Nintendo’s Gameboy gets a lot of credit for ushering in the era of handheld gaming as part of our culture, but Milton Bradley’s Microvision managed to beat out Nintendo’s game changer to the market by 10 years!
Handheld gaming wasn’t brand new when Milton Bradley released the Microvision in 1979, as Mattel had launched their line of hand held electronic games a year or two prior. Mattel’s games were groundbreaking in that you could take an electronic game of Football, Baseball or Missile Attack (among others) with you on a family vacation or to just use at home without monopolizing the television with your Pong consoles. What made the Microvision’s release so unique at the time was that the owner could swap out different games while using the same basic hardware. The Microvision games were not in traditional looking cartridge form, like what would later be found with the Gameboy, but instead the carts were more like faceplates that changed the entire appearance of the Microvision depending on what game you were playing. On each cartridge faceplate, you would see the name of the game, an “overlay” for the LCD screen and various buttons that corresponded to gameplay actions. At the bottom of the console itself was a circular knob that would be used as the “joystick”.
Depending on the model you owned, the Microvision would require either one or two 9 volt batteries to run. The version I own was the second model that requires only one 9 volt battery to operate the system, however the battery compartment still has a spot for two batteries. Interestingly, the second spot is only used as a placeholder for a back-up battery if/when it is needed. Much has been made of the Microvision’s design flaws which make owning and playing a fully functional Microvision that much more rare in the almost 40 years since its release. Screen rot, voltage shock & keypad wear are the most common issues that were either identified shortly after release or over periods of time since. Thankfully my Microvision, which I’ve owned since the early 2000s, is still fully functional (thus far). I hadn’t played it in years before hauling it out of storage for this month’s posts so I was a bit concerned I would be faced with a dead or dying system. So far, that hasn’t been the case so I guess I’m lucky for now. With so many newer handheld systems that do what the Microvision did much better, there’s no reason for me to put unnecessary wear and tear on my own, so after this month, I’ll be putting it back into it’s box for another several years.
The Microvision had a short lifespan of a few years on store shelves with only 12 officially released cartridges (11 of those in the U.S.) so it’s no wonder why it’s often overlooked in the handheld Hall of Fame. Nintendo’s Game & Watch would fill the market’s need for gaming on the go during the early to mid 80s after Microvision’s demise. Additionally Coleco and Mattel would continue to release handheld stand alone games to keep the kids off their parent’s television sets. Despite not being a smashing success, the Microvision deserves respect for attempting something no one had done before and for an entire decade, it was the only system to have done so. Good job Milton Bradley!
The game that came packaged with the Microvision, Blockbuster, is a Breakout clone which makes sense for a system with a small LCD screen and a knob for a controller. The game is extremely difficult due to the small amount of screen between the blocks you must break and your paddle so precise and immediate reaction time is mandatory in order to simply complete one level. You have options for how many balls you have in your disposal as well as the length of your paddle, but I can’t imagine playing this game in any other mode beyond the maximum # of balls (9) or using the triple length paddle. Are games of Breakout supposed to take only 10 seconds? If not, then max it out and do your best! Level of difficulty aside, I imagine the kids with a Microvision in 1979 were some of the coolest kids on the block. Just make sure you play your Microvision away from direct sunlight, avoid abrupt temperature changes and high humidity and/or dusty environments. Other than that, take it wherever you want and play it however long you want to, except for extended periods of time which will cause permanent damage to the display if the battery doesn’t die first.
Currently in my collection:
Microvision system with box, BlockBuster cartridge with manual