Of Batteries and Epoch Men

One retro thought often leads to another. In my case, one retro thought often leads to ten others. I had to change a AA battery in my wireless mic today. As I did so, I began to wonder if my daughter’s generation will even know what disposable batteries are. It’s possible they won’t. It’s possible they will be so used to recharging everything via USB cable that they will never know the “joy” of trying to find replacement batteries for your handheld electronics, of learning AAA, AA, B, C and D, of trying to figure out which way the batteries were supposed to go in, of losing the lid to the battery well, and all the other quirks that went with batteries. Batteries weren’t toys, but they were so connected with the toys of the 80s that I have a lot of quasi-fond memories about them.
That thought led to a memory of one particular handheld device I had and my time trying to find batteries for it. That device was called Epoch Man.
Epoch Man was clearly a Pac-Man clone (re: rip off). I realized that even at an early age. But it somehow found its way into my grubby hands and I loved playing it. Until the batteries went out. The way batteries ran out in these devices is that the device would flicker in and out of life. It wouldn’t just shut off completely. It would still linger for a while. Because of this, I thought the problem was the device and not the batteries, and I responded as any reasonable grade-schooler would: I hit it. With my hand. Hard. Too hard, in fact. Though this technique did somehow draw a few more seconds of Epoch Man-playing power out of the batteries, it had the unfortunate side-effect of breaking Epoch Man permanently. The broken Epoch Man hung around my toy box for a little while as what I would years later come to call a “brick”, and then it disappeared.

It’s one of my saddest memories. Rip-off or not, I really liked Epoch Man, and I was sad to see him die and disappear. But that’s how it went with handheld electronics in the age of batteries.

Pac-Man Hand Held Game from MGA

I have a small collection of hand-held gaming systems. Most of them are from the late 70s, like the classic Mattel sports games, although some of them are the newer reproductions. When I ran across this one recently at a garage sale, I was surprised I didn’t recognize it.

This Pac-Man hand-held was made by MGA. Along with it’s tiny joystick, there are several buttons for turning the sound on and off, starting a new game, and pausing the game. That should have been my first tip off that this wasn’t very old. Back in my day, we didn’t have fancy options like “pausing a game,” pashaw!

Another give away was (or at least should have been) this fairly modern looking sticker on the front of the unit.

A third give away that this was a modern toy was that it worked. Usually when I find old hand held gaming systems, they take some cleaning (or at least a change of batteries) for them to fire up. Although this game has retro-style graphics, I was pretty sure it was a relatively modern toy. A Google search on my phone confirmed that it was made in 2001. Still, for a quarter, it was worth it.

As far as Pac-Man games go, this one’s pretty horrible. Along with the black-and-white blinking graphics and mostly monotone beeps, the screen is too small to display the entire maze at once. That causes the game to constantly redraw the screen every time to go off the top, bottom, left, or right of the screen, usually directly into a waiting ghost.

Handheld Mattel Electronic Games

Handheld Mattel Electronic Games

Looking for a good good gift this year? How about a little baseball, basketball, or football on a Handheld Mattel Electronic Games? I can’t remember which of these I owned as a child and which ones I picked up over the years. Mattel’s original electronic football game was released back in 1977, but reproductions of those early games are still available in stores today.

There’s even an iPhone version of the games available, for those who miss these old games but haven’t been able to find one.


Thanks to Matt Shevin for the iPhone photo and Mattel for all the years of fun!