[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Nintendo Smartwatch

September 15th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Nelsonic Nintendo Game Watches Zelda Watch Super Mario Bros. Watch Service Merchandise catalog advertisement - 1989Why not put LZDN1WBF and LSMN1WBF on your Xmas wishlist?

As you probably know, Apple recently introduced the Apple Watch. That got me thinking about other nerdy watches of yore, and I remembered something I recently found in my mom's attic.

Last month, my mother and I searched through boxes and boxes of my grandmother's old dishes to see what might be of use to me now. The dishes had been sitting in my parents' attic untouched for two decades. Many of them were padded with old newspaper from eastern Tennessee, which is where my grandmother lived until she died in 1992.

Among the usual black-ink-on-yellowing-paper fare, I found a handful of gloriously full-color advertisement circulars. A December 1989 mini-catalog for Service Merchandise caught my attention immediately because it featured a pair of Nelsonic Game Watches licensed by Nintendo. (That segment of the circular is what you see scanned above.)

Each of these two watches, which sold for ($19.97 a piece — or $38.37 today when adjusted for inflation) played a simplified prefab-LCD interpretation of its console namesake. If you remember Tiger's LCD handheld games, you're on the right track. In the Zelda watch game, you were forever trapped in a dungeon, and in Super Mario Bros. you forever hopped between platforms.

While these watch games were limited at the time, it was amazing to think you could fit a portable, battery-powered "video game" on your wrist and play it wherever you liked. I personally recall seeing more than one of these watches getting confiscated by teachers during my elementary school days.

That desire to carry functional video games with us has never abated. Heck, I bet that within days of the Apple Watch's release next year, someone will hack it to play emulated versions of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda — allowing us to finally have the full NES experience on our wrists. It may be 25 years too late, but it will be amusing to see how things have come full circle.

[ From Service Merchandise Circular (IE499J), Dec 1989, p.11]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned a watch that played a game? Tell us about it.

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Predicting the Smartphone in 1989 — as the Smartwatch

March 25th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Seiko UC-2000 Semi-Smartwatch

While researching my slideshow on smartwatch history for TechHive last month, I came across an interesting 1989 letter to Computerworld magazine. It was a response to an earlier article in the publication about the inevitability of a wearable watch-sized microcomputer.

I find the letter prescient because its author imagines the consequences of walking around with a full-blown networked computer on your wrist. And he was right about his predictions in every regard except one: instead of computers on our wrists, we're walking around with computers in our pockets. In other words, smartphones.

But that's the nature of predicting the future. You can often get the general trends correct without knowing the details. Nobody in 1989 had any idea that the cell phone, instead of the watch, would first become the vehicle through which we'd wear tiny networked computers on our persons almost every hour of the day.

[ Continue reading Predicting the Smartphone in 1989 — as the Smartwatch » ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Nintendo Power Pad

November 13th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Nintendo NES Power Pad Nintendo Power Ad - 1989Nothing says fun like a nice hot bowl of chunky butter cubes.

With the Wii U launching next weekend, it's worth taking a look back the Power Pad, one of Nintendo's first experiments in motion-based game control.

In this case, the controller (which decidedly lacked a second screen) took the form of a large vinyl mat with enormous soft buttons that one would lay upon the floor and beat with one's fists stomp with one's feet to simulate running in an on-screen video game.

It didn't work too well, but I personally had a blast playing World Class Track Meet tournaments with the Power Pad at the neighbor's house up the street. I recall playing in improvised teams of two, where one player from each team would stand and run on two of the forward facing buttons, and another player on each team would sit behind them on the floor and pound the rear buttons simultaneously in an attempt to make their character run faster.

This was apparently possible (I'm working from memory here — I haven't used a Power Pad in a long time) because each column of buttons is linked together electronically in the Power Pad, so that a push on any one button in any one column is like a push on any other button in that column. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. I can't test it because the Power Pad I happen to have doesn't work.

By the way, I apologize for the uncharacteristically poor quality of the source material here. This came from a particular issue of Nintendo Power that I must have read hundreds of times, literally, so the creases are a natural byproduct of my youthful Nintendo-fueled enthusiasm.

[ From Nintendo Power, January-February 1989, rear cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Tell us your Power Pad memories. Have you ever used one?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Game Boy is Twenty

April 20th, 2009 by Benj Edwards

Game Boy Newspaper Ad - 1989"Just pop it in your pocket and pull it out any time."

[ From The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 23rd, 1989 ]

Twenty years ago tomorrow, the Game Boy went on sale for the first time in Japan. It retailed for ¥12,500 (about $94 US at 1989 rates), and Nintendo offered four games at Game Boy's initial launch: Super Mario Land, Baseball, Alleyway, and Yakuman (a Mahjong game). Four months later, Game Boy reached American shores with a retail price of $89.99 and a powerful pack-in game — Tetris.

Nintendo's inclusion of Tetris as the US pack-in was a stroke of absolute genius. The handheld version of Alexey Pajitnov's addictive puzzler made such waves in US that its release will long be remembered not just as a defining moment in video game history, but as a major cultural event for an entire generation.

As we now know, Game Boy's long and successful run created an immense legacy, far beyond just Tetris. Overall, publishers released 1246 licensed games for the Game Boy in Japan and 952 in the US. To date, Nintendo has sold 118.69 million units of the original Game Boy line (including Game Boy Color) worldwide.

Above, we see an original Toys 'R' Us newspaper advertisement announcing the arrival of the Game Boy and its launch games in the United States. (Gotta love that line art.) It really brings back memories of my excitement regarding Nintendo's first handheld system.

Discussion Topic of the Week:

In your opinion, what factors made the Game Boy so successful?

On the other hand, what mistakes, if any, did Nintendo make with the Game Boy over its twenty year run?

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More Game Boy Scans & Coverage:

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