Retro Tech: ComputerSmarts

Hey, come on everybody! The journey has just begun…

The world of VCR-based gaming consoles was a hit-and-miss venture. The idea of interacting with your VCR sounded great on paper, and certainly looked good in marketing, but if the Action Max taught us anything, VCR-based gaming was at best, a short-lived venture.

Several systems arrived on the market around the same time as Action Max (and some came after), all with slightly more playability than the Action Max offered. These were more of the educational sort, and utilized videocassettes to provide that educational feel. Two of these systems came from the same company, offering one system to younger learners, with a slightly more advanced system for older children. I covered one of these in a Throwback Thursday article in May 2019 (Related: If Your Kid Likes #ThrowbackThursday, They Just Might Be Ready for Today‚Äôs Product!), so naturally, as I’ve found more information about the “sequel” console for slightly older children, I have to cover that one as well!

Not that there’s much to go on, but I found something!

From the short-lived toy venture that brought you a whole new way to get your kid interested in learning (even through video games), comes the “console” that gets your kid interested in learning through video games…on a “COMPUTER!”

Hey come on everybody…let me show you some ComputerSmarts!

“The Journey Has Just Begun!”

…right after this HBO Feature Presentation-style logo!

Man, that’s cool…in an incredibly 1980s way!

ComputerSmarts was created and manufactured by Connor Toy Corporation, a division of Wisconsin-based Connor Forest Industries. Connor Toy Corporation was created to expand Connor Forest Industries into the toy business, and was established in 1985. The focus of this group was to break into the video game market, but with toys promoting “edutainment.” The lucrative video market, coupled with the ever-growing home video market, had Connor Toy creating a hybrid system that could allow the interactivity of a video game with the use of a VCR. As children were comfortable operating their home VCRs, their first venture, VideoSmarts, could be set up with relative ease by parents, and used by children minimal instruction. This system was designed for ages three and up, and was released in 1986. Seeing an obvious market for slightly older children, Connor Toy developed and released ComputerSmarts in 1987.

ComputerSmarts was meant for children ages 6-12, and also utilized videocassettes for its lessons (connected to the VCR via the audio input, which delivered the signal for the video’s interactivity to the ComputerSmarts console). ComputerSmarts also had onboarded games, as well as a cartridge slot that allowed for expanded standalone play, ehancing the playability, as well as the portability.

Upload via Elijah Hechtman

The original concept (as shown at the end of this VideoSmarts videocassette) had a flip-up screen…

…but the final version had the screen built into the computer keyboard.

Image: The Retro Review (Nowhere Gaming) https://nowheregaming.wixsite.com/

Videos for ComputerSmarts had a list of what children would learn from the video printed on the cassette packaging, and videos ran for 40-50 minutes (as opposed to VideoSmarts’ 30 minute offerings). Two puppet characters, Beek and Rains, along with their talking computer screen DJ, hosted the videos and guided young learners through the lessons (which included live action actors as part of the video’s plots), while travelling around in their clubhouse spaceship.

Videos were divided up into series – Word Mysteries and Math Skills, and the QWERTY keyboard “console” included the Video Guided Tour, which introduced ComputerSmarts, how to set it up, and jumped right into the excitement of learning!

The video even gave you scoring information and ranking based on your final score!

Super Ace = #LifeGoals

ComputerSmarts retailed for $89.99, but there isn’t any information on the costs of videocassettes and cartridges, or how many of each were released. Based on the VideoSmarts videocassettes costing between $12-$17, I’d venture to guess the ComputerSmarts videos were around the same price. Even less information exists about the cartridges, aside from their use for standalone play on the “console.”

The Journey Ended Just As Quickly As It Began

While VideoSmarts seemed to be well-received (and manufactured until 1990), ComputerSmarts was part of a market that was saturated by toy computers that cost less and offered more for children, and sales did not cover operating costs. As a result, the console was discontinued by 1988, and on May 6, 1988, less than three years after Connor Toy Corporation and Connor Electronics were established, they closed.

Both the VideoSmarts and ComputerSmarts names and technology were sold to VTech, and while VideoSmarts continued to be sold until 1990 with their branding on it, ComputerSmarts (and the ultra-rare VideoPhone, a third “console” that utilized the technology of its sister consoles) was discontinued, and all planned “software” for it cancelled once it was discontinued by Connor.

Did Allison Play With ComputerSmarts?

Unlike the Electronic Talk ‘N Play Learning System, which I had very brief interaction with, I actually had never heard of ComputerSmarts, until I was doing research for VideoSmarts last year. As for VideoSmarts, while I never played with it, I do remember seeing commercials for it, and remember the “console” and its four big, colorful buttons and the green and red caterpillars.

Based on what I’ve seen of ComputerSmarts, the concept is interesting (and seemingly works better) than the videocassette-based interactive “consoles” from around the same time. But even knowing that (or at least, judging by whatI’ve gathered), those other consoles didn’t really work out either.

And while these weren’t expensive consoles, they arrived on the market at a time when home video game consoles Sega Master System and Nintendo Entertainment System were on the rise. Those systems did have edutainment-type games, and their playability was more than something on a videocassette. If those systems weren’t available, too expensive for younger audiences, or weren’t successful, I could see something like ComputerSmarts succeeding (moderately, which is more than it did in 1987) in what was actually a heavily saturated home media/video game market.

Seriously, the title screen alone should have pushed this one into “console” greatness!

Finding ComputerSmarts

Image: The Retro Review (Nowhere Gaming) https://nowheregaming.wixsite.com/

While it is easy – rather easier – to find VideoSmarts circulating the secondhand market, have fun finding ComputerSmarts. I searched eBay, and of course, Google, and I came up with nothing.

I’m lucky I even got the information I found, and I felt like that was asking for too much.

At the end of the day, ComputerSmarts, and the aforementioned – briefly, because there’s nothing about it online – VideoPhone, may be among the rarest of rare video game “consoles.”

Exploring ComputerSmarts…With Videos!

So while there was supposed to be a decent selection of games, both videocassette and cartridge-based, much of it went unreleased. However, YouTube has the available games, as well as the VideoSmarts collection organized in a nice playlist.

And Now, You!

Do you remember having, playing, or actually knowing that ComputerSmarts (or VideoSmarts) existed? I’d love to hear your stories (if you have them) of your interaction with Beek, Rains, or Teaching Teddy over on VideoSmarts? Do you feel like this type of “console” had a chance in the video game market at the time, or was it just too oversaturated?

I found another videocassette-based console that came out after ComputerSmarts (besides the most famous – or infamous – Action Max) that has an interesting concept, and a tie-in to a well-known toy that brings out all kinds of nostalgic feels. Again, this was something I had never heard of in my childhood, but found pretty much by accident, in an Oddity Archive episode.

That’s a story for another article. Because, why not?

Until then (actually, until the next article), have a great day!

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