Thursday, December 4, 2008

potent portables: the good old days?

The crudest, simplest and earliest handheld games are the type manufactured by Tiger Electronics and Nintendo beginning in the late 1970s and early 80s – stand-alone, single-game devices good for a few playthroughs and not much else. Like so many other things from the 1980s, they were sort of cool then, but when you think of them now you laugh until you cry a little.

My most vivid memory of a Tiger handheld game – and, mind, this was well into the 1990s - was something that had racing cars. It might have been called Racing Cars. You took up the mantle of Nameless Driver Man, an unseen guy who (I assume) was driving your car. Said vehicle could steer into any of four lanes. Occasionally you would pass other cars which could also travel in four lanes – yes, the very same four that you were also trying to navigate! Come to think of it, you never stopped passing these cars, no matter how long you played the game, so either you weren’t racing at all or you started the race in 4,783rd place. The object, I guess, was to avoid crashing into the other cars. Maybe it was called Steering Cars or Fender Bender or some shit. The point is, it was repetitive, boring, and made constant skull-piercing clicks and beeps that I have since realized have little to no basis in reality – as the proud owner and operator of an actual car, I can state this as fact.

Nintendo had similar devices under its belt before the introduction of the original Game Boy in 1989. As is the case with a few other games, most people will only know anything about them because they decided to Google the Smash Bros. novelty character. These early handhelds are rarely remembered for the entertainment value they offered. They are shallow and limited compared even to NES titles from roughly the same period, and their fun comes home from work, says hello, kisses you on the cheek and then heads out to a nearby bar without a second word. Aside from a few compilations over the years, their gameplay has remained in the past where it belongs. The influence of these old handhelds is felt mostly in the hardware design of their distant descendants, the most recent portables from Sony and Nintendo.

Behold exhibit A, indisputable evidence that we can imbed images within our posts:

Octopus (Nintendo)

The horizontal orientation and wide screen of 1981’s Octopus, seen here, more closely resembles the 2001 Game Boy Advance and 2004 PSP than the original Game Boy and its ilk. By the same token, 1982’s “multi-screen” Donkey Kong is sort of an estranged uncle to Nintendo’s own DS.

Donkey Kong (Nintendo)

In conclusion, I can’t think of anything else nice to say about these funny little consumer electronics. They happened, and now we have to deal with it. Stay tuned for more!