Do any of you younger readers know what an AC adapter is, and are any of you aware that there are larger battery sizes than AA?  How many of you are in the know that gaming in the home had its foundations in portable gaming?  Sure, the Grandstand home systems plugged in to your televisions but following their success gaming was made easy to take with you.  Names of past games include the legendary, “Scramble, Caveman, Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong and Munchman.”  Most of these were available as small monochrome LCD systems or larger full coloured table top versions, and indeed I was lucky to own more than a few of them but over the years I sold them, never to be seen again.  Or so I thought…

Power makes the world go round.
Power makes the world go round.

Last year, quite out the blue, an old friend got in touch asking if I wanted a couple of old games he had been given.  Of course, anything game related is more than welcome by me so I said yes, even though I had no idea what the games were.  A few weeks later he was in the area and had brought the games with him, the car boot was opened and there before my very eyes were boxed, very good condition, “Astro Wars,” and “Invader from Space.”  Straight away I told him I couldn’t just take them off him as I was sure they would be worth a fair bit of money but he insisted that they weren’t costing him anything and that I should just take them.  I  took them home and opened up the boxes to be greeted with nearly thirty year old games in almost perfect condition with instructions et al.  I just wanted to play them and see if they were what I remembered these once great games to be, only one problem…no batteries or an adapter!  Alas the battery types most commonly used by these games are of the “D” or “C” sizes and always needed at least four to power them up, not a cheap way to play.  The other option was to buy an adapter that allowed you to plug in to the mains, but of course at the loss of portability.  A few days later I procured an adapter from my parents loft – Game On.

Golden oldies
Golden oldies

Astro Wars was the king of table top games back in the day for one reason and one reason only, it was hard.  I was young and never had Astro Wars, but I knew plenty of people who did, they were looked upon as being hardcore. The game never appeared to follow the conventions of gaming, it seemed a bit aloof and unpredictable, the enemies attacked in waves and the game jumped about so you never knew what was quite going on.  I plugged the adapter in to the grey, sleek, angular casing and powered up the game. Waves of nostalgia washed over me as the beeps and blips echoed out from the built in speakers, the multi coloured display lit up from its backlight and the aliens started to attack.  My large fingers were just about able to cope with the tiny, horizontal control only joystick, the fire button was rattled with the dexterity of a seasoned gamer and I lasted longer than I ever did at this game.  I carefully switched the game off, put it back in the polythene bag and replaced it in the box. know the score?
Hardcore…you know the score?

Next up was the lesser known “Invader from Space,” still made by the same company which was Grandstand, but no lesser a game.  This was smaller in stature and indeed size than Astro Wars but had the sleek white angular exterior of a modern Apple device. Once again it was furnished with a left/right only joystick and big fire button, and the built in speaker bleeped with grace.  My brother had been given this game one Christmas when he was younger and I was always jealous of him for it, I could never play it as much as I wanted to because it was his, but now I could play it anytime.  The game is a blatant clone of Space Invaders (small hint in the name of the game) but without any bases to hide behind due to the diminished size of the screen.  The memories flooded in to me as I played the game and I was transported back thirty years for a short time, once again I unplugged the game, put it in the wrapper and replaced it in the box.

Sleek and white! 30 years ago
Sleek and white! 30 years ago

Since I played the games last year they have remained in their boxes, I haven’t played them since, they have been untouched by human hands.  That is not because they are rubbish, far from it, to me these games are as valuable as antiques, they are an important part of the history of gaming.  They currently sit on my top shelf of my book case in my bedroom in pride of place with the adapter hidden away close to them in case I ever get the urge.  Of course at one point I had the thought of banging them on eBay but they would be lost to me forever and I wasn’t going to let that happen, they shall remain in my possession for some time to come.  I’m lucky to have such fine examples of gaming long forgotten and to some, gaming unknown. I’m also lucky to have such good friends who think of me when it comes to games.







5 responses to “Retro-sential”

  1. noozles avatar

    takes me back…. you lucky so and so

  2. Simon avatar

    There is something sublimely cool to me about those units.

    Astro Wars…….I think I remember seeing that when I was a kid. The unit is very familiar.

    I remember in the early 90s a good friend of mine (Scottish, of course) had a Pacman (could even have been “Munchman” I guess) unit that allowed for two player simulataneous gameplay.

    Needless to say, it was phenomenal.

    I’d love to read through the code of these games. Pure AI logic, laid out there.

  3. Dave K avatar
    Dave K

    Happy they went to a good home and inspired an article. Haven come across anything as good for a while now.
    Ps. I dont mind if you flog them on e-Bay

  4. The Rook avatar
    The Rook

    I had two of these old gaming machines, Caveman and Pac-man. A friend had a Tron one that I played a bit. I remember having a few of the adaptors as the wire right at the top of the adapter always seemed to suffer wear and tear.

    I’m glad we have the rechargeable built-in batteries for portable gaming now, but those old games had me entertained for hours.

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