Working Through My Collection: The Mattel (Radofin) Aquarius (01)

Bill Loguidice's picture

In my ongoing quest of late to make more profound use of my collection, I broke out the Mattel (Radofin) Aquarius stuff last night. In the opening to the Aquarius chapter in my as-yet unpublished book, "Videogame and Computer Entertainment Systems: The First 15 Years," I describe the computer as follows:

The Mattel Aquarius is another “quaint” entry in the encyclopedia of home computers. The April 1985 edition of Compute! magazine declared it the computer “with one of the shortest life spans” in history, and indeed, only 20,000 units were ever sold outside of liquidation centers. Production ran for only four months, from June to October 1983. The Aquarius became an unmitigated disaster for Mattel’s Mattel Electronics division because the system was sadly obsolete even before it arrived in stores. With Mattel’s Intellivision videogame console (discussed elsewhere in this book) hosting two failed computer add-ons of its own, these events did nothing to help steel the company heading into The Great Videogame Crash.

  • “WHEN MATTEL DEMONSTRATED THIS COMPUTER AT A TRADE SHOW IN 1983, EMPLOYEES HAD TO CONCEAL ONE OF THE KEYS WITH MASKING TAPE. FOR SOME BIZARRE REASON KNOWN ONLY TO MATTEL ENGINEERS, THE AQUARIUS HAD A CONVENIENT KEY THAT INSTANTLY REBOOTED THE COMPUTER AND WIPED OUT ALL YOUR DATA.” —FROM BYTE MAGAZINE, SEPTEMBER 1995

So, yeah, not exactly inspiring tech, but the system and its accessories are certainly lookers, even if the hardware inside is lacking.

Here are some views of my Aquarius collection, spread out:

Mattel/Radofin Aquarius Collection (1 of 2)

Mattel/Radofin Aquarius Collection (2 of 2)

And with just the hardware out of the boxes:
Mattel/Radofin Aquarius Collection - Hardware out of box (1 of 2)
Mattel/Radofin Aquarius Collection - Hardware out of box (2 of 2)

Some items of note in there are some of the rarer cassettes and a newsletter that were generally only available overseas, and specifically in the UK, where a low end system like this could do a little better and last on the market a bit longer versus the less price conscious North Americans, who soon settled almost exclusively on a disk-based Commodore 64 for their needs in this area. There's also a homebrew 32K memory expander (typical sizes were previously 4K and 16K--those are mixed in there too) and the superior multi-cart, Aquaricart, which REALLY ramped up recent interest in the system.

I hope to get through this system and have some fun doing various things in the coming weeks. I'll see what I can further document/share. One of my goals is to fully catalog everything, identify some duplicates, and then sell off or trade some of the said duplicates.

Comments

Captain Rufus (not verified)
Nice Collection

I remember my cousin had one of these but I don't think he ever really used it. It might have been the first computer I ever used as the game playing bits of it were easy enough to suss out even at 9-10 years old. (Which would have made it 84-85 IIRC.) I remember spending one Thanksgiving over at his house where the adults were doing adult talk or watching football, and all my cousins were a good 5 years older than me. I just spent most of the day sitting there playing Treasure of Tarmin, Burger Time, and Snafu with possibly some Astrosmash in it.

I absolutely love the look of the machine. I'm sure using one now would lead to disappointment, but its still a great looking piece of kit.

Bill Loguidice
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The Aquarius
Captain Rufus wrote:

I absolutely love the look of the machine. I'm sure using one now would lead to disappointment, but its still a great looking piece of kit.

I think you're right on the disappointment part. Outside of heavy nostalgia or a very specific interest in vintage hardware, I can't imagine anyone particularly enjoying one of these. It had very primitive capabilities at a time (circa 1982) when even lower end computers had moved far beyond that. Most of the cartridge games are also available in superior variations on the Intellivision, a system that was available almost three years earlier, and most of the cassette games are watered down variations of arcade games that it doesn't do a particularly good job of replicating.

With that said, as with nearly every system ever, there are at least a few intriguing games or elements for the dedicated collector/enthusiast, and certainly the recent homebrew initiatives with both the multicart and the 32K memory expansion have increased its appeal, at least a little. It actually would be a relatively interesting system to code for if not for the poor keyboard, though that's not a particularly unusual deficiency for a system of this type. It's also a shame that it's RF only, with no easy way to convert it for direct composite use.

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clok1966
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I may have to dig mine out..

I may have to dig mine out.. yours looks so small from what i remeber of mine (its been in a box for at least 20 years, probebly longer.. ).. I think we went through this before. Mine is black and has red keys im sure.. and I know it has a cassette in it.. I know I picked it up on a close out at some closout store i think with an Intellvison II (which wouldnt work with it as it didnt fit in the bay where you put teh intellvison, luckily i had na original one too) cool, but even for its day it was pretty worthless compared to my "real" pcs.. which would have been the Vic -20, atari 400 and TI 994a at the time i believe. I wish i had kept collecting back then.. the best stuff was the cheapest stuff nobody wanted.. I had a soft spot for the intelvisiion.

Bill Loguidice
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Extras
clok1966 wrote:

I may have to dig mine out.. yours looks so small from what i remeber of mine (its been in a box for at least 20 years, probebly longer.. ).. I think we went through this before. Mine is black and has red keys im sure.. and I know it has a cassette in it.. I know I picked it up on a close out at some closout store i think with an Intellvison II (which wouldnt work with it as it didnt fit in the bay where you put teh intellvison, luckily i had na original one too) cool, but even for its day it was pretty worthless compared to my "real" pcs.. which would have been the Vic -20, atari 400 and TI 994a at the time i believe. I wish i had kept collecting back then.. the best stuff was the cheapest stuff nobody wanted.. I had a soft spot for the intelvisiion.

Yes, I do believe we discussed this before. Man, if you have the Keyboard Component for the Intellivision, you've been holding out on us! I've been jonesing for one of those forever. I recommend if you do have that, you sell if for the several thousands of dollars that it's worth, though I'll be happy to Paypal you $500 right now. ;-) There were only around 4,000 made and most of those were sent back and destroyed. Of the few that survive, fewer still having working tape decks.

The Aquarius doesn't work with the Intellivision. It has nothing to do with it. It's a stand alone computer. The add-on computers for the Intellivision were the limited release Keyboard Component (the big thing with the built-in cassette deck that the Intellivision sat in), then the Enhanced Computer System (ECS), which was an add-on that matched up with the Intellivision II in styling and was much simpler. Both the ECS add-on and the Aquarius computer could share the same tape deck and printer, though, but otherwise had nothing to do with each other. I have several ECS add-ons for the Intellivision.

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Bill Loguidice
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My childhood recollection of the Aquarius...

I just thought I'd share a recollection while it was still floating around in my mind... My closest group of childhood friends and I all owned different computers back then. For instance, after selling off my first computer, a Commodore Vic-20, we got a Commodore 64. That joined my Atari 2600 that I already owned, and eventually a refurbished ColecoVision from Job Lot (or was it Odd Jobs?), a type of close-out store. Job Lot/Odd Jobs had a reasonable collection of videogame stuff, mostly first and third party Atari 2600, ColecoVision and Intellivision cartridges if I recall correctly. They also had Aquarius stuff and even had an Aquarius kiosk where you could try the thing out. I have a very vivid memory of typing "Hello" (or was it "Help"?) on the thing and it displaying a response back or some such thing, which delighted me. Anyway, the bundle was fairly cheap and it only got cheaper over time. I think even the kiosk went away and it got cheaper still for the various configurations (one bundle even included that little printer too). I never did convince my parents to get me one - the ColecoVision was probably victory enough - but I really wanted one (my technology lust was strong even then). My friend Kenny, who had an Atari 800XL if I recall correctly (it *might* have been a 600XL, but I'm pretty sure it was an 800XL), did score an Aquarius, if memory serves (I'll see if I can check with him). This was in contrast to my friend Brian, who was sporting an Apple IIe (a hand-me-down from an older brother who moved to a IIc) and never did get another system of any type, and my friend Glenn, who first got I think a clearance TI-99/4a (it eventually made it down to $50, like the Vectrex - the TI-99/4a never did pick up again in value, but the Vectrex sure did!), then an Apple IIc (I don't think it was a IIe), and then eventually a Commodore 64 (for the games). I eventually added a dirt cheap Coleco Adam to my collection a year or two later through a classified ad in the paper (and boy, was the high speed tape drive on that a finicky bastard). Funny what we remember...

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clok1966
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well I will be the first to

well I will be the first to admit my memory is poor.. I sure seem to remeber the Intelvision sits in the a black/brown cradle that is part of the whole thing (it was quite large) and I had to have the intllevison to use it. I know when i bought it also picked up all the games it had.. but again, if I remeber right.. there where only a couple.. 2 or 3.. heck maybe it was only one? I seem to remeber some Roleplaying type game with a castle intro screen. I would imagein the games are more common then the Porductivity stuff.. again, maybe im wrong but i thinkthere whre a couple of those things too, but I DID NOT buy any of it. My really old consoles (bally, odysey II, 2600,etc) are all at the very bottom of my storage closet. I promise to dig it out and take a picture or two... sometime.. I am not real orginized so one box may have the hardware and anotehr may have hte books/manuals/softwre. I do know I dont have the box it came in.. I also know it was never babied.. it was huge and back in the old days I had a large plastic tub that all my old stuff went in.. cords, controlers, manuals, games.. all sliding over each other and like a 5 year olds toybox.. And as it was a "closeout" and had basicly nothing for it.. it was too good to junk, but never used after the intial days of checking it out it was alwasy at the bottom of that tub.. I have since been much more carefull, the damage is done ( thankfully just scuffs and scratchs) ... I did Keep my intelvison boxs as they held the game and overlays.. seemed the best way to store um. Nowdays its all packed much better.. but not very organized.

I guess im just not "in the know" on that stuff.. I thought it was released and then recalled by mattel.. I "think" the reason i have one is the closeout place was not the original retailer, it was kinda a hinky dink junk shop.. they only sold closeout stuff. I bought at least 10-15 peices of hardware from them in a 10-15 year span. They went out of business about 90. I know i picked up a Lisa, a couple of IBM XT clones (franklin was the name of one I think) that looked alot like giant typewriters, sometimes in wierd suitcase type holders.. Even some APPLE clones (wasnt it apple that killed the clone market?) Alot of it was open box, some even broken. I know i did have it fired up (intlvision computer thing).. and pretty sure it all worked. I know most of it i bought there was crap.. the last thing i ever bought was the first SONY indash car CD player.. First one SONY ever made.. had a door over the cd hole, it was like a rock.. I alos bought my first portabel CD player there.. it came with a wierd base thing that held 8 Double D batteries.. and ran about 3-4 CD's long.. (and it had no speakers) so you had to plug in earphones.. D-50 discman. Still hav ethe Diskman, but the car stero was upgraded and gone long ago..

Bill Loguidice
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Keyboard Component vs ECS vs Aqaurius
clok1966 wrote:

well I will be the first to admit my memory is poor.. I sure seem to remeber the Intelvision sits in the a black/brown cradle that is part of the whole thing (it was quite large) and I had to have the intllevison to use it. I know when i bought it also picked up all the games it had.. but again, if I remeber right.. there where only a couple.. 2 or 3.. heck maybe it was only one? I seem to remeber some Roleplaying type game with a castle intro screen. I would imagein the games are more common then the Porductivity stuff.. again, maybe im wrong but i thinkthere whre a couple of those things too, but I DID NOT buy any of it. My really old consoles (bally, odysey II, 2600,etc) are all at the very bottom of my storage closet. I promise to dig it out and take a picture or two... sometime.. I am not real orginized so one box may have the hardware and anotehr may have hte books/manuals/softwre. I do know I dont have the box it came in.. I also know it was never babied.. it was huge and back in the old days I had a large plastic tub that all my old stuff went in.. cords, controlers, manuals, games.. all sliding over each other and like a 5 year olds toybox.. And as it was a "closeout" and had basicly nothing for it.. it was too good to junk, but never used after the intial days of checking it out it was alwasy at the bottom of that tub.. I have since been much more carefull, the damage is done ( thankfully just scuffs and scratchs) ... I did Keep my intelvison boxs as they held the game and overlays.. seemed the best way to store um. Nowdays its all packed much better.. but not very organized.

Well, the conclusion is unavoidable then, you must have a Keyboard Component (and we did discuss this before, though I don't think we arrived at the same answer): http://www.armchairarcade.com/neo/node/3089 and http://www.armchairarcade.com/neo/node/2464 and http://armchairarcade.com/neo/node/3834 . Too awesome. I HIGHLY recommend when you have the time to dig that out and see what you have and the working state of it all. NOTHING related to the Keyboard Component is common, not the few games or the few edutainment titles or the productivity stuff. Nothing.

You can see a photo of the later and fairly common ECS here: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3653/a_history_of_gaming_platforms...

By the way, that Lisa is also rather valuable, though nowhere near the level of the Keyboard Component.

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Rowdy Rob
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Bill and Clok

Not much time to comment, but...

Bill, I think it would be awesome if you "leverage" your collection by doing videos on some of your more obscure pieces. There can't be a whole lot of videos on some of your items out there!

Clok, if you do indeed have the infamous Itellivision keyboard, that would be amazing! Dig that thing out and let us know what you find!!!!

Bill Loguidice
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Suggestions?
Rowdy Rob wrote:

Bill, I think it would be awesome if you "leverage" your collection by doing videos on some of your more obscure pieces. There can't be a whole lot of videos on some of your items out there!

I'm open to suggestions. I really don't have a great deal of time to do full formal edits like I did for the Atari Flashback 3 video or the AA TV stuff, but I would definitely like to do something, and as much as I can as quickly as I can. I don't want to do just clips with no narration, and I don't want to do just live video, so any thoughts on what you might find interesting that won't take a great deal of work but still provide value would be appreciated...

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Rowdy Rob
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TRS-80 video...
Bill Loguidice wrote:

I'm open to suggestions. I really don't have a great deal of time to do full formal edits like I did for the Atari Flashback 3 video or the AA TV stuff, but I would definitely like to do something, and as much as I can as quickly as I can. I don't want to do just clips with no narration, and I don't want to do just live video, so any thoughts on what you might find interesting that won't take a great deal of work but still provide value would be appreciated...

Bill, only if you find the inclination and time to do it, of course, but I can only imagine the treasures you have that would interest classic gamers. You've acquired a vast collection of interesting stuff.

I don't know how hard it was to do, but I found the style you used in your "TRS-80 model III" video to be quite satisfactory. No complaints; I quite enjoyed it. The part I found... I don't know what word to use... amusing? No... Strange? No... okay, I'll go with "amusing" for now. Anyhow, the part I found "amusing" was when you nonchalantly/casually displayed two TRS-80 games that, by TRS-80 standards, were astounding! Although if you bugged out and started doing cartwheels over such stuff, that really would have been strange... :-) But a TRS-80'er of the day would have been wowed by such stuff.

If you happen to pull out some old-school obscure stuff to set up for some reason, you could take advantage of the situation to point a video camera at it and make a quickie video. Just seeing some of this stuff in action would be cool. Heck, I'd even be interested in seeing your pinball machine in action, and (I assume) it's already set up and ready to go!

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