Category Archives: Handhelds

Gameboy Advance SP NES Edition – Video Game Consoles as Art

The NES special edition of the Gameboy Advance SP

The iconic design of the classic Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), aka the Famicom in the US, has been applied to everything from belt buckles to iPhone cases, such is it’s lasting appeal to the gaming public.  It was therefore only a matter of time before Nintendo applied this design to another console – the Gameboy Advance SP, as a special edition.

Only in Japan could you come up with a product called the “Gameboy Advance Special Nintendo Entertainment System Edition”

Classic NES Clamshell Design

The colours and graphics mirror the design of the original NES console and its seminal “D Pad” controller with a simple A / B button layout and “select” and “start” options.

GBA SP NES / Famicom Special Edition
GBA SP NES / Famicom Special Edition

As a handheld that had already been released in many colours and designs, there was no default configuration for the Gameboy Advance SP, but the NES colour scheme held fond memories for gamers, it was an instant hit on release.

I have several Nintendo Gameboy handhelds in my collection but this is by far my favourite design, almost begging to be picked up and played.  I can think of nothing better than firing up this console with a copy of Legend of Zelda:Links Awakening DX for an authentic retro gaming experience.

Buying A Gameboy Advance SP NES Edition – how much?

The classic NES edition remains a highly desirable version for collectors today, along with the Mario Red and Zelda Gold editions that were released towards the end of the console’s life.

There was however a large production run of this GBA SP model, and they can readily be found on auction sites for as little as £20 / $40 at the time of writing. Buyers however need to take into account the wear and tear on these items, where the paint in the clamshell is prone to crutches and general damage, as is the control panel, so make sure you pick the right one.

This is the latest in a series of pictures I have taken of my own retro gaming collection, spurred on by the need to have some quality photos to accompany my retro reviews.  I used a Nikon D60 digital SLR for these pictures, which I hope make a welcome change from stock product photos found on the internet.

Missile Invader and Sub Chase by Mattel – Video Game Consoles as Art

Between 1978 and 1980 Mattel released a popular series of handheld games that featured LED technology, using simple glowing red lights to represent the on-screen characters, pre-dating the more common LCD and VFD formats seen on later portable machines.

By necessity the Mattel handhelds had to augment the game displays to put the simple glowing LEDs in context, helping players understand what they were seeing on screen. This meant that the handhelds themselves were styled in the theme of the game, to give the player a clue as to what they were supposed to be doing.

In the case of Mattel’s Missile Invader, the console showed a view screen with a planet surface and layers which lined up with the less that represented the invading alien forces.  For Sub Chase, the screen was round and modelled on a submarine periscope, with the less representing enemy ships. Both games featured classic 2 digit, 7 piece LED numerals for the score – always allowing the player to score a maximum of 99.

The design of these Mattel handhelds is purposefully over the top relative to the simple LED displays, which only serves to enhance the game rather than distract the player – like early space invaders games with shaded screens, the console itself was part of the game, rather than a means of just presenting and controlling the action.  When each unit only had a single game mode and a single purpose, the design had to be memorable, compered to the bland and functional designs of multi-game handhold consoles today.

This photo is one of a series I am taking of my collection to make sure I have a decent store of images to accompany my retro game blog updates and reviews.   Rather than using a camera phone I have resorted to my Nikon D60 digital SLR for the maximum quality and impact.

UFO Master Blaster by Bambino: Video Game Consoles as Art

The early 80’s were the golden era for handheld electronic games, and Bambino produced some of the most beautifully designed units. UFO Master Blaster was an unremarkable (at least in terms of gameplay) space invader clone, using a similar Vacuum Florescent Display as the more common Galaxy Invader handhelds. What set the game apart was the large sculpted plastic body shell that hinted towards a sleek spaceship that would not have felt out of place in Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica.

UFO Master Blaster Handheld Game by Bambino
UFO Master Blaster Handheld Game by Bambino

All of the Bambino handhelds featured these over-the-top futuristic designs, that look as good today as they did when they were first released. Combined with the fact that theu are virtually bomb-proof, UFO Master Blaster and it’s Bambino siblings make a great subject for retro game collectors today.

I couldn’t find a picture online that really did this unit justice so I took one myself – it took a while to get the right angle that showed off the flowing lines and the luminous finish of the plastic casing on this fantastic retro handheld.

Galaxian Tabletop Game by Coleco

The holy grail of handheld games?

My retro games collection includes many of the consoles and home computers that I played (or wanted to play) with as a kid, but my favourite games are the handheld and tabletop units from the early 80’s. There’s something about the look of them, the brightly coloured plastics and graphics, as well as the weight – these were all substantial units that were built to last. The gameplay may have been rudimentary and repetitive, given the limitations of the VFD and LCD screens, but the games themselves were unique. Each one was crafted from the ground up for a specific purpose, a combination of console and software in one unit.

Galaxian Tabletop Game by Coleco
Galaxian Tabletop Game by Coleco
In the UK the most popular games were those from Grandstand and CGL, as well as units from TOMY. More rare were the exotic units from Bambino and Coleco, and as such much more difficult to get hold of. Of these rare units, its the games from Coleco have always eluded me. Of particular interest are the arcade conversions of the popular classics, including Donkey Kong, Frogger, Pac Man and Galaxian. These fantastic tabletop units replicated the shape and style of the aracde games on which they were based, as fully licensed conversions, which set them apart from all of the unlicensed clones that were produced in the early 80’s (see my review of Grandstand Munchman).

The colours and graphics of the original games were lovingly transferred to the handhelds, and passable versions of the games translated onto the colourful VFD displays, making them a target for both handheld game collectors and lovers of the original arcade units.

The Donkey Kong and Pacman games come up fairly regularly at auction, but much less so the Galaxian and Frogger units, so I was excited to find one on ebay recently – a mint Galaxian unit with a very low starting price and little interest shown by bidders. A couple of days later I was the proud owner of a Galaxian handheld for a very reasonable £36 – not much more than the cost of the original unit in 198?, and a lot less than the £100+ usually asked of these games.

Justin Whitlock's Galaxian Cabinet
Justin Whitlock’s Galaxian Cabinet (source: flickr)

After loading up with 4 heavy “C” size batteries I fired up the game, and was pleased to see both screen and speaker in working order, as were the controls, which felt like new – not bad for a machine 3 decades old.

The game itself is a reasonable representation of the arcade original, including swooping aliens breaking away from the main formation at the top of the screen to dive bomb your ship, firing missiles as they go.  There is even a 2 player option, with separate controls on the front of the cabinet, so Galaxian can be played with a friend.  The 2 player game involved player 1 shooting up the screen towards player 2 shooting down, with aliens in the middle who could be destroyed for extra points.

The real joy of Coleco’s mini Galaxian cabinet though is the unit itself, the colours and graphics, the attention to detail, it really is a minor work of video game art.  It fact it reminds me of the fantastic work being done by Justin Whitlock, who makes miniature versions of classic arcade cabinets.

Now to find the other games, just 3 more to go…

Handheld Games – The RolyRetro Collection

One of my earliest video gaming experiences was at the end of term in my primary school, where we all got to bring in a toy and lessons were given over to general playtime. Amongst all of the classic board games like Mouse Trap and Kerplunk, I spotted a small tabletop machine that had a crowd of excited boys around it. A loud bleeping noise could be heard above the chatter – it was my introduction to the world of handheld games.

The object of my desire – Astro Wars
The game was Astro Wars, and I can’t remember wanting to play with anything as much before or since. Except maybe the first time I saw a sit down Star Wars cabinet.

CGL Galaxy Invader
Galaxy Invader by CGL

I didn’t really have the cash back then to buy these handheld games, which even at the end of 1980 retailed at around £30 – with inflation around £120 in today’s money – for a dedicated console that only had one game on it. I did get a more basic handheld, a Space Invader clone called Galaxy Invader, which I played to death, but I really wanted that Astro Wars game.

Time passed and the handheld games made way for cartridge based consoles that plugged into the TV, and my interests moved onto home computers like the BBC Micro and the ZX Spectrum.

Handheld Games Aplenty

Many years later in 2004 and my 34 year old self came across an Astro Wars game on ebay, and I was instantly back in that primary school, lusting after this amazing game. I had kept up my video game habit over the years, always having at least one current generation console, but had never thought that I could go back and buy the old handheld games I could never afford as a kid. But there it was, a mint Astro Wars for a tenner. A quick bid and it was mine.

Now for anyone who has been bitten by the ebay bug, you will know how easy it is to get drawn into a bidding frenzy, and this was how my handheld collection started. I wanted some more of the Grandstand games, so I bid on titles like Scramble and Munchman, as well as the Game & Watch titles that I had lusted after as a child such as Donkey Kong. From there I diversified into tabletop games by Tomy and Hales, as well as some of the US titles by Coleco with their great multi-coloured cases.

These games would arrive at my house, and every day after work was like Christmas as I opened up the next parcel, and another memory from 30 years ago would hit me – when I first saw the game, who owned it, what was playing on the radio. It was such a buzz, my wife and kids could not understand my excitement at playing with these old handheld games.

My spare room was filling with games…

At a certain stage I had to take stock, I had so many games building up I was starting to get doubles, and with nowhere formal to display them in my house, my spare room started to resemble that of a compulsive hoarder, with boxes piled from floor to ceiling. By this point I had examples from all of the major manufacturers of the time, not complete sets but all of the most popular examples, and never having paid more than 10 to 15 quid a unit. I had been buying regularly for around 2 years, but due to work pressures and a growing family, I put my collection on hold.

A few years passed by, 3 kids later and having finally got around to renovating my house, the only room left was the spare room, so I had to face my handheld game collection, also know as “dad’s massive pile of old tat”. The spare room needed to be converted into my son’s room, but I negotiated a wall that would house my collection. A wonderful weekend was spent going through the boxes, selecting the best examples for display, and generally discovering my handheld games collection all over again.

Games from Grandstand, CGL, Tomy and Hales

When I could finally see all the games together I realised I had built a fairly comprehensive collection of 80’s handhelds, when all I had really set out to do was acquire some of the games I had missed out on as a child.

What next for my Handheld Games collection?

Now I have finally admitted that I am a collector, I have an OCD like urge to fill the gaps, although I am now looking at some of the rarer and therefore more expensive items. There are a couple of units that I would really like to add, such as the arcade cabinet shaped games from Coleco, and a rare Thomas the Tank Engine game from Grandstand, which are going to set me back a few quid. I have also avoided the temptation of building a full Game & Watch collection, as at over 60 games, and a huge amount of competition, this could cost a small fortune.

For now I am just enjoying having the games on display where I can easily get to them and play them, and with my eldest son at the same age as when I first discovered them, he is starting to understand my handheld games obsession.

My favourite handheld games
Some of my favourite handhelds – including Astro Wars

If anyone has any interesting old games looking for a new home, please contact me at

Grandstand Munchman 80’s handheld review

Anyone who has read my blog before knows I am a big fan of retro handheld games, and Grandstand made some of the best. Many of these games attempted to recreate the big arcade games of the time, which explains the proliferation of space invader clones, including the likes of Galaxy Invader and Astro Wars. The Space Invaders game format translated relatively well to the VFD handheld games, due to the relatively simplistic graphics, and that fact that the invaders and the player character didnt occupy the same space on the game screen.

When it comes to replicating a maze game, and of course we are talking about Pac Man, the graphical challenge is much greater using a VFD screen. As well as having to create a realistic looking maze, you also have a playfield that requires the player character, the enemy ghosts and also the pac pills to be represented in the maze at the same time.Grandstand managed to achieve this with the classic Munchman, delivering a great Pac Man clone that stays true to original despite the limitations of the format.

The game itself is large and round, like a dinner plate, in a bright shiny yellow, a clear reference to it’s Pac Man heritage. Rather than using a joystick, which would have stood out against the smooth surface of the game, 4 directional buttons were used to control your Munchman. The only other switches are the on / off switch, and a difficulty selector that dicates the speed of the chasing ghosts.

Mini Munchman

The gameplay is as you would expect, albeit with a smaller maze and fewer ghosts, with the objective being to clear the maze of pills before being caught by the chasing spooks. Eating a red power pill would make the ghosts flash, and allow you to eat them for bonus points. The one thing that does however stand put about the gameplay is that your Munchman always faces to the left, regardless of which direction he is travelling, and can only eat going left, resulting in some back tracking needed to eat all the pills. Helpfully there is still a short cut, so you can continuously travel right to left and reappear on the other side of the maze. To accompany the gampelay there is a great soundtrack, typically loud as all Grandstand games tended to be, with jaunty intro tunes and in game effects.

Much like the Grandstand Scramble handheld, Munchman also had a smaller LCD based sister, predictably titled Mini Munchman, which aped the yellow case if not the classic round shape.  Both games were very popular, and due to the rock solid build quaility can still be found in working order on ebay.  In fact its difficult to believe these games are 30 years old, and can still be played today.

A “must have” for any retro handheld collector.