Milton Bradley Microvision: The World's First Handheld Game Console
Written by Rev. Robert A. Vinciguerra Sunday, 25 November 2007 21:31
In 1979, Milton Bradley, maker of popular board games, released a video game console: Microvision.
Microvision was the world's first handheld portable game console - that is, the first to be "reprogrammable." It would take ten years for a successor, the touted Nintendo Game Boy, to arrive on the scene, making Microvision a concept far ahead if its time. The unit was, and in many ways still is, incredibly innovative and unique.
Due to the limited technology of the late 70's and early 80's, this system did not have a color screen; instead, it used a primitive form of LCD technology.
Unfortunately, the screen is very sensitive to heat and other elements, and is therefore prone to a phenomenon known as "screen rot." Fortunately, many units have survived, and can be found and purchased today for less than $50 on auction sites, such as eBay.
In order to make the unit as compact as possible, Milton Bradley‚Äôs engineers made an interesting design decision; the unit‚Äôs central processor was actually hardwired into each individual game cartridge as opposed to the motherboard of the actual console, as is the custom.
Because, the processor for each game is on the cart itself, Microvision is among the only few consoles to never be emulated.
Each cartridge covers the entire face of the game console. In addition to having an onboard CPU, each game also have a built-in screen overlay and control scheme.
Screen overlays were popular with the colorless vector-based arcade games of the era. Considering the Microvision‚Äôs monochrome LCD graphics, overlays were seen as a logical measure to enhance the visual appeal.
The Microvision unit featured two unique control interfaces. Instead of using two or three fixed face buttons on the console, the unit is equipped with a touch-sensitive pad capable of performing nine separate functions, giving it the functionality of nine different buttons.
Each game cartridge featured an integral control overlay which allowed for some or all of the buttons to be pressed. Some games may have had use for all nine available options, and others used just a few. The unique design allow for the decision to be made on a game-by-game basis.
A ‚Äúpaddle‚ÄĚ (knob) controller was built-in to the system as well, making Microvision perfectly suited for the console‚Äôs pack-in Break Out clone, Blockbuster, and similar games that would come later on.
A total of thirteen games were released for the console. Twelve games were released in the United States, while the remaining title, Super Blockbuster, was only released in European markets. A fourteenth game, Barriage, was promoted, but was never released, and no prototypes are known to exist.
Out of the entire library, one game, Sea Duel, most prominently stands the test of time. Though it is merely a simple turn-based strategy game, it proves that an innovative formula can still command attention in a world of Wii and Xbox 360.
Additionally, many other titles have held up well over the years, such as Bowling and Blockbuster.
Milton Bradley‚Äôs Microvision handheld game console is a unique piece of history; anyone with a few extra dollars and an eBay account should consider spending the twenty to thirty dollars it takes to become an owner. Falling in love with gaming again has never been so simple.