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Mattel Children's Discovery System

DoctorSpuds

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This review is going to be very different than what you’re used to, instead of just reviewing a game I’m going to review and ENTIRE console. Enter the Mattel Children’s Discovery System, a drab little computer that was meant for very small children. I thinks this is one of the ugliest pieces of hardware I’ve ever laid my eyes on, its microscopic screen (16x48 Matrix LCD screen), and awful membrane keyboard make using this thing an absolute chore. Now this is actually a cartridge based computer, boasting a whopping 18 different expansion cartridges, though from what I can tell three of these expansions are actually built into the computer, many of these cartridges also came with overlays for the dreadful keyboard. I have five expansion cartridges and the three that are built into the computer itself, I have: Presidents, Memory/Logic, Mathquiz/Calculator, Arcade 1(Not working, I’ll get to that later), Arcade 2, and the three built-in games, Music (also not working), Art, and Type. My machine doesn’t work properly, it has one defect that for the life of me I can’t fix, the speaker is broken, the interior of the machine id free of rust and corrosion so I’m chalking it up to cheap parts, so I will be unable to do a fair review of Music, or any of the sound in any of the games, which is fine since the sound paragraphs are always the most redundant in these review anyway. I’ll be reviewing the games separately; I have a feeling that most of these paragraphs are going to be fairly short since there ain’t much to these games.

 

Let’s begin with Presidents, this cartridge has four included mini-games, Game 1 is basic information about the president you select, it usually tells you their name, in which state they were born, their term, party, and ‘calling’ which is what they were before they were president. As an example let’s pick John Adams, the screen displays:

|J ADAMS | |J ADAMS | |JADAMS | |J ADAMS | |J ADAMS | |JADAMS |

|BORN IN- | |MA | |TERM- | |1797-1801| | PARTY- | |FEDERLIST|

|J ADAMS | |J ADAMS |

|CALLING- | |LAWYER |

You are given the bare basics of information about the president, one thing that really made me laugh though is the most recent president on the overlay, its Reagan, those were the days. The second game is rather stupid, the computer picks a random president, and you just pres random presidents and it will say lower or higher, the problem is that the presidents aren’t in chronological order, they’re in alphabetical order which makes guessing lower or higher pretty hard if you haven’t memorized the chronological order of the 39 presidents. As far as I can tell game three is an ‘order’ game, basically the computer selects four different presidents, or more depending on the difficulty and you have to guess the correct order in which to press them, it’s not the order the computer shows them in either, PASS! I don’t understand the fourth game, I just press president’s faces and it tells me the basic info of a different president… PASS!!! Let’s move onto the next game!

 

The next game is Memory/Logic, and my goodness this is a boring one. Game 1 is ‘Secret Code’, remember that guess the order game form Presidents? Well this is the same thing, except you guess the letters. Four black boxes are displayed on screen, depending on the difficulty you can select letters from A-d, A-H, or A-Z, after you randomly select four letters you will be given a number, the higher it is the closer you are to the correct combination, this game is extremely boring. The second game is Patterns and it’s exactly as the name says, you are presented with half of a pattern and you must complete it, again very boring. Game three is Memory Match, you know that little mini-game in Super Mario Bros. 3 where you flip the cards? Well that’s this game, it’s alright, I’ve always had a fondness for these types of games.

 

The next cartridge is Mathquiz/Calculator, the cartridge is exactly what the name says, a math quiz on various subjects like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. There is also a handy unit conversion for the calculator, you can convert litres to gallons and vice versa, you can convert kilograms to pounds and vice versa, and you can convert meters to feet and vice versa. The one thing that keeps this from being a decent calculator is how long it takes to actually type anything in, there is a 1-2 second delay from pressing the button and the number being displayed on the screen. Functional but flawed, NEXT!

 

The final cartridge is Arcade II, and believe it or not this game makes no sense. The only game I can equate it to is horizontal Breakout except you have zero control over the ball. Just to test this I left the game running while writing this and the game beat itself. There are several different ‘modes’, you have attack planes, where a series of triangles approach the far left of the screen from the far right, they advance every time the ball hits the far right of the screen. There is the vertical line mode, where you simply chip away at vertical lines, and it’s not fun. Finally there is the ‘Running Man’ mode, where you destroy a bunch of the iconic Mattel Running Men, this is also not fun. I don’t know if there is any more to this cartridge, the overlay makes it seem like there is more, but no matter what I press I will always end up at the Breakout game, very disappointing and boring.

 

The three built-in programs are very inconsequential, the first is Music Mode, which I cannot use since the speaker is busted, the second is Art mode where you can draw images one pixel at a time very slowly on the worst keyboard ever, the third is by far the most useless program. You can type words but only word under 8 letters. The screen will only display letters on an 8x2 grid, so there is almost nothing you can do with this program.

 

The final cartridge, Arcade 1, is broken and will not work, so I decided to open up the cartridge and see what was wrong, I’ve gotta say, these are some of the cheapest carts I’ve seen in some time. I thought at first that the chip wasn’t connected but later saw some very thin fibers connecting to the pin-outs, these fibers are barely visible to the human eye, and could only be measured in Micrometers. These little threads of spider silk were the only thing connecting the chip to the board, thankfully there is a plastic shield that covers the chip, unfortunately the shield on this cart was broken and had severed the connections making the chip unusable.

 

All in all this machine is a piece of crap that I’m amazed was even sold back in 1980, I haven’t been able to confirm this but apparently this thing was sold for 100$ back in the day. You could either buy a 2600 or this thing, and it seems some parents bought this thing. I got my machine at my local game store for 10$ as-is, and frankly, I think I overpaid. This thing goes straight into the Collector’s Zone, as far as it can go. What a waste of plastic, the only cart I would consider to be useable is the calculator, and that’s because it’s a calculator, otherwise you won’t learn a damn thing from this piece of crap.

 



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Perhaps one can make a homebrew title in form of an updated Presidents cartridge that covers the past 35+ years worth? Or for that matter if one would go through the trouble making new software, perhaps make something good to begin with.

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Man, I don't think the Homebrew community wants anything to do with this thing, you'd be better off going to something like the Channel F, or the Astrocade because they have a larger audience, and when the Astrocade or the Channel F has a larger audience than you , you know you seriously screwed up. But perhaps a Gradius or R-type style shooter would work... Hmmmm. But how would you program it? Are there any dev kits out there for this thing, does it have any emulators? This is a forgotten piece of tech that should stay that way.

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Well, 18 different cartridges is far more than many other systems had. We recently combed through all sorts of oddball systems to find the ones with the smallest library, and even 10-12 cartridges would be too many to enter the top list of systems.

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Why would anybody choose this over an Atari VCS in 1980? Well, there's the "portable" part.

 

Perhaps you forget that back in those days, electronic devices were like "The Future," especially for kids, and there weren't many things to entertain you on a long road trip other than playing "I Spy" or "Punch Buggy" with your siblings.

 

The games may have been crap, but I'm pretty sure that I would have loved having one of these in 1980. I would have felt like I had a real computer -- mostly because I didn't have one and anything with a keyboard and a screen looked like high-technology to me.

 

I remember having a Pac-Man video game wrist-watch. Now, that's a really stupid game, and yet I played the heck out of it and loooooooved it.

 

It's kind of weird to review these things outside the proper context of their times. *shrug*

 

-dZ.

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Indeed I am quite biased, I'm reviewing these games and pieces of technology as a collector and game enthusiast, I do not take into consideration the personal experiences of people who owned them at the time, I do not have the time to interview people. I review these games based on how they hold up today, not 37 years ago, and if a game doesn't hold up or is too expensive for it's own good then I put it in the Collector's Zone sometimes with a few choice words. You mention having a Pac-Man wrist game, I had those too, everybody had those, especially the Tiger brand, but even if people liked them back then we all look back on them with general disdain with perhaps a few standouts.

 

It's kind of weird to review these things outside the proper context of their times. *shrug*

 

I can't because I didn't live there, I do this for fun, if you read my very first post I didn't say I would be an unbiased source of information, I'm here for the fun of it. Besides the thing still isn't worth it. For those long road trips I'd have taken a good book any day.

 

 

( know this comment sounds very defensive, because it kinda is, but I'm not all too worked up over this, I just want to put forth my points in a somewhat rational manner, I just got out of bed so I'm still not in my proper mind and might just end up regretting this post sometime in the future)

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