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Video Game Connection - Museum : Epoch Cassette Vision

Review Submitted by Terry Herman (marriott_guy)

Epoch, better know for their game software and toy products, was actually very involved with hardware development in Japan dating back to their first console release in June 1981 - the Epoch Cassette Vision.  This very obscure system was actually a hybrid pong/cartridge-based unit - the first of its kind in Japan.  Though financial windfalls were never achieved, the moderate success that the Cassette Vision did enjoy was due to one reason - correct price positioning.

In 1979, Bandai was the first to release the first programmable game cartridge in Japan with their release of the Super Vision 8000.  This new technology (to the Japan market) would cost you $560 USD ($1,300 in 2007 dollars).  Epoch, having been a first hand witness to this console's eventual failure, wisely decided to produce a system at an affordable price point for the general buying public.  The Cassette Vision was released for $235 USD ($275 USD in 2007 dollars), which was much more palatable to the still relatively virgin Japanese gaming market.  The big question - was this a good value?

As stated in my previous overviews, pong based consoles enjoyed a prolonged following in Japan well into the early 1980s while the video game player in the USA had been exposed to the new programmable game cartridge systems much earlier (1976).  Epoch attempted to capitalize in both of these arenas - the Cassette Vision supported both pong and programmable game cartridge technology.  To be able to adequately describe how this was possible requires a little more information on how the pong game industry evolved.

During the mid to late 1970s, technology was evolving at a very fast pace, primarily on the hardware side.  Pong games grew more complex and greater variations were able to be produced.  What had occurred in the past was that a new pong console was developed and then released under a new version/name every time a jump in technology was introduced.  Obviously, this was a costly venture for the various console manufacturers.  At the same time, the size of the new components that were used to drive the machines, and included pong games, decreased. Together, these advances in hardware lead to the development of 'pong on a chip' game cartridges.  Essentially, the manufacture could produce a base pong system with a standard set of hardware installed and a new pong game cartridge would contain not only the game itself but also a processing chip.  This chip was used to in essence 'upgrade' the base system's hardware to enable game play with the new software.  Distributing technology in the form of a game cartridge was much more cost effective, not too mention efficient, for the manufacturer while at the same time saved the consumer plenty as well by not having to upgrade their pong system all the time.  Almost all developers and manufacturers in the mid 1970s and early 1980s migrated to this method of upgrade deployment - not just Epoch

It seems that Epoch decided that this may be the most efficient way to support both pong and programmable game cartridges.  The Cassette Vision was driven by a 4-bit 6502-A processor that produced both game types (pongprogrammable) at a resolution of 256x192 in 16 colors.  This base hardware package was very outdated at the time of release in 1981.  The console does produce sounds through a connected display device (television) rather than internally, but I am not sure of the details of the output.  The end result was that pong games looked great, but the hardware could only produce below average graphics for the programmable game cartridges.

The console itself is rather odd looking, but has a classy feel about it.  The rectangular grey main casing is constructive of heavy plastics and sports a black inverted T faceplate highlighting the various button and toggle switches and controls.  The controllers are built into the console.  Two paddle-type knobs flank the respective top left and right sides of the console which control horizontal and vertical movement.  Lever-1 and Lever-2, toggle-looking controls, are utilized for horizontal movement in some games and are located on the lower right and left.  Four action buttons line the bottom front of the console (labeled PUSH-1 through PUSH-4).  Other basic push-buttons (power, etc.) are featured in the center of the console.  Though this system is not small, measuring in at 13.25" W x 10.50" L 3.25" H (33.66 cm W x 26.67 cm L x 8.26 cm H), it is surprising light (3 lbs / 1.58 kg). 

There were a total of 10 games released for this system, the most notable being Kikori No Yosaku, a game that involved the player to chop down trees.  The other games were Astro Command, Monster Mansion, Grand Champion, Monster Block, Galaxian, Big Sports 12, Elevator Panic, Baseball and Battle Vader.  Most are arcade clones of existing games.  Graphics are very basic and could be compared to the first games offered for the Bally Home Computer Library (blocky and pretty bad to be honest).

The Cassette Vision enjoyed mild success in Japan, enough to have a second version of the system released in 1983 called the Cassette Vision Jr.  This system was technically the same as the original, though much smaller in size and with detachable controllers.  Though not compatible with the first two editions, this line did produce in 1984 a fairly successful system in both Japan and Europe called the Super Cassette Vision.

Purchasing an original Cassette Vision can be a costly proposition - not recommended for the standard gamer.  Since this, as well as the Cassette Vision Jr. were only released in Japan, shipping costs need to be considered.  Expect to pay $275-$350 USD for an original CIB system, plus $65 USD for shipping from Japan to the USA.  The Cassette Vision Jr. is more widely available, but will still cost about $200 and $55 USD shipping.  Games will range between $65 to $100 USD.

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