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Coleco severs ties with alleged 'duct-taped' console maker

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RetroVGS' Facebook and official website have also gone dark

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The owner of the Coleco brand has severed its relationship with a project to make a cartridge-based, throwback console under that name, the company confirmed today. The split culminates several recent setbacks to the Coleco Chamelon, including the resignation of one of the project members and suggestions that hardware protoypes shown at an expo last month were illegitimate.

In an update posted on Facebook, Coleco's ownership noted that it had separated from the retro gaming system's maker, RetroVGS. "Retro VGS has decided that the work that they have created is not sufficient to demonstrate at this time," the post stated. "Consequently, we can no longer proceed with the project and the Chameleon project will be terminated."

The Coleco brand, well known for the ColecoVision console and ADAM computer system of the early 1980s, is now owned by River West Brands of Chicago.

"It just wasn't what we had thought it would be," Mark Thomann, River West's CEO and Coleco's owner, told Polygon. "We thought it would be an originally developed console, and the indications were that it just wasn't."

Thomann said engineers contacted by a River West representative examined the console "and we weren't satisfied with it."

But, "We're going to continue looking for someone who can develop a unique, original console that is the real deal" Thomann said.

Following Toy Fair 2016 in New York last month, allegations surfaced, from expo goers and others, that the prototype shown was actually Super Nintendo hardware inside an Atari Jaguar chassis. The controversy following Toy Fair 2016 was enough to cause David Giltinan, the managing editor of RetroVGS-owned Retro Magazine, to quit over the weekend, saying he was unable to continue defending the project.

RetroVGS had sought to manufacture a system that would play 8-, 16- and 32-bit style games, both new and old, from cartridges. Its owner, Mike Kennedy acquired the Jaguar manufacturing template and toolkit last year and sought to use it in a November crowdfunding venture that went nowhere. He later reached a tentative agreement with River West to create the Coleco Chameleon.

RetroVGS intended to fund the Chameleon's manufacture through pre-orders sold on Kickstarter. Those who saw the Chameleon at Toy Fair claimed that it was a Super Nintendo Jr. system "duct-taped into a Jaguar."

RetroVGS countered with pictures on Facebook of what it said was the Chameleon system, but these did not quell fans' concerns. The company's Facebook page and official website have since been taken offline altogether.

Thomann said he was alerted to the concerns about the Chameleon last week, and he responded on Coleco's Facebook page, telling fans he would begin an investigation into RetroVGS' work. Four days later, Giltinan left the company.

"Coleco's investigation wasn't directly involved with me leaving, but it is something that —€” at this time —€” I do not see yielding positive results," he told Polygon.

Thomann later told Polygon that he had not yet signed an agreement with RetroVGS to license the Chameleon console.

"Our intention is genuine to come out with something unique under the Coleco brand. If that's not happening with this group, we'll be doing it with someone else," he said earlier today. "Sometimes when you have something like this happen, maybe there's a group out there that can do it, and help us introduce a better product.

"We have great relationships with other companies, and we will produce new products for Coleco fans," he said.