Orphaned Computers & Game Systems

Vol. I, Issue 3    December 1994

The VideoBrain

by Michael Palisano

VideoBrain Console

Back in the early days of electronic gaming, the VideoBrain Company released a machine into the market called the VideoBrain. It came out about the same time as the Odyssey 2 and Atari VCS. The VB didn't stand much of a chance.

Marketed as a home computer, the system had a 48-key, typewriter-style keyboard (which was too small for comfortable typing, a problem most notable in Word Wise and Math Tutor). The graphics were fairly primitive, somewhere between the Odyssey 2 and early 2600 games. It has four joystick ports. The joysticks are not self-centering. None of the software seems to suffer from the joysticks' lack of precise control.

I've owned a VB for a really long time, but it sat in the corner of a closet for years, since I had no software for it. Recently, the editor of OC&GS came across some software and two joysticks. We traded, and I am now the proud owner of a partial VideoBrain software library.

VideoBrain Console and Cartridge

I won't review the finance programs, because they aren't very interesting. Actually, they just don't seem worthwhile to try and learn. In my opinion, they are obsolete wastes of time. How do the games and the rest of the software stack up? Let's see:

Music Teacher (ED-101)

An edutainment cartridge. The graphics are dull. I think this cartridge is boring and repetitious.

Math Tutor (ED-02)

This is okay for a small child learning the basics. The graphics are simplistic -- the computer beeps and a message flashes on the screen (either "Correct" or "Incorrect"). This, too, is very boring.

Wordwise I & Wordwise II (ED03/4)

These separate cartridges are pretty good unscramble-the-word type games. The player has to move the letters around using keys in order to spell out the words. A clock ticks down as the player does this. After the player's turn has ended, an opponent can challenge the words. Overall, it's not bad for a word game. I found Wordwise I & II to be pretty interesting.

VideoArtist (ED05)

A fairly primitive paint program. This is very dull when used for more than two or three minutes. It shows the VB's graphics to be pretty limited. It's not a bad effort, although it looks dull by today's standards.

Lemonade Stand (ED06)

This is a strategy game, not an action game. It simulates the operation of lemonade stands. There isn't much complexity. The graphics are basically text. The game isn't hard to learn. Although not really sophisticated, Lemonade Stand is at least a nice way to kill twenty minutes. [By the way, just about every computer has this as a PD game. It was quite popular in the seventies, I guess. Ed.]

Gladiator (EN01)

VideoBrain (Gladiator Screenshot)

This game is much like Outlaw or Boot Hill. Two players face off against each another. Each is trying to hit the other with a projectile. Gladiator features over three hundred variations. There are three basic versions:

  1. Gladiator - Takes place in ancient Rome. The players shoot arrows at each other. You can select from different options, such as bouncing and/or guided arrows. Some options let a lion loose on the screen. If the lion hits a player, the player loses a life. The first player to lose nine lives loses the game.
  2. Football - This variation has the players throwing footballs at each other.<.li>
  3. Outer Space - This mode lets you do pretty much the same thing. Gladiator has a lot of variety in it. This is easily the best game on the system. The controls are pretty good. The graphics, while spartan, get the job done.

Pinball (ENO2)

This isn't quite up to the level of Gladiator. This is a very simple pinball game. The player holds two controllers (one for each flipper). For a pinball game, the effects are okay. The screen flashes different colors, and there are a lot of beeps.

From a player's point of view, Pinball is not a game to look for. The biggest flaw is the uncomfortable configuration of the controllers. Also, the game is fairly repetitive. The designers didn't do a very good job, since the ball frequently gets stuck on the same bumper for long periods. The player is forced to start over when this happens, or sit passively as the score racks up. Obviously a poorly designed simulation. Not recommended.

Tennis (ENO3)

This is a Pong rip-off with a twist. You control small graphics that actually look like tennis players. One drawback is that the game is for two players only, making it almost unplayable. Still, for a Pong rip-off, I'll concede that Tennis on the VideoBrain isn't that bad. Unfortunately, it's still Pong -- just with a little more graphics flash.

Checkers (EN04)

This is a good, if fairly simple, checkers game. The computer's strategies are pretty good, making it tough to beat at the higher levels. The graphics get the job done, but aren't anything spectacular.

Overall, I'd say that the VideoBrain was a fairly good machine for its time. It's a shame that it never had time for software to be developed that would have shown off more of its capabilities.

Read a VideoBrian article and see many more pictures at: