Coleco Chameleon: Can Cartridges Make a Comeback?
After what seems like decades of silence, the brand responsible for the ColecoVision and Cabbage Patch Kids has announced that they're partnering up for a new video game system—the first cartridge-based home console since the Nintendo 64—and calling it the Coleco Chameleon.
Projected for early 2016, the Coleco Chameleon will have the body of a jaguar (an Atari Jaguar, to be exact), the Coleco name, and shiny new guts designed by Retro Video Game Systems, who previously tried to crowdfund the project under their own brand. Chameleon games will be released on long-lasting solid state cartridges, a welcome throwback for fans of retro gaming systems like the Super Nintendo and the SEGA Genesis. There haven't been any games officially announced yet, but the system will feature both newly developed titles and collections of Coleco classics. It's unclear whether Retro VGS' previous licensing agreements, which were rumored to include Shovel Knight, will carry over to the Chameleon.
So, why the brand makeover? The Retro VGS console was hotly anticipated during its conceptual stages, with promises of a low price point and enticing features. As the Kickstarter launch loomed, however, they still didn't have a working prototype to show for it. Then, in August, they revealed that the price would start at $300 for "early birds" and go up to $500 for backer exclusive versions; that's on par with the pricing of today's generation of consoles. Sticker shock quickly soured the goodwill they had built up in the retro community.
"You can't please everybody," said Retro VGS' President Mike Kennedy in an interview. “We were trying to go down that road and found that we couldn't do that for a price anybody would pay."
Kennedy cancelled their ill-fated Indiegogo campaign after just one week, still $1.9 million shy of its $1.95 million goal. He attributes the Retro VGS' failure to former hardware designer John Carlsen, who pushed for bloated features that drastically inflated the cost of production. Now, the console's internal components have been redeveloped from scratch, and Retro VGS' partnership with Coleco could give the system a second chance to deliver on those original promises.
Some fans have speculated as to whether the Coleco Chameleon will be able to play ColecoVision cartridges the way Retron systems play NES and Genesis games—I think it's unlikely. It would be very costly to alter the Atari Jaguar shell (the machine tooling for which is being recycled precisely to reduce expenses), and the company would benefit more by re-releasing the games. Besides, it's the idea of playing new 8-bit and 16-bit cartridge games that sets the Chameleon apart. Digital downloads just aren't the same.
Kennedy's revised projections estimate the Coleco Chameleon's price to start at $150—a much more reasonable expectation for a niche system. They've scaled back the grand designs and dropped unnecessary features to focus on the original goal: a new cartridge system. Whether the gaming community can forgive Kennedy and his team for the Retro VGS fiasco remains to be seen, but partnering with Coleco is certainly a step in the right direction. We'll know more when they launch their revised crowdfunding campaign in the months ahead.