Back to the start: Retro Hand-Held & Tabletop Arcade Electronic Video Games

Everyone remembers the old cartridge video games made by company’s like Atari, Nintendo and Sega but how about the small electronic hand held and table top games that pre-date Game Boy and Game Gear? These rare fun toys are all unique with their own quirky technologies that seem quite bizarre in today’s age where flat screen t.v.’s are everywhere. Really aren’t these out-of-date electronic children’s games just the secret origin of today’s most coveted and used super tool, the smart phone?

The earliest hand held electronic game I have found so far is ‘Digital Derby Auto Raceway’ by Tomy and stamped 1978. This is so original.


It has race car images on belts that move. This gives the appearance of an animated game when played. Your own race car is on a clear dial that moves with the steering wheel.


The idea is to dodge the traffic left and right with the small steering wheel. When you hit a car, a light comes on, illuminating the crash light. There is a manual gear shift that changes the speed of the belts giving the appearance that your race car accelerates.


The funny thing about the ‘Digital Derby Auto Raceway’ is that it is not digital at all.

This ‘Electronic Baseball’ game by Entex had a different interface. It was actually a game for 2 people. Mattel also made similar sports games particularly the Football one.

wp-image-521936528jpg.jpegThe yellow button on the left is the player up to bat. The controller on the right is for the other player who is pitching the baseball. A light turns on and then off acting as the baseball. There are a number of position the light can turn on at and this position change gives an animated appearance depicting the ball being pitched towards home plate. The bat player must press the button as the ball is pitched over the home plate. This ‘Electronic Baseball’ game is not really very fun at all. This light technology however would be one of the the first ways electronic games would become animated. Here is the box.


Parker Brothers released a series of board games in the late 70’s with electronic features. One of the boring ones is called ‘Merlin’. A board game called ‘Stop Thief’ was in the series and had a electronic remote used during the game. ‘Wildfire’ was by far the coolest. It is a true hand held electronic pinball game.


 It took the same light position technology as the baseball  game by Entex and applied it to a much more rewarding game play, while still keeping the concept of the light acting as the ball. ‘Wild Fire’ gameplay is quite neat to experience playing and the digital points read out is very hypnotic. Straight out of 1979. All you have to do is find 6 working AA batteries.


Nintendo was a real leader in hand held electronic video games. They got popular making their Game & Watch electronic pocket hand held games long before the Nintendo Entertainment System was made. The Game & Watch units were equipped with LCD screen game interfaces.


This game is ‘Helmet’ it is from 1981. it is only about 5″ wide. The Game & Watch games had a time mode that would display an animation as well as a clock. There were also sometimes different game play modes. Game A or Game B.


They included a fold in stand that could be used to prop the game up like a clock.


Here is ‘Snoopy Tennis’ from 1982. This is slightly larger than the ‘Helmet’ game as it has a wide screen and many more buttons.


Nintendo also licensed the ‘Peanuts’ characters and included beautiful screen printed color graphics. A step up from the previous year.  There were a lot of different games made.


The designs also got more elaborate.  This is ‘Mario Bros’ from 1983.  This Game & Watch game is a multi screen model. It opens like a book revealing 2 screens.


The game is played spanning both screens with one ‘Mario Bros’ on each screen. Luigi is on the left and Mario is on the right. In this game the ‘Mario Bros’ are making pizza and putting them on to the delivery truck.


There are other strange designs that Nintendo came up with for other Game & Watch games. ‘Mario Bros’ is wonderful.

The Game & Watch Nintendo games were pretty deluxe hand held games back in the 1980’s. Most people probably just had cheap sports games like this one released by a unknown company. wp-image-1183077284jpg.jpeg

In 1982 Entex released this ‘Turtles’ table top game. This kind of resembles ‘Frogger’ and reminds me of  a mini version of the large flat table ‘Mrs. Pac-Man’ Arcade machines.



There really are quite a few similarities to this game and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For one the game gives you 4 turtles to play. Another is that the turtles in the game seem to have the same ninja masks as the ninja turtles. Third the antagonist is a sharp scarab beetle bug resembling the evil Shredder. The game playing field resembles the layout of a city blocks.


The bright lights of the game screen must gave been pretty stimulating as Entex was well ahead of their time. You can play as Turtle or Bug depending on what game mode is selected.

Coleco table top video games were some of the most fun. The Coleco table top games by Midway are now legendary. This Pac Man released in 1982 is a definite favorite.


 The large graphics and color pallet make this game very memorable.


The side panel graphic really make you feel like this is the Arcade.


The play screen has a similar light display as Entex ‘Turtles’ game. In this game however you are Pac-Man vs the 4 ghosts. Game play is only similar.


In 1983 Coleco took their table top games to new innovations and different technologies. They teamed up with Nintendo with a new series and released games like this Donkey Kong Junior.


The game is ‘Donkey Kong Junior’ trying to rescue a ‘Mario Bros’ from ‘Donkey Kong.’ Classic Nintendo.


Beautiful graphics on this Nintendo Table Top Arcade.


The game screen that you viewed was actually a mirror that reflected the real game screen located in the roof of the toy. This made it appear deep in the back of the viewing window.


A window panel in the roof would let in light, illuminating the play screen. This feature let this game only need 2 batteries compared to the older Pac-Man style Coleco games that used 4 batteries.


Tiger Electronics made a lot of hand held electronic video games.


‘After Burner’ is one of the cooler ones that I remember when Tiger teamed up with Sega in 1989. Sega was a big video game company that has Sonic The Hedgehog as their mascot. 20170210_225923

Playing ‘After Burner” you are a Jet Fighter Plane pilot! Really it also looks like a Super Computer for an action Figure display.


I remember having a Blades of Steel Tiger game as a kid that I would play. I also remember Mega Man, Star Trek and Street Fighter 2. Most Tiger games were similar style to this Toy Story Tiger Hand Held Electronic Game released in 1995.


 Another vintage Table Top Arcade game is this “Ghost Hunter” game by BoToy. Which is obviously in the spirit of Pac-Man.


You activate the game by inserting a coin. The Ghosts pop up and you hit them with the hammer and lights flash.


This game, unlike the others doesn’t have a screen, or is it just that the screen is a interactive 3D playing field?

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