Play a Collection of Classic Handheld Video Games at the Internet Archive: Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Tron and MC Hammer

Equipped with smart­phones that grow more pow­er­ful by the year, gamers on the go now have a seem­ing­ly unlim­it­ed vari­ety of play­ing options. A decade ago they relied on hand­held game con­soles with their thou­sands of avail­able game car­tridges and lat­er discs, whose reign began with Nin­ten­do’s intro­duc­tion of the orig­i­nal Game Boy (a device whose unwrap­ping on Christ­mas 1990 remains one of my most vivid child­hood mem­o­ries). But even before the Game Boy and its suc­ces­sors, there were stand­alone hand­held pro­to-video-games, “LCD, VFD and LED-based machines that sold, often cheap­ly, at toy stores and booths over the decades.”

Those words come from Jason Scott at the Inter­net Archive, where you can now play a range of those hand­held games again, emu­lat­ed right here in your brows­er. “They range from notably sim­plis­tic efforts to tru­ly com­pli­cat­ed, many-but­toned affairs that are tru­ly dif­fi­cult to learn, much less mas­ter,” Scott writes.

“They are, of course, enter­tain­ing in them­selves – these are attempts to put togeth­er inex­pen­sive ver­sions of video games of the time, or bring­ing new prop­er­ties whole­cloth into exis­tence.” They also “rep­re­sent the dif­fi­cul­ty ahead for many aspects of dig­i­tal enter­tain­ment, and as such are worth expe­ri­enc­ing and under­stand­ing for that rea­son alone.”

What kind of games came in this form? The Inter­net Archive’s cur­rent offer­ings include vague approx­i­ma­tions of 70s and 80s arcade hits like Pac-ManDon­key Kong, and Q*Bert;  even vaguer approx­i­ma­tions of such major motion pic­tures of the day as TronRobo­cop 2 (as well as Robo­cop 3), and Apol­lo 13; and sports titles like World Cham­pi­onship Base­ballNFL Foot­ball, and Blades of Steel. You’ll even find pop­u­lar odd­i­ties like Bandai’s Tam­agotchi, the orig­i­nal vir­tu­al pet, along with less pop­u­lar odd­i­ties like MC Ham­mer, a dual-direc­tion­al-padded sim­u­la­tion of a dance bat­tle with the auteur of “U Can’t Touch This.”

So as you play, spare a thought for the devel­op­ers of these hand­held games, not just because of the dire intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty they often had to work with, but the severe tech­no­log­i­cal restric­tions they invari­ably had to work under. “This sort of Her­culean effort to squeeze a major arcade machine into a hand­ful of cir­cuits and a beep­ing, boop­ing shell of what it once was is an ongo­ing sit­u­a­tion,” writes Scott. “Where once it was try­ing to make arcade machines work both on home con­soles like the 2600 and Cole­co­v­i­sion, so it was also the case of these plas­tic toy games. Work of this sort con­tin­ues, as mobile games take charge and devel­op­ers often work to bring huge immer­sive expe­ri­ences to where a phone hits all the same notes.” And the day will cer­tain­ly come when even the most impres­sive games we play now, hand­held or oth­er­wise, will seem just as hilar­i­ous­ly sim­plis­tic.

Enter the hand­held video col­lec­tion here. And find more clas­sic video games in the Relat­eds below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Play “Space War!,” One of the Ear­li­est Video Games, on Your Com­put­er (1962)

Pong, 1969: A Mile­stone in Video Game His­to­ry

The Inter­net Arcade Lets You Play 900 Vin­tage Video Games in Your Web Brows­er (Free)

Run Vin­tage Video Games (From Pac-Man to E.T.) and Soft­ware in Your Web Brows­er, Thanks to Archive.org

Free: Play 2,400 Vin­tage Com­put­er Games in Your Web Brows­er

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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