The Nintendo 64 console was the last major console to feature cartridges, and following on from the hugely successful Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), it had a tough act to follow. It aped exactly the format of the SNES, with the cartridge slot at the rear of the top side of the console, and 2 large buttons for power and game reset. With it’s large “power bulge” towards the front of the console, the Nintendo 64 console somehow suggests the case could scarcely contain the graphical muscle within. It featured some “feet” at the front of the console, giving off a sense of weight and substance, another reference to the increased power of the Nintendo machine.
Unlike its major competitor of the time, the Sony Playstation 1, it was also a friendly looking console, smoothed and without a straight line to be seen, and large colourful graphic on the front breaking up the otherwise monotone colour scheme. This fit with Nintendo’s targeted audience, and was the choice for younger gamers everywhere, as opposed to the Playstation with its subdued design which was clearly aimed at a more mature demographic.
When researching this article I couldn’t find the right image to represent the console, so I took some pictures myself with my Nikon D60 digital SLR, and I hope you like the image I created. I wanted to capture the smooth curves and friendly face of the Nintendo 64 console which in this photo looks organic, almost frog-like.
So if you like the image please feel free to use, share, tweet and Pin!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
If anyone has any interesting old games looking for a new home, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
I’m very fond of the original Gameboy, which was a classic Nintendo product, using existing technology in a novel way, and focusing on addictive gameplay rather than flashy hardware. The software for the Gameboy could however be a bit hit and miss, with many games being rushed onto the market, and not translating particularly well to the format.
Nintendo already had a great series in the Zelda games, starting on the NES and continued on the SNES, and a huge fanbase. It was only a matter of time before a Zelda game was released on the Gameboy, and when the first game was announced, there was a massive level of interest.
In 1993, The Legend of Zelda : Links Awakening was released to an expectant public. I bought this game at the airport on the way to Tenerife, with a view to playing on the, or the odd moment between beers by the pool. I had heard about the Zelda series, but having never played any of the games (something I have since addressed) I was not sure what to expect.
[amazon asin=B004JHY3Z8&template=iframe image]Slotting the small grey cartridge into the small grey handheld, you were immediately immersed into the world of Link, and I’m not sure I actually put the Gameboy down for 2 weeks.
As hero link, waking up on a desert island, you have to find 8 magical instruments to wake the mysterious windfish and escape. The game itself was an overhead scrolling action-RPG, and many of the classic Zelda features are there, including puzzles, dungeons, bosses, weapons and gadgets, bombs, chests, rupees, secret tunnels and side quests. It also had great music and effects for such a limited handheld console.
More than anything it had that magical ingredient that made you want to keep playing, to battle through the puzzles in each dungeon to the Boss level, and to unlock the next special power or piece of equipment, that would allow you to enter previously inaccessible areas.
5 years later, and having long ago put away my original Gameboy, Ninteno introduced an updated version of the game for it’s current platform the Gameboy Colour. Taking the original game, Nintendo used the colours available to introduce new puzzles, and also the ability to take screenshots for printing on the new Gameboy Printer. Playing this game again brought it all back to me, just hearing the music at the start of the game and I was back in Tenerife.
My son is now the biggest Zelda fan in the house, and he has the latest 3DS, and is looking forward to getting hold of the Occarina of Time. I’m not sure about all the 3D effects, but I know I shall be giving this a try when he has gone to bed to see if the magic is still there.
Retro games reviewed, including 80's arcade machines, classic consoles and early home computers