In 1977, Magnavox announced an exciting new game console as the successor to the Odyssey. Calling it the Odyssey 2, it would contain 24 games, accommodate four players, and sell for under 100 dollars.
Unfortunately, with the dedicated game market deteriorating rapidly in 1977, Magnavox didn't plan to release the console until they took notice of Atari's successful Video Computer System (VCS). In 1978 Magnavox began making plans to reinvent Odyssey 2 as a programmable machine. By accepting cartridges, the potential for new games was unlimited.
However, since the future of the entire video game market was uncertain, Magnavox nearly canned this incarnation of the Odyssey 2 as well. Luckily, Odyssey inventor Ralph Baer got wind and rushed to meet with Magnavox management. Baer, who had assisted Coleco with its successful Telstar game line, was convinced video games had a future, and armed with Telstar sales figures, convinced Magnavox as well. The engineers developing the Odyssey 2, who had already hung black crepe paper on their office walls, were told to go back to work.
Magnavox was well aware of the uncertainty in the video game market, but believed personal computers held a bright future. By creating the Odyssey 2 with its own self-contained, membrane keyboard, the company was capitalizing on the public's desire for PCs. Magnavox, by developing a game machine with "the mind of a computer," promised the keyboard would be the key to educational games and computer literacy.
The Odyssey 2 is a bulky, black console with shiny silver trim. The two boxy, self-centering joysticks are responsive in eight directions, and each has a single, large fire button labeled "ACTION." The joysticks were detachable on early Odyssey 2 models, but this design was quickly dropped in favor of hardwired controls, making them difficult to repair.
Powered by a 1.7KHz Intel 8048 processor, and only 64 bytes of RAM and 1K ROM, the Odyssey 2 is lacking in graphics power. With lower resolution than the VCS, most Odyssey 2 graphics consist of characters built into its ROM, giving virtually all games a similar appearance. Still, the Odyssey 2 is better at producing text than other early consoles, and can display up to 16 moving objects with no screen flicker.
The console suffers from having only one sound channel, severely limiting its audio. In 1982, North American Philips (who took over Odyssey 2 distribution after merging with Magnavox) attempted to compensate for this by releasing The Voice; an attachment that produces speech in certain games. The Voice came with a self-contained speaker, producing vocalizations that strike an odd balance between realism and sounding computerized -- "Darth Vader on Quaaludes" was how one game magazine at the time described it.
Several Odyssey 2 games are "Multi-Mode," meaning multiple games are contained on one cartridge. Most of its "fun" games are arcade-style shooters, typical of its period. There is also a mediocre sports lineup, one licensed arcade translation (more arcade ports were released overseas), and a high proportion of educational and "utility" cartridges. Perhaps Odyssey 2's greatest innovation was the Master Strategy game series; three cartridges packed with special game boards and tokens for added complexity and depth.
Although it fared better in Europe and Brazil, Odyssey 2 never managed to achieve great popularity in the U.S. Still, a fair number of units were sold, especially in areas Magnavox had strong distribution. Odyssey 2 enjoyed a popularity surge after the release of K.C. Munchkin! in 1981 but suffered when the game was banned due to a copyright infringement suit. In late 1983, Philips discontinued the Odyssey 2 in the U.S. Plans to follow up the console with an enhanced, backward-compatible system called the Odyssey 3 Command Center were scrapped due to the collapsing video game market.
Approximately 50 Odyssey 2 cartridges made it to American store shelves. Interestingly, about half were programmed by the same man -- Magnavox engineer Ed Averett. Averett also programmed K.C. Munchkin!; reportedly it was his favorite game. ~ William Cassidy, All Game Guide