You scored the winning touchdown with seconds remaining. You defended Earth from space invaders by blasting them with your laser cannon. You sped down the race track at maximum speed and took the checkered flag. And you did it all in the palm of your hand!
Welcome to the world of handheld electronic games — a battery-powered world of sports, action, adventure, mystery and combat.
The electronic handheld games of the 1970s seem crude and simplistic compared to the games played today, but in spite of their technological inferiority, early handheld electronic games are still popular and treasured by many collectors and fans.
There are hundreds of games from the 1970s and early ’80s made by such companies as Mattel, Coleco, Entex, Tomy, Bandai, Radica, Tiger, Tandy and Epoch that regularly appear at auctions, in advertisements and at shows. When and where did handheld electronic games start?
“It’s not easy to pinpoint the first handheld electronic game ever made, but most agree that the craze and fan fervor began with Mattel in 1976,” said Rick Kelsey, a contributor to Toy Shop magazine.
“That was when the toy giant released Missile Attack, which may be the first truly all-electronic handheld game sold to the public. Wind-up and electro-mechanical games by other companies had been available but no all-electronic games were released before then.”
The game did not last long. The object of the game was to defend New York City from incoming missiles, a premise deemed inappropriate. Missile Attack is highly-prized among collectors and commands from $100 to $300.
Soon after Missile Attack, two sports-related handheld electronic games were released by Mattel — Auto Racing and Football. They later produced games based on baseball, basketball, soccer and hockey.
“From the 1970s to the 1980s, Mattel made more than 50 handheld games,” said Kelsey. “Without a doubt, the most popular was Football. Demand for it was so great that, for a while, 500,000 units were being made per week.”
The electronic handheld game market had become all the rage. National television advertisements promoted Mattel’s new games. Soon the beeps, dings, pings and pongs of the games could be heard everywhere.
Even comic strips picked up on the new fad. In Peanuts, Woodstock played with the games, much to Snoopy’s annoyance.
Football and its later reincarnation Football 2 are valued at $50 on today’s market — double that price for a game in its original packaging.
While Mattel is credited with starting the handheld craze and dominating that market for a few years, it quickly became a crowded field. Other companies such as Entex, Coleco, Gakken, Tandy and Tomy entered the fray with copycats of Mattel’s products and with their own games.
Tomy’s Monster Burger can bring up to $600. Gakken’s Moon Patrol has sold for more than $300.
The Entex Adventure Vision game was a small cartridge game system. Boxed examples of this game system have sold for as much as $1,500.
Today, handheld electronic games are still produced, changed and upgraded. Just look at the success of Game Boy and Game Boy Advance.
But the appeal of the older classics still draws players. Mattel has recently re-released their original Football and Baseball games.
And players sometimes become collectors.
“I think the re-release of those two original handheld games has renewed interest in the old handheld games to some degree,” said Rick Morgan, a collector and owner of the www.handheldmuseum.com Web site.
“A lot of people that really didn’t think they were into it would see these in Wal-Mart and then start looking for information on the Internet. They’d send me an e-mail after they came across my site reminiscing about their younger days playing with these games, digging in their closets to find them. It’s made people aware of them again.”
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