AA Heaven

The lost Handheld Game Revolution of the 80's.
December 19, 2007

I did this article in a week, and although I don't totally hate it, I've done better. Seriously, what is wrong with the people at this site?

Back before PSP, Super Gameboy, Lynx, Game Gear, or even the original Gameboy, we had little hand held electronic toys with LED screens. They were everywhere, and in every fashion. We had ones that looked like binoculars, others that were watches, and my favorites, the ones that were modeled after their coin-op counterparts. Many of the machines in this article I received as Christmas presents, so it seemed fitting to me to release this article close to the Big Holiday.

As far as I know, the 'Hand-held Revolution' began in 1978 when Mattel released it's first generation football and basketball games, soon followed by MB electronic release of Simon. For about ten years these types of games ruled the portable video game market, until the release of Nintendo's Gameboy. Gameboy proved to be the Nirvana to all the LED hand held's hair metal bands. Once Gameboy was out, with its different cartridges and monotone screen, most of the LED games just disappeared overnight. There are still games like these available, but they really are just cheaply produced imitations and lack all of the imagination, artistry, and 'cool factor' of the original games of yore.

However, what these games represent to me is an almost lost part of my childhood. Many of them didn't last too long, and therefore were quickly disposed of and in too many instances forgotten about. That is until now...


Tomy Pacman- required 4 expensive C batteries
to operate, therefore I didn't get to play it much.

Pac attack! Crack was whack. And when I was growing up you couldn't turn a corner without seeing the yellow and black. Seriously peeps, It was a bona fide phenomenon. We had...

...and much more. I received my Tomy Pac-man machine on my tenth birthday from my Mom. I love the way it beeped the Pac-man theme when you first turned it on. You had two ghosts and two power pills, and it got hard quick. I had it for a couple of years, and then sold it to a friend of my Mom's for $10. I don't remember how I spent the money, but that's the way it goes sometimes. Pictured below are some of the other (many) Pac-man handhelds that were out there at the time.

Space Invaded...

When I was 8 years old, I peeked at my Christmas presents for the first and last time. I learned good lesson on that day about both the nature and pleasure of suprises. One of the gifts that I opened early was the Actronics Space Invaders game pictured above. I might have played this more than any of the others. It was rather addictive, with great gameplay and sound effects, in fact i can still hear the little ships moving nerve rackingly closer and closer. I also rally loved the sound it made when you destroyed your enemies. This particular Space Invaders machine was also released by Tandy and Entex. This guy takes 6 AA batteries, so if I wanted to play it, i had to raid all the batteries out of my other games. But it was so worth it. I've kept it all these years as a reminder of my folly, but sadly it doesn't work anymore.

A few more of the many Space Invaders clones out there.

I still have the red Cosmic 3000 picture in the upper right. Very fun, a lot like Galaxian except you can fire two shots at once instead of just one. Thank you Grandma Nov, and it still works!

Space Turbo was the only present that I ever received that I returned to the store. I traded it in at a Radioshak for a crappy remote control car that worked for about a month before falling apart. Released by both Tomy and Tandy. I really wish I had kept this one!

Games that make you go hmmm...

This guy requires 4 AA batteries to operate

Simon Says was a great little game that was very popular back in the 80's. The premise was simple, the computer would give you a sequence of different colored light flashes and then you would have to repeat them in order. Sounds easy? Not really. On the hardest setting the sequences could be up to 47 beeps long. Still, I got good enough at it that I could beat it on the most difficult level more than I would lose.

I received my Pocket Simon and the Pocket Repeater on the same Christmas by different people. Once they had found out what had happened, they asked me if I wanted to take one back since there was no point in keeping two of basically the same game. Well I would have felt bad so kept them both, and I still have them. Even better they both still work perfectly, except that I did have to replace a light bulb on the blue square of my Simon.

Super Simon was designed to allow multiple players to go head to head, but it never really caught on.

"Merlin Merlin where did it go? Jaime's got it playing Tic Tac Toe." I never personally owned a Merlin, but many of my friends did. Advertised as containing 20 different sounds and 6 games in 1, all of which (with one or two exceptions)were pretty lame. Tic Tac Toe, 'Music Machine,' Echo, Blackjack 13, Magic Square, and Mindbender. Blackjack and Echo were my favorites. Merlin was released in 1978 by Parker Brothers and in recent years has been re-released under Milton Bradley's name.

"Now spell sweet." The Speak and Spell should not require any kind of introduction because if you grew up in the 80's, you already know what it is. Released in 1978 by Texas Instruments, S&S was practically in every school. Did you know that Stephen Hawking lent his voice talents to give the Speak and Spell it's distinctive sound? The S&S would verbally ask you to spell a word, and then you would type in your answer on the touch pad (earlier versions had raised buttons.) Sometimes though it was very difficult to understand what it was asking. Also released were Speak and Math and Speak and Speak and Read.

Check out a pretty cool Speak and Spell emulator at-


The 'Citizen Cane' of boardgame commercials.

Driving Games...

Four the price of 12 D batteries you could drive your parents crazy for about a week with Tomy Racing. Screeching tires, engines racing, crashes, and sirens. All at true-to-life-volume and all very cool. I don't know where I got this, or who gave it too me, or what ever happened to it for that matter. But I recall that I loved it while I had it. I suspect my parents got tired of spending all the money for batteries for something that would only give them a headache, and so therefore got rid of it when I wasn't looking.

Blip was more like Pong than a racer, but I didn't know where to put it in my article to put it. So I decided to place it here because it's another Tomy game from the same era as Grand Prix. A line would travel from one screen to the next, and you had to guess where it would bounce.

Sports Games...

When I was seven my family moved from small town Corvallis, Oregon to big town Phoenix, Arizona over Christmas break. It was quite a change to say the least. My new school had six times more students than my last. The weather was sunny and pleasant everyday as opposed to being dark and rainy. We didn't stay in Arizona for too long, but while we were there were some of the most difficult and rewarding times of my entire childhood. The first week after we had moved, there was a BIG BBQ put on by my family to welcome our arrival. Literally hundreds of people showed up: cousins, uncles, and aunts, all people I had never met before. They all seemed so happy to to finally meet me. I almost got sick that day with the pounds of ribs I ate, they remain to this day the best I have ever had.

I mention all this because my Uncle Abe, who hosted the days festivities, had Bambino Boxing for all the kids to play with. Over the next months whenever I would go over to Abe's house, we would all play the game, and see who could win the most bouts without losing.
And always we would eat the best BBQ known to man.

I'm serious.

Bambino also produced hockey and Laserfight games.

Rock'em Sock'em Robots need no introduction.

Coleco boxing.

This one was pretty fun I remember, as long as you didn't lose your screens. It seems to me that they gave you three spares in the box though.Another Christmas present from my Grandma Nov.

Mattel's Championship Football.

Mattel's Championship Football 2.

Coleco baseball.

One Thanksgiving, I went to my uncle Tom and aunt Jan's house where I played both the drums and Mattel's handhelds for the first time. I loved this little basketball game so much they gave it to me for Christmas a month later. Thanks guys- I still have it!

These were great. Once again leave it to Coleco to have the best stuff.

I had completely forgotten about the Tandy Lanes bowling game pictured above until I saw a picture of it on the net. Seeing that picture, and how it had escaped my memory, gave me the idea to do this article. When I saw this picture, all of these other memories began to seep back into my skull. I used this game more as a 'spaceship' for my imaginary wars then I played it as an actual game. It was still fun however, you would shoot a little silver ball at the pins which had a red light next to each of them. If you knocked a pin down, the light would go out. It would even keep score for you! My Grandma Verna gave me this Tandy Lanes bowling game for Christmas, and I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that it has been buried in my Mom's attic for all these years.

Bowlatronic by Coleco.

Games that look like games...

Cosmic Clash ran off of four D batteries, and I swear three of them went straight to the speaker. To say Cosmic Clash was loud would be an understatement, in terms of pure volume the game was somewhat more noisy that a rock concert but a little more quiet than a space shuttle launch. Okay maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. First of all your enemy ships would scroll by, and the gizmo that made them scholl made a loud whirring sound. Next you would fire a slow moving missile at the scrolling ships, and the missile would increase in volume as it approached its target. If you missed, the game would just quiet down to a whir again, but if you hit what you were aiming at, the resulting exploding sound byte was so freaking deafening it was like...

My Mom used to make me play it outside, and even then it would still annoy the neighbors. Luckily you would only get ten missiles, and it would keep track of how many ships you destroyed on a little counter. Once your missiles were gone, the game would shut off leaving you with your score, happy parents, and ringing ears.This one is still up in my Mom's attic, and it can still shake the foundations.[/size]

Tandy's Astro Command, Alien Chase,and Space Shot respectively.

Star Castle by Tomy and Parker Brothers version of Q-bert.

Now we're getting to something that is very close to my heart and I remember seeing the boxes for Coleco's line of mini arcades and just drooling. I mean what kid in their right mind wouldn't have wanted one? Look at them, they're beautiful! Exactly like the Arcade coin-ops but smaller. Well, at least on the outside. Inside you were still stuck with little LED lights. But in a way, it's more artful when you think about it. To see these little lights moving in perfect sequence and rhythm is really breathtaking. It's the mechanical precision of it all. There's a level of craftsmanship present that you don't see with a bunch of pixels. At least on the surface.

Now remember this was when the Gameboy was still some programmer's wet dream. But seeing the colors and the graphics... I can easily recall standing in stores like Fred Meyer's or Jafco and just dreaming of the day that I could hold one in my hands. I never thought it would be possible because at $59.95 a pop I thought my parents wouldn't in their right mind shell out that kinda green for some silly little game. I mean it was more than half a C-note, and that was some money back then! But they did, and they even got the rest of the family to chip in too so they all gave me three of little guys for Christmas. Wow! I was stoked...it gives me a buzz just thinking about it. There they were, Donky Kong, Frogger, and Ms. Pac Man in my hot little fingers, in my own house! My jubilation was soon cut short when I found out that they did not, in fact, have the same graphics as their arcade counterparts. However, after some time, I fell in love with them on their own merits.

As of today they are all loving stored away in that same attic. Now if only they had made a mini Asteroids Deluxe...

At first Donkey Kong was more fun than a barrel of monkeys, however with only one level available it got old kinda quick.

Frooger was my favorite, and I believe translated the best from Arcade to LED. It just got harder and harder.

Ms. Pacman was great too, even with only one maze.

A few more pics of some of the Coleco Mini's that I didn't have.

Games I may have forgotten...

These three were by Coleco and were called Alien Attack, Space Blaster,and Zap respectively

The yellow game to the left's manufacturer is unknown,while the red
football game to the right is another Coleco product entitled Football Cartridge 4

Some more of Tomy's various handhelds.

Anyway that's it...

I hope you enjoyed reading this half as much as I enjoyed writing it. I had great fun going back and touching upon an almost fogotten element of my childhood. Many, many times while working on this project I thought to myself, 'oh yeah, I had totally forgotten about that one!' I tried to include as many pics as possible so that hopefully at least some of you will be able to share that experience at least once.

For much more detailed information on this subject please visit 'The Handheld Museum' at-


...And as always thank you for reading my article.


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