on the unit.
A bad octal buffer IC will also cause the blue menu screen on most Coleco releases not to appear at all or to disappear very quickly. This event is usually followed by the game character moving around on its own. Ask the seller to test the keypad by selecting all eight choices from the game option screen. That way, you kill two birds with one stone by testing both the keypad and the octal buffer IC.
The U.S. ColecoVision power supply is a huge brick that plugs directly into the wall outlet, and it can sometimes go bad. If the unit is described as outputting a black screen, the power supply may not be delivering the proper voltages. Because these power supplies are heavy, they will usually cost close to $20 after shipping, so you want to be sure to get a working one right off the bat. A much better option than the U.S. ColecoVision power supply is the Canadian version. Anecdotally, this version is more reliable than the U.S. version because of stricter Canadian regulations for power supplies. A huge brick still dominates the Canadian version, but it smartly connects to the wall outlet via a standard power cord and plug. A Canadian power supply is scarce on eBay at a reasonable price (because they usually originate from Canada), so one for less than $20 shipped is a bargain.
Some ColecoVision units will display garbled graphics on the splash screen and/or the play screen. Many times, a garbled splash screen means that the cartridge has dirty contacts. Graphical oddities during gameplay may signal a bad cartridge or, more often, a unit that is not getting the power it needs. Two common causes are a failing power supply and a dirty power switch. The latter problem is non-trivial, as it usually requires the disassembly and cleaning of the power switch, tasks that may be beyond the ability of the average gamer. Unless you have competent soldering skills, you should avoid any unit that is described as having garbled graphics during gameplay.
If you care a lot about the cosmetic condition of your hardware, the ColecoVision will keep you on your toes. First of all, the case can get just plain filthy. Outside of the Atari 2600, the ColecoVision must have more louvres, grooves, and crevices to trap dirt and grime than any other major console. Plan to spend some quality time introducing your new ColecoVision to a toothbrush. Also, the silver details are just decals and not metal plates like those found on the Atari 5200. I’ve owned multiple units where the front decal “bulges” or “rolls” because metallic layer has detached from the adhesive layer. This condition is easy to spot even in below average-quality photos. The top decal doesn’t suffer from this condition as often but may be torn or otherwise damaged. Another issue is that the sliding door to the Expansion Module Interface may be stuck in the “up” position. A thin metal lever such as a butter knife will usually loosen the door enough to close. Finally, the silver disc decals on top of the joystick knobs are easily scratched and discolored, so consider good, shiny disc decals a bonus.
A CBS version of the ColecoVision was distributed outside of the U.S. This version has different printed graphics on the front silver decal: “CBS ColecoVision” instead of “ColecoVision” and the “CBS Electronics” logo instead of the Coleco logo. Also, perhaps in anticipation of the Coleco Adam, the words “Video Game / Home Computer System” replace “Video Game System.” On the top silver decal, the numerals “1” and “0” replace “On” and “Off” (see Figure 2).
Of all of the versions of the Donkey Kong cartridge, the version included with the CBS variation may be the rarest example. It says “Made in Taiwan” on the reverse. On the end label, the words “By Nintendo” follow “Donkey Kong,” and the trademark symbol (TM) is visible. The TM follows the word “Vision” instead of “Coleco” on the end and front label (see Figure 3).
In 1986, after the ColecoVision had been discontinued, Bit Corporation produced a clone of it called Dina. It is also called the Telegames Personal Arcade. Although collectors general decry the build quality of these units, they are highly collectible and command more than the original ColecoVision. Expect to pay $150 or more for a complete in box Dina or Telegames Personal Arcade, when you can find one on eBay.
The most important extra in value is an original box in good condition. The ColecoVision boxes are made out of a very thin cardboard, much thinner than the cardboard from an Atari 2600 or Mattel Intellivision box, so most examples that you find today have multiple rips and even whole pieces torn off. The end flaps of the box were glued shut at the factory, and so they have usually been damaged by eager hands wanting what was inside. Inside the box are two large pieces of styrofoam that enclose the main console, power supply, and other extras: a Donkey Kong cartridge and manual, ColecoVision manual, tuning sheet, Coleco-branded RF switch box, RF cable. It’s uncommon to find all of these items included in a lot. By themselves, they are not worth much, but together they can make the difference between a listing that sells and one that doesn’t.
For a quick guide to ColecoVision pricing, see sidebar.
- ColecoVision units are plentiful, so be patient. Unless the auction includes special or unusual items (an original box in pristine condition, rare games), do not get into a bidding war over an average unit.
- Take advantage of a Buy It Now option for select units. If a unit is in average or better cosmetic condition and is described as fully-functional (and includes the power supply and two controllers), seriously consider using Buy It Now if you can get everything for $60 or less after shipping. It’s unlikely that such a listing will last for more than a couple of hours.
- When trying to estimate the value of a mixed lot of items, you will be getting a fair deal if you use the low end of values in the sidebar and a good deal if you take 20% off the low end. Loose common cartridges in a lot are worth between $1-$2.
- When searching for units on eBay, use the search terms colecovision and “coleco vision” (with quotation marks). Sellers will use both terms to describe the unit.
- Don’t get too excited if you see an auction listing for a ColecoVision and something like “50 games.” Chances are that the majority of the games will be Atari 2600–not ColecoVision–cartridges. Check to see if Expansion Module #1 (Atari adapter) is included in the auction.
- Don’t assume that ColecoVision homebrew games (see below) offered on eBay are out of print. You may be able to buy the game directly from the publisher for far less than a seller’s asking price.
- If you’d rather eliminate all possibility of getting a malfunctioning system, you can buy a refurbished ColecoVision from a trusted source (see below).
If you are in the market to sell your fully-functional ColecoVision and peripherals, you should be able to ask for and get the low range of the prices listed in the sidebar without any problem. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Be aware of the concerns that a prospective buyer might have (see “What Can Go Wrong” above), and address these in your listing.
- As noted above include colecovision and “coleco vision” (with quotation marks) in the title of the listing.
- Be explicit that the original ColecoVision RF switchbox will not work with modern televisions. Include an F-plug adapter to save yourself any problems.
EXPANDING YOUR COLLECTION
ColecoVision is an exciting platform to collect for because of a combination of an active user community, inexpensive popular games, and new homebrew hardware and software.
Most popular Coleco-branded games are cheap and plentiful on eBay. If you do not care about having the original box and manual, you can pick up dozens of titles for as little as $1-$2 apiece, if you buy in lots. Later Coleco releases (after 1983) and third-party titles tend to be a little more expensive. If you want to collect complete in box games, expect common titles to cost you approximately $10, again, even less if you buy them in lots.
Certain games require a separate controller to play. The first alternate controller to be released was Expansion Module #2, the Driving Controller. This controller is used with games such as Turbo and Destructor. In addition to the wheel, the controller comes with a gas pedal and the pack-in game Turbo. The driving controller requires 4 “C” cell batteries (and the battery door is sometimes missing).
The Roller Controller is a trackball that taps into the main power supply and therefore doesn’t need batteries (see Figure 4). The Roller Controller should have two suction-cup on its base and a tension “clip” at the top of each controller well (to hold the original controllers firmly in place). Unlike the original controllers, untested Roller Controllers will usually have working fire buttons. However, the optical sensor for the X or Y axis for the trackball may or may not be working. If the seller is including the pack-in game Slither (a Centipede-clone), you might ask him or her to swipe the trackball diagonally during gameplay. If the character moves diagonally, both optical sensors are working. In “joysitck” mode, the Roller Controller can also be used with games not explicitly made for the trackball, and it is especially good with games like Omega Race or Atarisoft’s excellent port of Centipede.
The Super Action Controllers are premium controllers and will also work with games designed for the original ColecoVision controller. However, Super Action Controllers also suffer from some of the same problems that plague the original controllers and are more difficult to open and service to boot. You will want to be extra diligent in asking sellers whether they are fully functional before buying them. Super Action Baseball is the pack-in game with these controllers, originally coming with two cardboard overlays, manual, and score pad.
Expansion Module #3 is the Adam Computer. The Adam is a related but separate platform from the ColecoVision that has its own following of collectors and enthusiasts.
Unlike many retro platforms, the ColecoVision benefits from not one, but two readily-available multicart solutions: the ColecoVision Ultimate SD Cartridge and the ColecoVision 128-in-1 FLASH Multi-Cart. Both of these are sold by Atarimax and have received many positive reviews from users.
ColecoVision may have the most active homebrew community of all retro platforms, with multiple new titles being released each year. The best known companies publishing ColecoVision homebrews are CollectorVision, Opcode Games, and Team Pixelboy (see Figure 5). Homebrew games are made in limited quantities but have professional presentation, with commercial-quality boxes, manuals, and cartridges. Many titles sell out quickly, with prices ranging from $30-$60 per title. Out-of-print titles can fetch hundreds of dollars on eBay. Not only are these companies publishing original and ported games, but some are planning to release exciting new hardware that will expand the versatility and enjoyment of the ColecoVision.
Sellers offer modded ColecoVision units for those wanting additional functionality. Mods include composite video output, upgraded joysticks (a ball-top stick replacing the stock “mushroom”-top stick), a pause button, and the intro screen skip BIOS (allows you to bypass the 12-second delay menu on Coleco releases). A trusted Atari Age member who goes by the username “Yurkie” performs all of these mods and has earned a strong reputation for quality workmanship. Check the Marketplace forum on Atari Age for a thread listing his modding services.
ColecoVision boasts a healthy user community dedicated to its celebration and longevity. Rather than repeat an already-available comprehensive list, I’ll direct you to the first link below, which leads to a nicely-organized post listing dozens of ColecoVision resources.
The “ColecoVision and Adam information” thread on the “ColecoVision / Adam” subforum on Atari Age (see first post of thread).
Many thanks to AtariAge user “Yurkie,” who provided much knowledge for this article (as well as my treasured modded ColecoVision).