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MICROVISION - Review of US System & All 11 Games


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Hey everyone.. I posted this a few years back on another forum that I frequent, but figured you all might get some use out of it too. It’s a review of Milton Bradley’s Microvision handheld system from 1979, along with all 11 U.S. games. As many of you know, this is generally considered the first handheld gaming system ever released, as it was the first to use interchangeable cartridges. Since this is a system with low interest overall from collectors and retro gamers alike, that also means there's not much info about it on the internet. You can find some details about the system itself...but the individual games? Forget it. I searched for Microvision game recommendations all over the internet when I bought mine and found almost nothing. So I figure posting a few of my thoughts here might help someone else now or in the future. I bought my Microvision and all the U.S. games in 2013, and played it for a couple weeks, and then wrote these reviews while everything was still fresh in my mind:

 

 

SYSTEM: The Microvision is a primitive handheld with a basic 16x16 LCD screen, often considered the first handheld gaming system. It was designed by Jay Smith, who later designed the Vectrex. At the outset, I would say that this system is best considered as just a piece for collectors-- there is nothing compelling about it from a gameplay standpoint. The games are not as awful as you might expect from a 1979 handheld that can only display 16x16 pixels on the screen-- but there are also definitely no "must play" games that I tried. But there were a couple games that were able to occupy my time for over an hour, which I consider a good feat considering my short attention span. And that's better than I can say for the Game.com. The version I got is a later model (from 1980, I think), and I had no issues with it (no screen rot or other common defects). To the best of my knowledge and research, the Microvision had 11 games released for it in the United States. None are particularly rare, so it's very possible to collect the whole set. A system with a set of several games should run you about $50 on eBay; most games sold individually run about $5-$15.

 

Gameplay (D-): If you buy a Microvision, it shouldn't be for the games, unless you happened to have one as a kid and have some nostalgic longing to replay it. The games are just too simplistic, and the small 16x16 screen made it quite difficult to produce worthwhile games. While there are a few games that could hold your attention in short spurts, there are no must-play games in the entire library.

 

Collectibility (C+): I view the Microvision as more of a collector's piece, and, in that sense, it has a lot going for it. Most notably, of course, it has the distinction of being the first handheld video game system. It's also cheap and easy to collect for. No U.S. game is exceedingly rare or expensive. Most games sell for under $5-$10, and even the rarest can be had for under $20. The system itself is cheap too (my set came with 5 games for $50). On the downside, the desire for this system is low (surely, the simplicity and lack of good games is a key reason) and the system is also prone to technical issues (particularly "screen rot") which makes it more difficult to find and maintain a working system.

 

 

GAMES: I got a few games with my set on eBay, and then also individually purchased the others, and now have the entire 11-game U.S. library. (There is also a 12th game, Super Blockbuster, released only in Europe, but it is the rarest of the set and I have not been able to get my hands on it.) I've discussed each game below, and placed them in the order of best to worst based on my opinion of them. Generally, I get bored fast with simple games like these, so my idea of "best" was what kept me interested and stayed fun for the longest. I used an A to F grading system, scoring each game based on comparison to the rest of the Microvision library (so an “A” game is only an A in comparison to other Microvision games).

 

[NOTE: Games followed by a * = Instruction Manual Recommended. Due to the rudimentary nature of the games, certain ones are very difficult to figure out (sometimes impossible) by trial-and-error. I've marked these with an *, after the letter score. Fortunately, manuals can often be found online in PDF form, if you don't receive one with the game.]

 

 

1. Block Buster (A-): A Breakout clone, and a pretty good one at that, especially considering the limitations of this system. On the hardest setting (fast speed and a one-pixel long paddle), it's impossible and unplayable. But on the easiest setting (slow and three-pixel paddle), it's still very challenging, but it's also fun and addictive. Just beating the first level is an accomplishment on the easiest settings. I spent about an hour or so before finally beating that level, having a "just one more game" mentality the whole time. Actually got so caught up in it, that I ended up a few minutes late to work one day. You can choose from 1-9 balls, and it generally makes sense to choose 9 because the game can be cheap and you lose some of those balls when you shouldn't. Problem is, once I beat the first level, I didn't think I could make it through another level, so my brief addiction ended. And good news-- this game was packaged with every new Microvision back in the day, so any used set should have it.

 

2. Alien Raiders (A-) (*): Here it is, the peak of "arcade action" on the Microvision. First, despite the name, this is not a Space Invaders clone (in fact, it's unlikely that the Microvision could handle such a clone). And, while it won't give Space Invaders a run for its money, it's a very good arcade-style diversion nonetheless (at least by Microvision standards). In this game, you control a ship (or laser) on the left side of the screen, and alien raiders fly toward you from the right. The goal is to shoot them before they reach your side and "land", at which point it's game over. But there is more to it than just shooting everything in sight. Your ship attacks with a laser beam rather than bullets, and the laser beam will only hit the raiders if it is adjusted to the perfect length (using the control knob) when you fire it. If the beam is too short, or so long that it goes past the raider's ship, then it will not hit the raider. In this sense, there is some true strategy and skill involved in the game. Things get more difficult as you play longer and the objective is to keep besting your high score.

 

3. Connect Four (B+): Here’s one of the few (or maybe only) official standalone video game versions of Connect Four ever released (since Milton Bradley also made the board game). It has a two-player mode where you hand the console back and forth between turns. You can also play against the computer. The screen is big enough to fit a whole Connect Four board, so it's just like the real game. It's nothing special, but it is what it claims to be. I liked Connect Four as a kid -- in fact, I was the Connect Four champ in second grade!!, my life's greatest achievement -- so maybe that's part of my high score for it. Only bad thing is that sometimes it can be hard to differentiate your pieces from your opponent's on the screen, especially as the board fills up.

 

4. Mindbuster (B) (*): This is a puzzle game, most similar to Lights Out (the Tiger handheld, also released on Game.com). Mindbuster has two different game modes. One is very easy and the other is very challenging. It'd be nice if there was a middle ground. The game randomly generates puzzles that you try to solve. The more challenging mode kept me busy for a long while trying to solve its puzzles. But I actually don't think I was ever able to solve any of those. Still had fun trying, at least for a little while.

 

5. Sea Duel (B-) (*): The amount of depth to this game is surprising, and it's by far the deepest game on the Microvision. This is a turn-based strategy game out on the open seas, where one player controls a submarine and the other controls a navy destroyer (either 2 players or versus the CPU). Each player takes a turn moving their ship around the grid and selecting which direction to fire. Then, once both sides have locked in their moves, the actions plays out simultaneously on screen (Milton Bradley even has a fancy name for it -- "Multiple Simultaneous Movement"). The result is that you never know where your opponent will be when your ship fires. So if you shoot where your opponent is currently, there is a chance that he actually moved his ship elsewhere during his turn, but you won't see that until the simultaneous action plays out afterward. Thus, there is a lot of strategy and thinking involved here, as you try to outsmart your opponent with your movements and predicting where he will be when you fire. Think of it like a more active, fluid version of Battleship. I have seen at least one reviewer on another site call this the best game on Microvision -- to me, the pace is a little too plodding for my old school gaming tastes, but with the amount of depth here and a worthy human opponent, I could easily see some people finding this game worthy of a full letter grade higher.

 

6. Baseball ( C) (*): I expected this game to be awful (I couldn't picture baseball being on a 16x16 screen), but it's not half bad in short spurts. It's actually more like "Home Run Derby" than a full baseball game, because there is no fielding. The ball comes from the pitcher's mound, and you swing the paddle (i.e., your "bat") to hit the ball. Depending on where and how far the ball flies, you'll either get out or hit a single, double, triple, or home run. You go through 9 innings of this. Eventually it gets boring though, as it gets too easy to score once you get past the learning curve (but in a two player mode perhaps it would be better). [An instruction manual is highly recommended with this game, because it is very difficult to figure out the swing mechanism without it.]

 

7. Bowling (C-): This game is alright for a few games of bowling. The problem, though, is that it's too simplistic so it gets boring pretty fast (even with 2 players). There are ten pins at the top of the screen. Your ball moves back and forth at the bottom of the screen. Timing it just right, you press a button to "release" the ball and it goes towards the pins and knocks down a certain amount depending on where you aimed. Woohoo.

 

8. Cosmic Hunter (D+) (*): One of the last-released games for the system, so it's one of the harder to find. If you can't find it, you're not missing much. In this game, you're supposedly on an alien planet. You are a dot on the screen (the "hunter") chasing another dot around the screen (an "alien", I think). You have to catch the alien. You can only catch the alien from 2 pixels away -- if you are 3 pixels away then you're too far, and if you're 1 pixel away then the alien eats you. So you have to maneuver yourself 2 pixels away and then press the capture button with perfect timing to catch it. The game keeps your score, which is 1 point per alien caught. There is a little bit of strategy involved, in terms of chasing the alien down and cornering it in areas to set up the captures, because the playing field is a bit maze-like. Give it credit for creativity, but overall, it's just about as lame as it sounds. The game might be more exciting if there were ever multiple aliens on the screen at once instead of just one, but I don't think that happens.

 

9. Vegas Slots (D-): Now here's a Microvision game your Great Uncle Fred would love. It reminds me of those cheesy $10 slot and poker handheld games that you used to see old people sitting in their recliner playing for hours on end. I never understood the point of simulated gambling games and, of all the gambling games to simulate, I can't imagine one more boring than slots. The fun of slots is the thrill of winning money; take that out of the equation and your left with some sort of lame matching game (where the actual matching is totally out of your control). That being said, if you want a slot simulator, this game works as advertised. The graphics are crude, but it gets the job done. The "highlight" -- if we can call it that -- is the two-player mode, which is comprised of a couple unique slot-based games, including one where you "bank" your winnings as you go along but you lose anything you didn't bank if you get two cherries, and first to 100 points wins. In this way, at least there is some strategy and an objective involved in the 2-player games.

 

10. Star Trek Phaser Strike [later released on just "Phaser Strike"] (D-): This game is pointless. You control a gun at the bottom of the screen (a ship perhaps, I don't know). Then pixels fly from left to right or right to left across the screen above you (perhaps these are other ships, I don't know), and you must aim and time you shots right to shoot them. That's it.. shoot the horizontally-moving pixels for points. Very lame. Just stick to Alien Raiders for shooting action.

 

11. Pinball (F): The lamest, dumbest Microvision game of them all. Which is sad, because Pinball just sounds like a game that would have potential on this system. In this game, you do not get 2 flippers like normal pinball. Instead, you have a paddle at the bottom of the screen (like Block Buster, or Breakout). In the field of play, there are four bumpers -- that's it, just four stupid bumpers, that's the whole "pinball machine". So you move your stupid paddle along the bottom of the screen, and use it to hit the stupid ball, and it bounces around the screen, and hopefully hits the stupid bumpers. It keeps your score, which is 1 point for each bumper you hit. This game is incredibly dumb; if you want to use a paddle to hit balls at things, play Block Buster, which is a much better game. I don't know if Pinball is actually the worst Microvision game, but playing it infuriates me so much that I can't imagine it being in any other spot.

 

 

So that's all, finally. I know this info is sort of useless for most gamers, but I hope it's helpful to the one other guy in the world who decides to buy a Microvision! And at least informative for the rest. I'm glad I got one, if for no other reason than that it's the first handheld system. But overall I can't recommend it if you're only interested in gaming.

 

If anyone feels different on any of these games or has anything to add, please feel free- I'd be interested to hear.

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Edited by Retro STrife
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I actually really like the (wrongly named) Pinball game... better than Blockbuster.

 

 

Maybe you're on to something with the "wrongly named" part. I think I got psyched about the concept of pinball on the system, and then was so annoyed when I actually saw what it entailed. Just batting a ball at 4 little dots on the screen.... It was a disgrace to call that "Pinball". Maybe if they called it "Bumper Ball" or something dumb like that, I would have been a lot more forgiving and accepting. But, admittedly, my annoyance did impact that score.

Edited by Retro STrife
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I really enjoyed your review. Thanks for posting it! It's making me want to get my Microvision out and play it. My best friend had one growing up. I know he had more than 2 games but only remember us playing Blockbuster and Bowling. It was fun, especially in its day.

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The worst part of the Microvision is screen rot and no replacement / repair options. If you can get one with a working screen, it's a fun little system especially for those of us who enjoy paddle games. I would rank it much higher than a D. It may have only 11 games, but at least 3 of them are fun and offer decent replay value.

 

And that's from the modern perspective.

 

As someone who owned and still owns many original electronic games, I can compare the Microvision to both contemporary and later products. In historical context, the Microvision is awesome. It was from the time of Mattel electronic sports games with crappy LEDs. Tomy had a few electromechanical games that were fun, like Blip and Digital Derby, but the Microvision was super advanced compared to its competition. When multicolor VFD games arrived they improved the experience with better displays and gameplay, but they were still dedicated systems. It took almost a decade for there to be another handheld with interchangeable games.

 

Back in the day, electronic gambling games were surprisingly popular with a segment of the adult population. Dedicated electronic slots and blackjack sold in catalogs for quite a bit, sometimes over $100. Vegas Slots seems like crap to us (I thought it sucked back then, too), but there were plenty of people that wanted it and enjoyed it back then.

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I've had a Mircovision for quite a while now. It came in the box along with Blockbuster and the manual for Blockbuster. Though, my Microblaster has been hiding in the drawer of my TV stand

for a while because I don't want the screen to get damaged, and I never really did anything with it. Might get it out, replace the batteries, and play a game of Blockbuster or two.

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Thanks for posting this! I have the entire US collection and enjoy it very much. I might try getting all of the European games as well. I think they are a better design as they actually have buttons not just a thin membrane. They are also brightly colored.

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Might have to get Alien Raiders, because the German version was called 'Blitz'.

 

 

microvision_zpspg71ikj6.jpg

 

My hardware has a business card included from David Vetter, senior project engineer advanced electronics at Milton Bradley Company, saying on the back:

Merry Christmas I've already put fresh batteries inside.

So nice, so personal!

Edited by high voltage
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Great writeup! I've thought about getting a Microvision on and off for years but never did. Seems like a hassle getting one with a good screen (which may or may not stay good after you get it) and overall, the gameplay doesn't seem worth the cost associated with acquiring such a unit. Still, it looks nifty and some of the games seem pretty fun.

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Might have to get Alien Raiders, because the German version was called 'Blitz'.

 

 

My hardware has a business card included from David Vetter, senior project engineer advanced electronics at Milton Bradley Company, saying on the back:

Merry Christmas I've already put fresh batteries inside.

So nice, so personal!

 

 

Yeah, good point. I should note here for potential collectors that there are tons of name variants out there, due to the games being sold in various European countries and having their names translated into the proper language. Otherwise, they might be confused as different games. As some examples, Connect Four was called Forza 4 in Italy (and Puissance 4 in France and Vier Op 'n Rij in the Netherlands), Sea Duel was called Bataille Navalle in France (and in Germany it was See-Duell), and Block Buster in France was Casse Brique. Shooting Star is one that people confuse as a European exclusive, but it is actually the same as Phaser Strike. Besides the European cartridge buttons being made differently than North American versions, I don't think there are any programming or gameplay differences.

 

By the way, I notice in your photo that you have Super Casse Brique (a.k.a. Super Block Buster), which is the one I've had trouble finding. Any thoughts on that game? How is it compared to Block Buster?

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Super Casse Brique is my second favourite Microvision game next to Sea Duel! It's like Block Buster but you have to protect your blocks below your paddle too; here's my review - http://www.retrogamesreview.co.uk/2015/10/super-blockbuster-super-casse-brique-microvision-review.html

 

I bought a boxed copy from http://www.ludikbazar.com/product/107513/microvision-08-super-casse-brique-nsb.html and looking now it's only 10EUR (plus shipping) and comes new, shrink-wrapped.

 

Hope this helps.

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Super Casse Brique is my second favourite Microvision game next to Sea Duel! It's like Block Buster but you have to protect your blocks below your paddle too; here's my review - http://www.retrogamesreview.co.uk/2015/10/super-blockbuster-super-casse-brique-microvision-review.html

 

I bought a boxed copy from http://www.ludikbazar.com/product/107513/microvision-08-super-casse-brique-nsb.html and looking now it's only 10EUR (plus shipping) and comes new, shrink-wrapped.

 

Hope this helps.

 

Thanks for the tip! I placed an order, so if that works out, then I'll update the post here with a review of Super Block Buster.

 

I also checked out all your Microvision reviews. Looks like we agree on most of the games, with a few exceptions, like that you liked Pinball and disliked Block Buster. Very good stuff. I'm gonna check out your reviews on other systems as well.

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No worries! :) Let us know your thoughts on the game when it arrives. I like hearing different opinions about Microvision games so it's fun reading your reviews!

 

By the way, does anyone know what style of gameplay the unreleased Microvision title called Barrage would have adopted? I can't find any information other than box-art which resembles Missile Command!

 

WACmrJe.jpg

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  • 1 year later...

Hey-this is good info to be here. In light of this, today I decided to "really" play pinball to see if what you all say about it is true {I had convinced myself it was an alright game}. Yup, it really does blow. Probably the icing on the cake was when I knocked the ball at an angle to liven things up. Nope-denied!!! That top rail straightened it right back up.

ANYWAY- maybe I'll start a new topic on this someday, but until then thought I'd see if anyone may have thoughts on this question: In trying to save my screens I bought desiccants to keep moisture levels down in their storage container, Is this a waste of time? A possible help? Or a possible contributor to screen degradation {aka rot}? My intuition falls somewhere between no effect to a little bit of humidity reduction never hurt, but these screens are so touchy that I could see just the opposite being the case. Thanks.

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Hey-this is good info to be here. In light of this, today I decided to "really" play pinball to see if what you all say about it is true {I had convinced myself it was an alright game}. Yup, it really does blow. Probably the icing on the cake was when I knocked the ball at an angle to liven things up. Nope-denied!!! That top rail straightened it right back up.

ANYWAY- maybe I'll start a new topic on this someday, but until then thought I'd see if anyone may have thoughts on this question: In trying to save my screens I bought desiccants to keep moisture levels down in their storage container, Is this a waste of time? A possible help? Or a possible contributor to screen degradation {aka rot}? My intuition falls somewhere between no effect to a little bit of humidity reduction never hurt, but these screens are so touchy that I could see just the opposite being the case. Thanks.

The problem with screen rot is the glue that seal the panel drying and letting ink flows.

I would say, as will all glues, moisture reduction never hurts, but the most important storage point is more heat.

There are knows reports of people leaving their Microvision under the sun (for example for a garage seal) with a perfectly working screen, and getting a pitch dark screen at the end.

So, dessicant is a good idea if your storage place is a bit moist, but the mort important thing is that your storage place being cool; avoit the attic, prefer the basement. Or any place where you know that temps keep low.

BTW it's an advice that works for most systems anyway, but esepcially ones with old LCD screens.

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Always wondered if there's a way to preserve working screens. It's just the deal fails due it to being new tech. Would it be possible to deal them? You know, paint acrylic around the edge of something?

 

I hazard a guess, that like me, most stay away from this system due to the screen issues. There's also the rumor of games being overly sensitive to being erased, but I think that one is overblown.

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Always wondered if there's a way to preserve working screens. It's just the deal fails due it to being new tech. Would it be possible to deal them? You know, paint acrylic around the edge of something?

 

I hazard a guess, that like me, most stay away from this system due to the screen issues. There's also the rumor of games being overly sensitive to being erased, but I think that one is overblown.

This is probably coming from the fat that back in the day, carpeting was everywhere, so, lots of statics, and kids will try to stick their fingers everywere.

Microvision games contact are protected with a decently strong plastic sliding (or opening? Haven't got one in my hand for ages) that protect them.

So if you're a reasonnable adult and don't roll on the carpet while wearing a mohair t-shirt before scratching your Microvision cart, you should be fine.

Edited by CatPix
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That was supposed to be seal, not deal (both times) damnit auto correct. I see fixing had spelling, but to just throw whatever the hell in there I don't get.

 

Anyhow, yeah, anybody tried, or can suggest sealing the screens? I'd like one, but....

 

Nice to know about the carts though, I figured as much. Kind of like old consoles with over heating problems, yet people forget the deep pile shag carpeting which seemed to be everywhere at the time.

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My first Microvision came with Blockbuster, and you're right, it's a good game further improved by dial controls. Regrettably, my SECOND Microvision came with the casino game. It also came with two 1970s-era batteries that corroded and most likely seeped into the internal circuitry. If it works at all, it'll be a surprise.

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