I have what might be considered an odd fascination with old LCD handheld games; I just can’t get enough of them they’re just so weird. In today’s world of pocket computers and mobile gaming these things just seem like pointless shitty relics of a bygone era, but they’re not. Each of these games are complex works of art that work together to create a game, perhaps they’re not as complex as console or computer games of the time, but let’s face it, you’re not taking one of those on the plane or on the road trip. These things started off in the mid-to-late 70’s with Mattel and their handheld sports and racing games, this really got the ball rolling as soon many large tech companies decided to throw their hat into the ring, notable companies include Coleco, Parker Brothers, and Milton Bradley, all of whom later threw their hat into ring of the home videogame market, to varying degrees of success. There were many successes and even more failures, we all know about various cartridge-based handheld gaming consoles, Gameboy, Game Gear, Lynx, Nomad, Wonderswan, The Mattel Children’s Discovery System, and even the Switch falls into this category but I’m not going to talk about those today, mainly because I don’t own any of them, apart from one. I do own a small selection of handheld LCD games from companies like Tiger Electronics, Radio Shack, and even McDonalds; I will not be including my Coleco Tabletop Arcade machine or its modern counterparts since they belong to a different review at a different time. I will review four games for you: A Spyro the Dragon Happy Meal LCD game, Tiger Handheld Pinball, Tiger Handheld Double Dragon II: The Revenge, and Highway by Radio Shack. Let’s begin.
Spyro the Dragon Happy Meal toy:
This is by far the simplest of the four games, all you have to do is move in a circle around Evil Red the dragon and catch the fireballs he shoots at Spyro’s castles. When you catch two fireballs you can shoot them back at Evil Red by pressing the yellow button, it takes two hits to beat him in level one, the amount of hits increases by one each level culminating in six hits in level five to beat the game. This game has very unique controls, and by unique I mean crap. You move Spyro by moving a green ‘not-button’ you actually have to swivel it side-to-side to move Spyro, unfortunately the thing is so stiff you have to wedge a fingernail in there to get it to move making the game much more difficult that it needs to be. Sounds are relegated to a few simple beeps, just like the rest of them, but I can’t say they’re particularly awful to listen to and they aren’t too loud so they aren’t annoying. Unfortunately this thing doesn’t have the option to turn off the sounds, and the screws holding this thing together have triangular holes so you cannot open it with a standard Philips head, you’ll need a special screwdriver or a really small flathead to get into this thing to even try to disconnect the speaker. This thing runs on a small pill battery and astonishingly enough the thing still works after fourteen years. Overall the game is incredibly simple in both looks and gameplay and most assuredly will not hold anyone’s attention for more than a few minutes, thankfully I got this thing for free because I honestly wouldn’t pay for it, and it seems the internet agrees with me since you can still get these things in the plastic for less than $10 each.
Tiger Electronics Handheld Pinball:
I like this one, even if it isn’t particularly good. I’m a sucker for Pinball in any form, from full sized tables, to video games, to those crappy little tabletop machines. Since I don’t have the manual for this one I’m just guessing from what I’ve experienced when playing the game. The playfield if very simple, there are two flippers, six bumpers, three drains, and a jackpot spinner, each bumper has its point value listed above it on the printed background. If you manage to hit all six of the bumpers you are awarded a large amount of points and an extra ball, if you get the ball into the spinner you’ll get 500 points (I think). The game has five difficulty modes, as far as I can tell they only increase the speed, personally I prefer mode three as it is the perfect speed for me to keep the game challenging, I have actually rolled the score on mode 2 and could easily do so on mode one. As one can imagine the pinball action is very stilded an unnatural, the game has almost no flow to it as the ball will usually go straight up to the top of the screen then hang a hard left o go somewhere else. Despite the uncanniness the game still remains enjoyable since it remains unpredictable just like real pinball. I think the artwork on the game shell and the artwork printed on the screen is fantastic, and colorful, and more than makes up for the all around bland graphics on display when the game is powered up. This game and all Tiger Handhelds are powered by two AA batteries, which is nice cheap and convenient if you have rechargeables, though it’s unlikely you’ll ever actually drain them. I got mine in a dump bin at my local game store for $1 a mistake the owner isn’t likely to make again, you can find them on Ebay for $15 on the low end and as high as $125 for a still sealed copy. If you can find it cheap enough, and working, I’d say to go for it since you’ll gain at least a little enjoyment from it.
Tiger Electronics Handheld Double Dragon II: The Revenge:
For a Handheld LCD game DD2TR is quite complex, which actually brings it a step closer towards being an actual good game. Much like the Double Dragon on consoles the handheld version is a sidescrolling beat ‘em up but with everything scaled far back. You have four offensive moves, punch, kick backwards, jumping kick forward, and jumping kick backwards, each move is used to take out a specific enemy. You’ll encounter four enemies in the game, though there are likely more but it’s unlikely you’ll see them and again I don’t have the manual, each enemy is taken out by a certain move, apart from the first enemy who can be taken out with standard punching and a forward jumping kick. You’ll be able to tell which move to use on an enemy depending on their placement onscreen. You actually have a life meter and believe me it will drain like nobody’s business when you’re confronted by four enemies simultaneously and honest to god platforming, yes, platforming in a Tiger game. In the starting levels you can simply walk over gaps without losing health or dying, but come level four you have to hit jump and forward every time the floor vanishes in front of you or you die, it would have been nice to know beforehand. Eventually the game just gets too difficult as you’re ganged up on by too many enemies to handle effectively and you’re already small life meter will simply drain. I managed to get to the end of level five before being killed by a projectile being shot at you by a gargoyle head, though I lost several lives to a door trap that will kill you instantly if you time entering it wrong. Sounds are just extremely harsh beeps, same with the pinball game, honestly I would recommend pressing that mute button every time you start up the game, at least they have one. The artwork is fantastic both on the case and in the game; the characters are wonderfully detailed and look excellent, you can really tell Tiger brought their A game when making this one. This isn’t a particularly cheap game, I paid $15 for mine (the store owner learned his lesson), which is about fair as mine doesn’t have any noticeable cosmetic damage and it has the battery cover, you can find this game on Ebay for either $10 for one of dubious quality or $35 for one that looks like it’s never been played. If you can find one for around 10-15 dollars that works and isn’t all scratched up it might be worth purchasing.
Radio Shack LCD Highway Game:
This game is weird, perhaps not in concept but definitely in execution. This is not just a game; it also doubles as a digital clock and as such never turns off. This thing doesn’t have an off button which means it’ll constantly be draining the battery, and believe me 357/303 batteries aren’t cheap offline, I almost paid more for the battery than I did the game. Highway is a fairly standard avoid’em game with a little twist, you must carry hikers that only appear on the left side of the road, and deposit them at signposts that only appear on the right side of the road, and it is an excellent way of keeping things interesting. Sometimes you’ll see a gas pump at the side of the road, if you’re lucky enough to pull up next to it you’ll be treated to a little slot minigame, if you get 111 you get 50 points, 333’ll get you 100 points 777’ll net you 300 points, and six dashes will get you 500 points. The graphics are fairly simple and rather confusing, why are there so many dogs sitting in the road? Why are there a bunch of signposts in the middle of the street? And WHO keeps leaving these logs everywhere!?! All the graphics are serviceable though, there’s nothing really to complain about when it comes to how the game looks and the background printing even looks nice in a minimalistic sort of way. The case the game comes in seems to be a generic orange and white case that was used for all the standard RS games and were even used by a bunch of other companies and licensees, so I guess it’s just generic, though it was re-released with a different case later on. Despite its small size it still fits well in my hands and has enough weight to keep it from feeling cheap and fragile. All in all this is actually a really fun game in a nice compact package, finding one of these cheap is another matter entirely, I got mine for $8.50 untested without a battery, but you can get this game on Ebay for 20-40 dollars loose and for 50-90 dollars CIB. If you can get one working with a battery for $15 dollars it would be worth a purchase, otherwise I would advise extreme caution.