Head 2 Head: River Raid – 2600 vs ColecoVision vs Intellivision

Number two in my new series of face-offs between classic games on rival consoles. The aim of Head2Head is not to say which console I think is the greatest (all consoles have their own particular strengths and weaknesses), but rather to examine the same game released for rival consoles and to say in the fairest possible way which I think was the best at the time. In this episode we feature the smash hit River Raid by Activision, first released in 1982 on the Atari VCS but later to be rolled out on many platforms including the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and MSX.


All three versions of this game not only play remarkably different but look very different too. The stark difference in hardware capabilities can be seen most when comparing the 2600 and ColecoVision versions, with the CBS made machine having much higher resolution. Nevertheless, the Coleco version feels like a lazy port in many ways with lack-lustre sprites and sparse looking screens. The Intellivision version is somewhere in between the two resolution-wise but fairs much better with well designed sprites and explosions and clever collision detection whereby you can fly over land only to be destroyed if you hit a tree or other obstacle (something which the other two versions lack). The 2600 version is by far the simplest but that doesn’t make it the worst, yes the scenery is square and symmetrical but in not trying to be too clever it has a certain graphical appeal that the Coleco and Intellivision versions don’t have. All in all though, and most surprisingly, it’s a win for the Intellivision.


This one was between the Intellivision and 2600 version from the go. The ColecoVision plane has the worst sounding jet engine ever (white noise) and it only gets worse when you accelerate. The terrible sound continues with the firing and explosions sounds. The Intellivision’s sounds are actually quite good, I especially like the explosion noises but the lowly 2600 has the best sound overall with a great jet engine noise that pulsates and sounds great when accelerating along with decent explosions and firing noises. Therefore it’s a win for the 2600.


As all three machines use very different controls this was a hard thing to judge but the Atari version of River Raid is by far the hardest. The pseudo-random AI of the enemies in the Coleco and Intellivision versions are far easier to predict and in many instances they are just static and pose no threat. It also has the most thirsty jet, with gathering fuel being one of the most important aspects of the 2600 version’s gameplay. The fuel gauge hardly moves at all in the Intellivision version and the Coleco is somewhere between the two making re-fueling less important and allowing you to concentrate on shooting/avoiding enemies. The clever (for an early 80s console) collision detection on the Intellivision gives it an early advantage. You can fly over land but not through the obstacles on the land, something you cannot do with the other two versions, both having ‘solid’ canyon walls. A much harder section to judge but between the 2600 and Intellivision, the Intellivision just pips it.

Review Video

Next Head 2 Head: Qbert – 2600 vs ColecoVision vs Intellivision


Author: Ant Harper

Father, Husband, website developer, avid gamer since the mid-70s and collector of just about anything video game related. 8-Bit microcomputer and Sinclair specialist with a huge Sinclair related collection of his own. Blogs about retro gaming here but occasionally elsewhere when people ask. Bored of Mario and never much liked Zelda. Performs quirkafleegs for cold hard cash. Often found destroying ice crowns in the Lands of Midnight. Remembers: Lunar Lander. Plays: Steel Battalion, Gears of War

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