Remembering VCR Games

March 23rd, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Remembering VCR Games on TechHive

Does anybody out there remember VCR games? They were typically board games that integrated a pseudo-interactive VHS video tape into the game play. The first two to be released were the Clue VCR Mystery Game and Rich Little’s VCR Charades Game, both by Parker Brothers in 1985.

They weren’t video games, per se, but you could call them “video tape games,” or VCR games, as I preferred in the recent slideshow of 1980s and ’90s VCR game classics I assembled for TechHive. Here’s an excerpt from the intro:

The rise of the home VCR in the early 1980s brought about that last innovation, which resulted in dozens of board games (and eventually toys as well) that shipped with VHS tapes designed to be played at certain points in the game. Players had to follow cues in the game in order to call up the right segment to play on the videocassette—all in all, a tedious business.

Personally, I remember playing the Clue VCR game at a friend’s house as a kid not long after it came out. It seemed pretty amazing at the time. I also vaguely remember playing some beach-themed game, and maybe one based on Trivial Pursuit.

Oh, and I also had the white Captain Power ship and some tapes. Loved that stuff.

The same sort of pseudo-interactive game format later made its way to DVDs, but the rise of multimedia video games (and ever-better graphics) essentially killed whatever chance they had of becoming a classic game genre.

12 Responses to “Remembering VCR Games”

  1. idisjunction Says:

    I never played VCR games as such, though I vaguely recall having Picture Pages with Bill Cosby.

  2. Dementropy Says:

    My brother an I got the Captain Power stuff one Christmas, an it was fun to go through the tapes (the television show wasn’t broadcast in my area, an I think my brother an I ha more fun running around an using the ships as guns for a slightly more accurate shootout game than Photon). We also ha a VCR game called “Doorways To Adventure,” which was played on a board, but used clips of old movies as the vehicle to the game. It also used a lot of tracking forward and backward – ensuring the tape was completely worn out by the 4th or 5th playthrough. (I won’t lie, it was un-fun.)

    Wow. I haven’t thought about those things in well over 15 years.

  3. Ant Says:

    I remember a flying jet simulation game.

  4. MES Says:

    Great post, definite blast from the past… Commercial Crazies was a great VCR trivia game as well, as a kid used to just watch the tape by itself and ignore the game because the commercials were great and so random

  5. DNA Says:

    Don’t remember those VCR games. But what I DO remember was a Saturday morning cartoon show featuring spaceships with flashing weak spots, and if you hit them with the associated NES-like zapper gun you could earn a score (or some such). This also allowed you to imagine that when the ships finally exploded it was on account of your radical laser zapping skills.

    Actually it wasn’t a cartoon I don’t think but CG animation, or maybe the main parts were live action featuring intercut CG space battles. I suppose it could have been Captain Power but after visiting the site I have no memory of that show or the toy accessories.

  6. Benj Edwards Says:

    Thanks, MES. Glad you like it.

    DNA: What you’re remembering is definitely Captain Power. Fits the description exactly.

    Do you guys have any requests for old tech you’d like me to cover in future articles?

  7. idisjunction Says:

    I don’t know how much broad appeal it has, but I like reading about the history of operating systems. Windows/MS-DOS/Mac OS/Linux/Unix have probably been done to death, but something less well known, like BeOS or AmigaOS might be nice.

    A bit on classic “workstations” like Sun-3s or SGI Indys might also be cool. But that’s just me.

  8. dfbills Says:

    I had forgotten all about VCR Clue. What a lost gem and a true relic of the VCR Age.

  9. TheSaintOfPain Says:

    I just recently found a VCR game at my local Goodwill a few months ago called Video Driver, made my Sega and Tyco back in 1988:

    It’s really nothing more than a glorified toddler’s toy steering wheel, and it’s really not that fun. But, as a video game collector, it’s a very interesting piece, and I enjoy displaying it as an odd and fairly rare piece of gaming history.

  10. Benj Edwards Says:

    Wow, awesome find, TheSaintOfPain. I’d never heard of that Tyco Video Driver game. It’s especially interesting that Sega had any involvement with it. Maybe Tyco was licensing trademarks from OutRun or something? Or maybe Sega engineers invented it and Tyco manufactured it.

    Perhaps we need to start making a list of VCR games of all types (toys and board games); I don’t think there are any good collections of info out there about them.

  11. dan Says:

    I had this game.

    Basically if i remember correctly you could only call offensive plays. Run or Pass. You would pick up a card and it would tell you if you gained or lost yards. Most cards however said play tape and it would show a random highlight from a super bowl and you got the result that was played on the tape. It was a great highlight real, not so great as a game.

  12. J. David Ramsey Says:

    When I was about 10, I received “Isaac Asimov’s Robots” VCR game for Christmas (about 1989). It was basically “Clue” with a middle-to-low budget video to drive a story. (The thing’s really not that bad, considering what you might expect.)

    Surprisingly, someone uploaded the VCR portion to YouTube. Presumably, if you had the cards but no VCR anymore, you could play using the YouTube video.

    I think I only played it two or three times, not so much because it was bad, but mainly because I could never convince my friends to play it.

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