[ Retro Scan Special ] Milton-Bradley Microvision

December 7th, 2009 by Benj Edwards

Milton-Bradley Microvision Box Front - 1979A Well-Loved Milton-Bradley Microvision Box (Front)

[ From Milton-Bradley Microvision Box (Front), ca. 1979 ]

Thirty years ago last month, Milton-Bradley released the world’s first handheld game console with interchangeable cartridges, the Microvision. As a result, the Microvision was the first handheld “system” in the classic sense: it allowed the user to play numerous arbitrary software titles on a single base console.

As you may have read in my last VC&G post, I recently celebrated this anniversary over at PC World with a slideshow of handheld system history.

It always pains me when I don’t have the time to write up an in-depth history of the subject I’m focused on at any given time, so to compensate a bit, I’d like to share some scans of assorted Milton-Bradley Microvision paraphernalia that I’ve assembled.

Milton-Bradley Microvision Flier - 1979Click above to see the front and back of the flier.

[ From Milton-Bradley Microvision Flier, ca. 1979 ]

Seen above is a small, unfolded 5.75″x5.8125″ flier that I acquired when I purchased my Microvision set many years ago. It was in the Microvision retail box I received, so I’m not sure if it came with the console itself, or if the previous owner acquired it through some other means. On the back (which you can see if you click the image above), it describes and provides screenshots of six different Microvision games.

Blockbuster from Back of Milton-Bradley Microvision Box - 1979Blockbuster information from back of Milton-Bradley Microvision box

[ From Milton-Bradley Microvision Box (Back), ca. 1979 ]

Above is a snippet from the back of the Microvision retail box. It describes Blockbuster, the Microvision’s original pack-in game, which (to my knowledge) was included with every Microvision unit sold in the United States. Notice the Microvision’s expansive 16×16 LCD display.

Milton-Bradley Microvision Star Trek Phaser Strike Cartridge ScanStar Trek: Phaser Strike Cartridge

And last, but not least, is a scan of the front and back of your typical Microvision game cartridge (in this case, Star Trek: Phaser Strike). Each cartridge came with its own built-in controller overlay (a thin, flexible rubbery printed sheet in a hard plastic grid) that defined which buttons did what for the player.

Each cartridge also included its own CPU in addition to the game code in ROM, so the Microvision console itself was merely a dumb LCD receptacle in some respects. As a result, different CPUs powered different games in some instances — probably the first (and last) time that happened in the video game world.

Overall, the Microvision was an odd machine — very obscure, very underrated, and very forgotten at the moment. Hopefully you readers out there can chime in with your own Microvision memories.

Discussion Topic of the Week: What’s your favorite handheld video game console of all time?

16 Responses to “[ Retro Scan Special ] Milton-Bradley Microvision”

  1. Dave Ross Says:

    The Microvision looked to be a neat machine, and durable. Unfortunately, the screens haven’t held up over the years. It’s a shame, and having the ROM code in the processor itself means we may never see a true emulator. Neither of my Microvisions has a working screen.

  2. Cozfer Says:

    I was fortunate enough to receive one of these as a present when I was a kid. I had at least three games, Blockbuster, Baseball, and I think the pinball one. Blockbuster was my favorite, especially since the rotating knob really lent itself to that type of game. I think the knob was also how you ‘swung’ the bat, so that was cool

    Thanks for bringing back those memories!

  3. teebo Says:

    Fav handheld? This little keychain-sized LCD gaming unit that has a handful of games(Tetris with numerous variants, tank shoot, “breakout”-like, etc). I bought it in a vending machine in Japan. It has the same guts as my POP Station, only much smaller.

  4. Jake Says:

    That’s pretty interesting, Benj. I’ve seen one of those somewhere, but I didn’t think much of it. At first glance it looks kinda like an old happy-meal toy. Such an “large area LCD screen”!
    I wonder what would happen if you were to switch some ‘poor’ kid’s DS with one of these, and his iPod with a walkman. Then put a PS/2 where his i7 used to be ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. the-topdog Says:

    Well I have a conundrum here as my choice for favorite handheld console of all time is a TIE between the Microvision and the TurboGrafx TurboExpress handheld.

    The Milton Bradley Microvision will always hold a spot in my heart as not only was it the first handheld gaming system with interchangeable cartridges, it was also my first handheld gaming console. I had saved up for months as a kid, doing odd jobs and collecting pop-bottles for the deposits.

    I finally purchased one and all of the kids in the neighborhood wanted to play… the problem was it ate up a 9volt battery in just over an hour… so I was charging my friends a quarter to play a game to offset the cost of the 5 or 6 9v batteries I went through a week.

    I now own 4 boxed units with all of the games, all still fully functional.

    But as far as cool factor went, the TurboExpress was the most amazing handheld ever… not only was it the first handheld game system with a full color screen… but it played the exact same game cartridges (HU Cards) that the TurboGrafx 16 game console played… not scaled back “sorta” games.

    It was backlit and had a television adapter so you could watch your favorite shows. The TV adapter also had an A/V in so you could hook up any other device and use the TurboExpress as a miniature monitor.

    It was power hungry, but NEC was thinking ahead and released an AC adapter to give you uninterrupted play whan an outlet was close by.

    So for me, it is a coinflip between these two fantastic handhelds.

  6. Matt Says:

    The 2 best games I ever owned were the game&watch editions of Donkey Kong Jr. (the gold 2-screen folding one) and Mario Brothers (man, was that game long and detailed for how small the unit was). I traded DKJ for something and broke Mario. SOB!
    To be fair though (and remove my clouds of nostalgia), my PSP hacked for emulation is by far the best handheld I can imagine. And it plays game&watch reissues, so there! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Mattel Aquarius Says:

    Atari Lynx. I wish I was playing one, now. You know a product will fail on the market, when every time someone sees you play it, they are amazed, because they’ve never heard of it before.

  8. Matt Says:

    OK, I went out and bought a vintage one of these (are there any other kind? ๐Ÿ™‚ ) and somebody had had the foresight to apply a static shield to it back in the 70’s, which seems to have fixed the static shielding problem. It works great and came with 2 games! I got the newer, 2-9v battery one. Guys, you can find these in mint condition for less than $20 if you’re curious like I was.

  9. Dale Says:

    I’m so glad I stumbled across this post; I’ve been trying to find information on the Microvision (to settle an argument with a friend), but couldn’t remember the name of it.
    Anyone have any idea what these cost brand new, back when they first came out?

  10. RubberBekki Says:

    A relative had a Microvision. At first I thought it was interesting but it was very limited and bulky. Add to that limitation that due to impurities used in the construction of the LCD screen the majority of these games suffer from LCD rot. So they’re very hard to find in pristine condition today.

    I didn’t really have anything in the way of handheld systems when I was a kid. All that changed in my later teenage years when I bought a used GameBoy in ’89 which, unfortunately, was stolen by a “friend” a couple years later.

    A sidenote regarding related MB Electronics: I used to have a Big Trak. That to me was more fun than a handheld game at the time. Nothing is as fun as a big ol’ programmable tank! And, if I can find it, I’d retrofit it to replace the photon cannon bulb with a self-cocking and firing mechanism using some servos and springs similar to the scaled-down internals of a toy plastic pellet gun.

    {sigh} We need more programmable robotic tank toys today.

  11. Currentuserjade Says:

    I had the best duo that Christmas, Microvision and Merlin, and had a group in school dedicated to electronic games. 30 minutes, every Thursday, the kids that joined the group would fill up 2 classrooms, and we were able to socialize with each other, while learning new skills and strategies. Now it’s hide the smartphone from the teacher.

  12. Myria Says:

    “As a result, different CPUs powered different games in some instances รขโ‚ฌโ€ probably the first (and last) time that happened in the video game world.”

    Star Fox and Super Mario RPG would like to have a word with you…

  13. Benj Edwards Says:

    Good point, Myria. However, the Super FX chip series and the Sega Virtual Processor (a similar chip for the Genesis) were both co-processors that assisted each system’s main CPU in rendering graphics. They did not take over as the sole CPUs of the machine as was the case with the Microvision.

  14. Mike Says:

    I never had one of these, but been looking at one on a local auction and googled for some info. I remember seeing them at the time and wanting one in my junior years (and the MB follow on the Vectrex).
    My vote for best handheld would probably be now a PSP for it’s versatility and amazing screen/games…but I was very fond a few years ago of the Neo Geo Pocket Colour. It was tragic this little unit did not succeed, it had some Gameboy killing features had it been promoted, marketed, and supported properly. Good size, great screen, 16 bit, and amazing battery life…and the best feature was it’s brilliant controller joystick. Some fantasic games but sadly not enough.

  15. mikey tsc Says:

    A favorite of mine were the Mattel Handhelds: Speed Freak (Driving), Armor Attack (Combat), and the AD&D game (which they released a Heman/Masters o/t Universe, using the same principles as the AD&D). The Tomy Slot Car H’Held was a nice one. And a personal Favorite (and super rare) was the GCE Chase-n-counter… I also loved Tomy’s take on Tron, a little desk-top game. And cannot deny the old ‘arcade’ table toppers as well (PacMan, DKong, Galaxian)

    The Microvision was awesome indeed. I think a neighbor had one and I couldn’t stop bothering him to play…

    And to whomever did Own a BigTrak (RubberBekki, above) I salute you, always wanted one :p

  16. mike Says:

    I think I paid $79 for mine, new, back in 1980. I remember the cartridges going on clearance at a local Laneco a few years later, and I bought all the games I could for about $5 each.

    Great units. I had 2, one died early from screen rot, the second one survived just fine, but I must have stored it in the attic at some point, so that screen rotted, too.

    My son thinks vintage games are cool, so I’d love to repair the screen so he can have this old thing.

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