LCD Games of the 80s

WE INTERRUPT INDIE GAMER CHICK’S SIX GAME ARCADE ARCHIVE MARATHON TO BRING YOU CATHY BEING SUBJECTED TO LCD HANDHELD GAMES FROM THE 1980s

We what?

Oh fuck my life.

I never owned those cheap Tiger LCDs as a kid and Game & Watch as a series was all but dead by time I was born. The Game Boy came out in the United States just a month after I did. And both of us were discolored and coated disgusting fluids. Or maybe that was just me. But you fuckers haven’t shut up about how “good” these were on Twitter since I started this retro voyage of mine so I found a place that has simulated versions of them. I normally don’t go for playing games via unauthorized emulators here at Indie Gamer Chick (unless I need them to compare to games I paid for) but that’s not exactly what this is. So I’m taking a quick gander at eight LCDs from the 1980s. Alright, my body is ready. Hit it.

DONKEY KONG (1982 Game & Watch)

Nintendo has done a series of Game & Watch Gallery games. They might as well do another round and include them with Switch online.

It took me a while to figure out that you can’t jump if there’s a girder above you. The object is to climb to the second screen, activate a crane, then jump onto the swinging hook to cut wires that support Donkey Kong. Every time you cut a wire you end up having to start at the bottom and climb your way back up, this time with faster barrels and girders that are deadly to you. The concept is fine, and honestly the gameplay, while too easy and boring, is genuinely better than the Donkey Kong 3 arcade game. This is also the game that gave birth to the plus-shaped D-Pad. But I didn’t play with an authentic device so I can’t tell you how it feels. Still, this is a pretty historic game. Crappy, but historic.

Crappy and historic.. shit, this really is a Donkey Kong game!

DONKEY KONG (1981 Coleco Tabletop)

What an absolutely terrible game. Unlike the Game & Watch game (which, to be fair, came out a year after this and could learn from this game’s mistakes), this Donkey Kong actually tried to be as faithful as possible to Donkey Kong. It failed. It failed badly. It’s a fail whale. Hail hail the fail whale. I mean, look at it.

The yellow lines are the ladders. The yellow spots on the floor are supposed to be the rivets. The packages of McDonalds french fries are supposed to be the fireballs. This is Gaming Hell, people.

It’s clunky. Without movement it’s hard to know what stuff like the fireballs in stage two (which tries to mimic the rivet board from the arcade game) will actually do. It’s even ugly to look at. At least Game & Watch releases had neat, clear looking LCD characters that had funny, distinctive faces. They were so nice looking that they became a Smash Bros. character. This? Imagine being a kid in 1981, seeing this in stores, and begging your parents for this for Christmas. It cost $60 in 1981, which is over $150 today. A lot of money for most families. And then you get it, and you play it, and you realize there’s no Santa Claus. And your parents hate you because they just spent over $150 in 2019-equivalent dollars on something you can’t possibly play for more than 10 minutes before wanting to die.

Nice cameo in Gremlins though.

DONKEY KONG II (1983 Game & Watch)

Again, shockingly, this is more engaging than Donkey Kong 3. It really speaks to how bad of an idea that game was.

Not to be confused with Donkey Kong Jr., though the game actually stars Junior and seems based on his game. You start on the bottom screen, jump up to get a key, then zig-zag your way to the top screen, where you have to again jump for the key, then push it into one of the locks caging Donkey Kong. Unlike Donkey Kong, where you automatically go to the bottom screen upon completing a cycle, in DK II you have to get to manually make your way back to the bottom to start the cycle over. Or, you can sacrifice a life to get there. The concept is fine, but like every other game I’ve played, getting the timing down is hard because there’s no actual motion to track. It’s guess work, and if you have no sense of timing, you’re fucked. Also, there seemed to be a few times that I don’t think surviving was possible because any direction moved, including jumping, would lead to my death based on where the enemies were. Another turd.

DONKEY KONG JR. (1983 Nintendo Tabletop/Game & Watch Panorama)

It actually looks like something. That’s swell.

This is an odd cat. Unlike the Donkey Kong tabletop that was developed by Coleco, this one was made by Nintendo, presumably to show Coleco how to make a decent LCD game. Not that Nintendo’s Game & Watch games were amazing or anything, but compared to the shit Coleco seemed to have been vomiting up, they were incredible. And this is actually one of the better games. You grab a key and zig-zag Junior to the right of the screen, where you use umbrellas and balloons to free your Daddy. I’d still rather play anything else, but if.. okay WHEN.. I go to Hell, if Satan tells me my only options are to play LCD games, if this is on the menu it won’t be so bad.

DONKEY KONG CIRCUS / MICKEY MOUSE (1984 Game & Watch Panorama)

Mario is a cruel taskmaster. Which is the original origin story of Donkey Kong. It’s true.

It’s juggling. With Donkey Kong or Mickey Mouse. It’s boring. Please shoot me.

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (1981 Mattel Electronics)

You’re warned if there’s pits nearby. ET really could have used that.

This is an interesting one that requires you to draw a map using pen and paper like a fucking savage. You’re placed in grid that’s full of pits. Somewhere in the maze is a magic arrow and a dragon. You have to find the arrow, then sort out what room the dragon is in, get next to that room, point at it and shoot the arrow. It sort of defeats the purpose of being a handheld game by needing pen & paper to play it, though I guess it’s not really D&D without those materials either. It’s an incredibly simple concept, but it works. It’s not really fun in the strictest sense but it’s a decent enough time waster. And with all the pits, I’m curious if Howard Scott Warshaw owned one of these.

MARIO BROS. (1983 Game & Watch)

I like the idea of Mario & Luigi having a boss that cusses them out. No wonder they’re so merciless against Bowser’s army. They have a lot of pent-up anger from their day jobs.

This one makes no effort to play like the arcade game. Instead, you have to pass packages between Mario and Luigi up a series of conveyor belts. It’s basically another take on the plate-spinning style gameplay that’s common in these LCD games. They’re all boring. This one is no exception.

TRON (1982 Tomy Tabletop)

The MCP looks good at least.

This one tries to recreate the light-cycle scene from the movie, but in over ten minutes of playing I couldn’t once beat the computer. Even when I had a speed advantage and got in front of it, it would always turn fast enough to hang in there. When I finally thought I had boxed it in, I simply died anyway. It makes me think the Donkey Kong Jr. game above had the right idea by trying to play tribute to the spirit of the game while also making something original that is more tailored to the hardware.

Shit like these games makes me appreciate my gaming upbringing a little more. I’ve had a LOT of my older fans wax nostalgically about the glory days of these things. I hope this doesn’t come across as condescending, but I feel a little sorry for them. Because these are terrible games. I honestly can’t believe they were ever considered an acceptable substitute to arcade games or even the most primitive Atari 2600 games. At least with the 2600 you could see objects move. Here they just sort of blink out of existence in one part of the screen and reemerge somewhere else. Maybe you guys from that time felt like you were getting away with something naughty by playing these at church or at school. Maybe they were bad deliberately, as part of a conspiracy. By teachers. Because compared to these, school work.. any school work.. would probably look pretty damn stimulating.

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