Microvision – The First Game Changer

From the late 70s into the 80 the handheld electronic gaming market was quite large. There were tons of these things around and were great fun on the go, but most were limited to just one game, or a different variation of the same game, except for one system called Microvision.


Created by Milton Bradley in 1979, Microvision was the first handheld electronic game system to feature interchangeable cartridges. This meant that there was an entire library of games to choose from, not just one preloaded game.

The system had a 1½” screen which displayed 16×16 pixels of fancy-shmancy black and white LCD graphics. The sound was a simple piezo buzzer that belched out blips and beeps here and there. There wasn’t any music that I can remember, but it was satisfying to hear the sounds nonetheless. At the bottom of the console there was a single knob which was your controller. Above that, there was a touchpad that was used for various game selecting/firing/options per whatever cartridge was plugged into it.


The cartridges themselves were rather odd. They were long, thin and had a membrane which went over the touchpad and a clear plastic overlay which went over the LCD screen. The membranes were a thin flexible plastic which would become misshapen or even tear after repeated use. The keypad below would also become dented and would malfunction after a while.

The games available for the Microvision were simple, yet entertaining. I spent countless hours playing Blockbuster and Pinball. Blockbuster was a breakout clone that had 2 variable speed levels – slow and fast. Pinball was not quite pinball at all, but vertical pong with 4 fixed bumpers. Even so, I played it hundreds of times. Other games included Bowling, Baseball, and Connect Four. A total of 12 games were made for the system and one which was to be created but never saw the light of day.


If you’d like to experience the Microvision yourself then simply buy one online or you can play an interesting and quite accurate simulator made by Bob Eichler at http://home.comcast.net/~eichler2/microvision/MicroSimProject.htm


Martin Touhey goes by the screen name Sleepyeyed and has a passion for retro things of all kinds. One particular passion has led him to the creation of a documentary film about his favorite video game - Dragon's Lair. See the teaser at https://vimeo.com/37600315

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