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When is a 'Combat' not a 'Combat'
by Lee K. Seitz

Once your classic cartridge collection reaches a certain size, you'll discover you're finding few new cartridges at thrift stores. In order to "get their fix," so to speak, many collectors start collecting label variations to keep their number of "finds" up. "Label variations" simply means different types of labels on the same game. For Colecovision cartridges, this might mean the difference between the labels saying the cart is "for Colecovision" and saying it's "for Colecovision & ADAM." For Intellivision, it's probably the difference between the colorful Mattel labels and the black and white Intellivision, Inc. labels, which also featured slight name changes to avoid licensing fees (e.g. "Football" instead of "NFL Football"). For the Atari 2600, it's more complicated.

Because the 2600 (or VCS) was sold for over a decade, Atari went through four major label styles. The original style was all text on a black background. Then they started replacing much of the text with a colorful picture like the one on the box. Next, Atari went with a silver background. Finally, at the end of the console's life, they used a rust background. (Most collectors call it red; some call it brown. I think "rust" is more accurate than either of those.) But, in all but a handful of cases (see table below), the game names never changed. So when is a Combat cartridge not a Combat cartridge? When it's a Sears Tele-Games Tank Plus cartridge.

When the Atari 2600 debuted, Sears was one of the strongest retail chains in the United States. If you wanted to sell your product at Sears, however, it had to have a Sears brand on it. Thus, when Atari signed an agreement with Sears to have them sell the 2600, it became the Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade. (Tele-Games was the "brand name" for video games at Sears. It has no relation, as far as I know, to the current Telegames company - - which happens to sell video games.)

Several of the games received new names as well. It's uncertain exactly why Sears did this. Perhaps it was to confuse shoppers and have them buy what they thought was a new game when it was actually one they already had. To make things more confusing, they named some cartridges after dedicated consoles they had previously released and just added a Roman numeral to the end to differentiate them. The most obvious example is Breakaway IV (a.k.a. Breakout).

Not all games were renamed, of course. Home versions of arcade games Atari had to secure licenses for weren't (e.g. Space Invaders, Pac-Man), nor were those based on other licensed properties (e.g. Superman). There were also three games that Atari created but only sold through Sears (see below table).

It is interesting to note that while Sears similarly renamed Mattel's Intellivision as the Super Video Arcade, they didn't rename any of Mattel's games. The boxes and instructions were different, but the cartridges and overlays are generally indistinguishable from Mattel's normal releases when found loose.

As a collector, you might ask whether the Sears version of games and consoles are rarer and therefore more desirable. In general, all Sears releases are slightly rarer than their Atari or Mattel counterparts. Whether they're more desirable, however, depends on the collector you're dealing with. Some collectors who don't care about most cartridge label variations do collect Sears labels. Others don't care at all, except for the "Sears exclusive" games.

If you do decide to start collecting label variations and start examining your duplicate games very closely, you might be amazed at just how many differences you'll find. There are some definite sub-types within the main Atari label variations described earlier. And even within those sub-types, you can find some very minute changes on labels that appear identical at first glance. And that goes for third party companies, too.

John Earney began compiling a list of 2600 label variations, which can be found on his home page.  It hasn't been updated in a few years, however. I guess even John got overwhelmed by all the small changes one can find. So, if you decide to collect label variations, set a limit on what you'll keep. Otherwise you'll probably quickly find your collection (rather than your extras) overflowing with Missile Commands, Space Invaders, and maybe even Combat, regardless of the name on the label.

Sears Name Atari Name
Arcade Golf Miniature Golf
Arcade Pinball Video Pinball
Baseball Home Run
Breakaway IV Breakout
Cannon Man Human Cannonball
Capture Flag Capture
Chase Surround
Checkers Video Checkers
Circus Circus Atari
Code Breaker Codebreaker
Dare Diver Sky Diver
Dodger Cars Dodge 'Em
Gunslinger Outlaw
Math Fun With Numbers
Maze Slot Racers
Maze Mania Maze Craze
Memory Match Hunt & Score
Outer Space Star Ship
Poker Plus Casino
Pong Sports Video Olympics
Race Indy 500
Slots Slot Machine
Soccer ChampionshipSoccer
or Pele's Soccer
Space Combat Space War
Speedway II Street Racer
Spelling Hangman
(Sears exclusive)
Stellar Track
(Sears exclusive)
Submarine Commander (Sears exclusive)  
Tank Plus Combat
Target Fun Air-Sea Battle


Atari Name a.k.a.
Atari Video Cube Rubik's Cube
Basic Math Fun with Numbers
Championship Soccer Pele's Soccer
(A Game of) Concentration Hunt & Score
Fun with Numbers Basic Math
Hunt & Score (A Game of) Concentration
Pele's Soccer Championship Soccer
Rubik's Cube Atari Video Cube

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