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Coleco Chameleon Is Like a Game Console Time Machine

NEW YORK — News of Coleco's Chameleon Console caused quite the nostalgic frenzy in our offices, with its allure of plastic cartridges and throwback titles. At Toy Fair 2016, we got some hands-on time with the upcoming system, ahead of its Kickstarter launch on on Feb. 26. Early bird deals will start at $135, while the company plans an MSRP of $150.

The Chameleon looks like a clear version of the Atari Jaguar console that was discontinued in 1996, with its circular and indented top. It's powered by an ARM processor. The Coleco console supports up to four USB controllers, as well as a USB keyboard, for those old text-based games. The console's controller is a variation of the Wii U Pro controller, but glossier and with a few more buttons. 

The Coleco Chameleon at Toy Fair New York. Image: Henry T. Casey

The Coleco Chameleon at Toy Fair New York. Image: Henry T. Casey

I got to play two titles on the show floor: the brawler Venture and the multi-genre Joe Power. My unfamiliarity with each led to plenty of quick, old-fashioned 8-bit Game Over screens. Neither game provided guidance on how to play, which offered some old fashioned charm of its own. With antiquated cartridges and the absence of Internet connectivity, the Chameleon is an ode to the days before video games needed multiple-gigabyte patches for Day 1 bugs.

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For your $150, you will get a Chameleon, a USB controller and one pack-in game that's to be determined. In my time with the system, rthe esponsiveness seemed OK, but we weren't actually using the Chameleon's controller. Instead, the Coleco reps supplied me with a faux-Super Nintendo controller.

This console's release is the fruit of a partnership between Coleco and Retro Video Games Systems (Retro VGS). Retro's founder Mike Kennedy told us that the company is leaning towards Collector Vision's The Adventures of Tiny Knight as the in-box bonus.

While the finished version of the Chameleon will work with old-fashioned blow-in-the-slot game cartridges, the demo unit we saw at Toy Fair was kept behind glass casing and played games off of a circuit board sticking out of the system. Kickstarter-acquired cartridges will likely ship in a limited edition color. Kennedy suggested that Tiny Knight may come with a Knighted Silver design.

The Coleco Chameleon running the retro title Venture. Image: Henry T. Casey

The Coleco Chameleon running the retro title Venture. Image: Henry T. Casey

The Chameleon will be sold in a variety of bundles (ranging from $180 to $200) that come with sets of games tied together by genre (RPG, Platforming, Beat-'em-up), as well as Intellivision and Coleco classics. The Intellivision bundle will have 15 games, including Astro Smash, Shark Shark and Utopia. The Coleco collection will include Pepper II, Montezuma's Revenge, Miner 2049er, Choplifter and Venture. 

The games available in the early months for the Chameleon will also include titles from the Genesis and Super Nintendo. There's talk of the console one day supporting cartridge adapters so you can just plug any 32-bit-or-older title directly into the console. Regardless, at first, the Chameleon will only play official releases from the Coleco / Retro VGS partnership. 

Since the Chameleon can play games from 8-to-32-bit consoles, Kennedy told us that it gives his company a fine opportunity to find international titles that never made it to audiences in the United States. They'll have to translate and license those titles, but Kennedy described the process with glee, explaining that the RPG bundle will include a translated version of the Taiwanese title Brave Battle Saga.

Once the Chameleon goes on sale, Retro VGS looks to send out a developer relations team to license more titles, and work with current retro game developers. Until then, the Kickstarter will be your only hope.