LCD Games of the 80s: Part Two

“Waaaaa, you didn’t play the good ones.” There are no good ones. But fine. Here’s eight more LCD games, some of which I got from here.

BARTMAN: AVENGER OF EVIL (1990 Acclaim)

If you can do the Bart then you’re bad like Michael Jackson. It’s true. Michael Jackson did a lot of ten-year-olds.

Okay, so this is from the early 90s. Sue me. This one sort of tries to do what the double-screened Game & Watch games do, only on one screen. Here you play as Bart Simpson. On the top of the screen, Nelson has kidnapped Maggie and is shooting rocks at you. You have to dodge them while waiting for the Bartman costume to spawn. Once you have all three pieces of it, the action moves to the bottom of the screen where you dodge watermelons and apples. Santa’s Little Helper will occasionally give you an apple that you throw back at Nelson. Ten apples and the gameplay loop resets. Once I figured out what I was doing, the game was still boring but at least playable. It’s better than the Simpsons Arcade Game because at least this is quick.

I speculated in the first set of LCD reviews that a major part of the appeal of these games was that kids thought they were getting away with something naughty by playing them. Even if the gameplay was horrible, it’s the idea that they were playing video games when they weren’t supposed to. By time Bartman came out, Game Boy was out and there were better options. BUT, in 1990 the Simpsons was considered bad for kids. Because Bart said “damn” and “hell”. Of course, like anything else, the controversy just made the Simpsons even more desirable for children. So imagine you’re a young person in 1990, sitting in church and playing a Simpsons game. You’d feel like you were the biggest little stinker in the world. I hate to break this to you, but they knew. Yes, they knew you what you were doing and you’d already gotten your punishment. You were playing this.

ZELDA (1989 Game & Watch)

“Zelda” is shorthand for either the game series or the original Legend of Zelda. But, in fact, the only actual game in the franchise that is called simply “Zelda” is this one.

This released three weeks after Game Boy in North America. So imagine going into a store and seeing this, which was relatively expensive ($34.99 in 1989 dollars, about $75 today) and Game Boy ($90 in 1989, or about $190 today). One was a permanent investment in gaming. The other you’d be lucky if a child pulled five minutes of enjoyment out of. If your parents opted not to save up for the Game Boy, I hope you didn’t follow their example of impatience and bad purchase judgment. Because it’s probably one of the worst of the Game & Watch games. You move left and right on the bottom screen, killing an enemy on the right. Then you climb stairs. This goes on until you fight a dragon on the top screen. It really does seem like it’s trying to make it feel as Zeldaish as possible with hearts and potions to use, but Zelda Game & Watch is soooooo bad. It makes the CDi titles look like game of the year contenders by comparison.

SAFARI (1981 VTech Time & Fun)

When Game & Watch became an unprecedented hit, there were a lot of companies that hopped onto the bandwagon. VTech was one of the most successful at getting shelf space. They did well. They’re still in existence today and were actually part of a massive data breach at some point. Maybe they should have stuck to the off-brand games. In fact, there’s a strong chance a lot of my older fans who THINK they had an actual Nintendo Game & Watch as a kid might have really had a VTech Time & Fun game. But unlike other companies (many of them Russian) who would just straight-up clone Game & Watch titles and slap a different name on them, VTech made their own, original games, most of which seem to retain the same “keep it simple, stupid” gameplay that made Game & Watch titles, if not good, still playable today. Safari uses the “cross the street” mechanics that were popular with LCD games. Here you’re an explorer who must.. avoid..

Is that………..

Oh God.

OH GOD!!

Oh. Yeah.

It was a different time.

THE TERMINATOR (1988 Tiger Electronics)

“You didn’t do any Tiger Electronics games! How could you do a review of LCDs and not do a single Tiger game?”

Yeah, I’ve heard the reputation of them. I feel fear too, you know. I never claimed to be brave.

Thank god Arnie would never be associated with another bad game after this.

Tiger Electronics’ handheld LCD games are universally considered some of the worst “video games” ever made. But, honestly Terminator isn’t that bad. It’s a really simple gallery shooter. Apparently someone included Tiger in MAME, but I’m nowhere near my MAME cabinet. And the computer that runs my cabinet uses a 2010 version of the emulator and I really don’t want to update it since my understanding is it might render some ROMs non-working. It’s a lot of work. I’ll stick to the simulators. Find me more of them that require as few clicks to play as possible and I’ll gladly do them. Anyway, this is an insanely, crazy simple game that’s boring as fuck. Move left and right, shoot, rinse, repeat. If Donkey Kong 3 is the current “it must be as good as the actual arcade version of Donkey Kong 3 to not completely suck” barometer, Terminator doesn’t quite make it. It’s that boring.

Though I do appreciate that you can’t actually see (most) of the bullets you shoot. I don’t know what kind of guns they use to fight aliens in Contra, but like, that’s not how guns work! You point one, you pull the trigger, and before your brain can process that you’ve finished the task of firing the gun, the bullet has already completed doing its thing. So go figure that a Tiger Electronics handheld from 1988 would have the most accurate depiction of firearms in gaming history. Well, besides Duck Hunt, which I guess works that way too and has a muzzle flash. I guess that whole paragraph was pointless. Moving on..

MARIO’S BOMBS AWAY (1983 Game & Watch Panorama)

I’m not freaking out. Even Pluto joined the army once, and Donald Duck dreamed he was a Nazi.

Another “cross the road” format game. Honestly, the best Game & Watch titles follow that formula. It’s simple and allows for the most variations without feeling like you’re just copying one game over and over. Here, you’re Mario fighting in an actual war (holy shit!), carrying bombs across enemy lines so you can blow up the camping soldiers (HOLY SHIT!!). I mean, Jesus Christ! Mario was a solider! With a body count! Do you wonder if all the “adventures” he went on afterwards were a coping mechanism fantasy to deal with the PTSD he developed from all the terrible atrocities he had to commit here? It can’t be ruled out.

Anyway, this is one of the better LCD games I’ve played so far. I almost gave it the IGC Seal of Approval but it came up just short. It’s, once again, too hard to get the timing down of when the torches will light the bomb fuse without being able to see motion. And also, look at Mario’s face on the device. That’s the face of a dude that’s seen things. Horrible, horrible things.

DONKEY KONG JR. (1982 Game & Watch)

There’s more LCD versions of DK Jr. than there are Army of Darkness DVDs.

This is not to be confused with Donkey Kong II or the Tabletop/Panorama LCD (which was made by Nintendo but released outside of Japan by Coleco). This is like a smaller version of Donkey Kong II BUT with a larger emphasis of using the vines. Once again, you have to grab a key and zig-zag Junior to the top of the screen to unlock your Daddy. Honestly, I think this game plays better than Donkey Kong II. It combines elements from several authentic DK Jr. stages and even has the “drop a fruit on the enemy to score points mechanic” that, to be honest, I would never have expected to have been attempted in one of these.

Is it fun? Well…………… no. But I did have to think about it this time.

EGG / MICKEY MOUSE (1981 Game & Watch)

Screw eating the eggs. That hat you’re using seems to have an unlimited capacity. Patent it and feast upon filet mignon for the rest of your days.

Nintendo reskinned several Game & Watch games to star Disney’s cash rat. Thus, Egg became Mickey Mouse and Donkey Kong Circus became.. well.. Mickey Mouse. That must have been confusing. Weirdly, Egg and Mickey Mouse both came out on the same day in August, 1981. Besides cross-the-road games, the other common, easy to execute LCD gameplay style is “spin the plate” games, where you have to judge which of several objects is the next one you have to touch. Also, this might be the first ever video game where you play as the villain. Because in Egg, you play as the Big Bad Wolf, stealing eggs from chickens. Wouldn’t the Big Bad Wolf.. you know.. EAT THE CHICKENS?

Imagine a parent in 1981 trying to REALLY make their child happy and buying both Egg and Mickey Moues, thinking they’re different games. You know this had to have happened at least once.

Well, I think the issue is Nintendo was trying to get the Disney license (they’d worked together for decades when Nintendo made playing cards) but wasn’t sure if they would get it. So they made two versions of this, and had to design a character that could seamlessly replace the Mickey Mouse character if they couldn’t work with the House of Mouse. That’s my theory, at least. Anyway, I’m not a fan of these because it becomes too hard to determine the speed after a while. This is one (two) of those games where Game & Watch Gallery had a really easy time making the concept more playable. Just add motion and poof: you’re 80% less boring. 20% being purely genetic.

Does that count as eight? Only seven? Fine.

OCTOPUS (1981 Game & Watch)

The Octopus should seriously come back as a boss somewhere. Great character model.

I’m guessing if any Game & Watch game, or any LCD for that matter, is going to break through the glass ceiling and win the Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval, it’ll be a cross-the-road game that has a unique, addictive play mechanic. Octopus is almost that. That idea is you have to wait for the tentacles to coil and uncoil, move to the treasure chest in the bottom corner of the screen and scoop up as much loot as possible, then return to the ship for bonus points. The more points you score, the faster the tentacles move. And that’s really it. It’s almost fun. It’s this close. It’s easily the best of any of the sixteen LCDs I’ve played so far, with Mario’s Bombs Away being a distant second.

And now I feel like I’m on a quest to find a good one of these LCDs. I just bought every DSi Game & Watch release, plus the first three Game & Watch Gallery titles on Virtual Console for comparison sake. Weirdly enough, playing these games does make me feel like I missed out on something. I’m gaining an understanding of the gaming upbringing of my older fans, and a better appreciation for the era that I came into the hobby, from 1996 – 1998. By that point, I never had to worry about getting stuck with one of these crappy “games.” Nope. I just have to hear older people say that this is all they had and they walked uphill in three feet of snow both ways to get them and they liked them. Weirdos.

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.

%d bloggers like this: