30 Years of Handheld Game Systems

December 7th, 2009 by Benj Edwards

30 Years of Handheld Game Systems on PC World

My latest PC World article celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Milton-Bradley Microvision with a look back at handheld game systems of the past. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

Thirty years ago this fall, Milton Bradley released the world’s first handheld video game system with interchangeable cartridges, the Microvision. Prior to 1979, handheld electronic games were stuck with one predetermined game (or set of games) per unit. After the Nintendo Game Boy debuted a decade later, the market for cartridge-based handheld devices exploded, inspiring hardware vendors both prominent and obscure to release gadgets for playing multiple games on the go.

I spent quite a bit of time hand-crafting the slides (and writing the text, of course), so I think it’s one of my better slide shows. I hope you enjoy it.

As a side note, the anniversary of the Microvisions’s release was actually last month (November 2009), but due to delays in PC World’s publishing schedule, my article was pushed back until now.

8 Responses to “30 Years of Handheld Game Systems”

  1. guppy Says:

    Huh, I’d never seen one of those before, nor even heard of them.

  2. Fessic Says:

    Nice slideshow Benj. It’s neat to see how the handheld market has evolved. Haven’t heard of most of those. But one of them…I think the GP32, is the predecessor to a similar device under development now. Can’t recall the name of it though.

  3. Jake Says:

    Fessec, you’re thinking of the GP2X, right? Those are great handhelds, on my Christmas list!

    Another great slideshow! You’ve just inspired me to go out and buy a $5 Game Boy Pocket. 😀

  4. the-topdog Says:

    Great slideshow, the only missing-link I could see was the omission of the Cresta Cartridge based handheld game system (also released by Halion and Ectron)…


    They had attempted to ride on the success of the Microvision and the Nintendo Game & Watch craze. This type of system just never caught on and was expensive to make since the game and the lcd screen were part of each cartridge.

  5. Benj Edwards Says:

    Glad you liked it, Topdog. I had to leave a number of lesser-known handheld game consoles out, but even then, I have never heard of the Cresta cartridge-based system until now. Do you have any more information on it? What year was it released? In what country was it released?

  6. Game Collector Says:

    Those first couple systems look like something you’d find buried in a thirftstore but neat nonetheless. The Neo Pocket was sooo under rated :-(. Good memories!

  7. the-topdog Says:

    Cresta released a bunch of dedicated LCD handheld games in the early 1980s, they had licensed some well known games as well as some not so well known clones like Clown, a Q*bert knockoff, in an attempt to capitalize on the wildly popular line of Game & Watch units by Nintendo.

    Seeing how popular gaming consoles were becoming, and the apparent success of the Entex Select-A-Game, it seemed prudent to release this cartridge based handheld system in 1982. Taking a page from Milton Bradley’s Microvision book, they utilized the same chips and screens from the standalone units in the cartridges.

    They were first released in Europe, Austrailia and New Zealand under the brands Cresta, Halion and Ectron and eventually made it to a few shops in the USA.

    On the surface it seemed like a good idea. But they were clumsy in the fact that each time you took a cartridge off the base unit, you had to re-program the time… so as a watch they were useless, and only having 6-8 games made for it, the variety just wasn’t there to make it a successful platform. The system quickly and quietly disappeared from the market.

    Today only a small handful of the units have been found in the wild. I’m lucky enough to have one of the Cresta consoles.

  8. Gutspiller d'Axe Says:

    Hey, I had one of these! Totally forgot about it.

    I never did have too many cartridges, just 3 I think, including the brick buster that came with it. I’m not even sure how many there were.

    Well, I guess I could go Google it. 🙂

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