Tag Archives: Donkey Kong

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 alex@retrogamesnow.co.uk

Killer Gorilla for the BBC Micro

Not a Donkey Kong Clone, Honest

The BBC Micro was touted as an educational tool, if you believe Fred Harris (sorry kids). Most of us growing up in the 80’s will have used one at school, either doing some rudimentary programming, or playing with maths tools such as “Turtle”.

Killer Gorilla BBC Micro
Killer Gorilla Screenshot on the BBC Micro

It also happened to have a great specification for replicating arcade games due to the colourful high resolution screen and multi-channel sound. Various publishers in the early days of the BBC chose to go down this route, with faithful renditions of Mr Do! (Mr Ee), Frogger (Hopper), Space Panic (Space Monsters) and Donkey Kong which, you guessed it, was renamed Killer Gorilla.

Killer Gorilla Game Advertisement

Killer Gorilla Gameplay on the BBC Micro

For some reason, in the Program Power (later Micro Power) version, they felt the need to replace Mario with a stick man. Quite how they felt this would fool Nintendo I don’t know, as in every other way this game was a carbon copy of the arcade game. The levels were recreated perfectly, and even had the “How high can you try?” message between stages.

I won’t dwell too long on the gameplay as we all know Donkey Kong, but this game had it all, as your not-Mario jumped and hammered his way across various levels to rescue his girlfriend. The gameplay was true to the arcade original, including the need to time your jumps to perfection to avoid the many different obstacles put between you and the big monkey. The sound was also pretty spot on, as well as the inter-stage screens showing your progress up the skyscraper.

I spent a lot of time on this as a teenager when I was supposedly “doing homework” on my BBC Micro. It was streets ahead of its contemporaries in replicating arcade games, which wasn’t lost on people not able to afford the pricey BBC Micro. I was very jealous of my friend who had one if these when all I could manage was a Sinclair ZX81.

Donkey Kong Game & Watch by Nintendo

Nintendo’s most famous (if not the first) arcade game needs very little introduction, but the origin of the Game & Watch is less well known. Gunpei Yokoi, the Japanese creator of the Game & Watch series, as well as the Gameboy, got his inspiration whilst riding a commuter train, and watching a fellow passenger playing with an LCD calculator.

Donkey Kong Game & Watch
Donkey Kong Game & Watch
What if the same technology for displaying the digits on the calculator could be used to display character sprites?

Nintendo have proved over the years that existing technology, used in a novel way, can create all new products and markets – just look at the wii, not the best graphics, or the most polygons, but by incorporating accelerometers into the handset, created a whole new games market.. By creating a large LCD display, filling it with character sprites, and simulating movement by turning the sprites ion and off in n sequence, the Game & Watch was born.

Early games were simple affairs, games like Fire! which tasked you with catching falling victims from a burning building, using simple left and right controls and a single LCD screen. Later games became more elaborate, with the famous Nintendo D pad being used for controlling characters, and a novel double screen model which allowed play to carry across a larger area.

The most popular of these twin screen games was Donkey Kong, an incredibly faithful (given the limited graphics capability) conversion of the arcade game, and the first appearance of Mario. Looking like a small orange DS, the game flipped open on a hinge to access the screens and controls (D pad and jump). By colouring the rear of the screen to create the girders of the building, and also the ladders, the LCD screen itself could be used to display mario running, jumping over barrels, and even using a hammer. There was also a Kong graphic waiting at the top for you – albeit with a different mechanism for defeating him, involving jumping on a crane and pulling out pins to destroy the platform Kong is stood on.

See my history of Donkey Kong here!

At the time I remember playing a friend’s version of Donkey Kong, and not being able to afford one myself, being very jealous of his ability to carry this fantastic game around with him. About 5 years ago, I was browsing ebay and found one of these games for sale, and a week later it was in my hands, looking like it was made yesterday. Due to robust construction and use of watch batteries, these games are incredibly durable, and many early examples are still in existance.

There are many avid collectors out there, their mission to collect the 59 different versions of Game & Watch that were made throughout the 80’s and early 90’s, but I just wanted to get my hands on the one game I couldn’t have all those years ago. This has now been joined by other classic handheld games from Grandstand, CGL, Bandai and Tomy in my collection, but due to the gameplay Donkey Kong is still the one I return to the most.