Vintage video game watches offer real wrist game

Vintage video game watches offer real wrist game

D.C. Hannay

Members of Generation X can truly say they were there for some seismic cultural shifts. Although some relics should definitely remain encased in the nostalgic amber of the past, not everything that burst forth from the New Wave Age was as disgusting as New Coke, or as cringe-inducing as parachute pants. Despite what boomers might say, all the best music does not come from the Woodstock Generation (although a lot does). Without the ‘80s, we wouldn’t have stone-cold classics from artists like The Police, Prince, Depeche Mode, Eurythmics, Run-DMC, and many others, seared into the collective consciousness by the nascent MTV network (back when it actually stood for Music Television). The era also birthed movie blockbusters like The Empire Strikes Back, Die Hard, and Raiders Of The Lost Ark, cementing the idea of the film franchise for subsequent generations.

video game watches

Another trend that really caught fire in the ‘80s (after its dawn the decade before) was the rise of video games, which sent shockwaves that are still felt today, in an industry that eclipses both movies and music by a huge margin. At mall arcades, family-friendly pizza chains, and tourist traps everywhere, you couldn’t escape the flashing screens and deafening electronic soundtrack wrought by this new, digitised frontier of entertainment. As soon as the public got a taste for it, manufacturers like Atari, Coleco, Mattel, and Nintendo set about adapting the experience for the home. Imagine the feeling… play as much as you want, and never run out of quarters! Video games evoke such strong nostalgia, they’re constantly referenced in pop-culture throwbacks like Stranger Things.

Source: Evan Amos

Not content with occupying the living room TV, video game companies began to license their biggest properties to every consumer product under the sun, including clothing, lunchboxes, and yes, wristwatches. Sometimes, characters like Nintendo’s Mario showed up simply as graphics printed on inexpensive plastic digital watches, but a major flex among ten-year-olds was the advent of the playable LCD video game watch. Many companies released these must-have accessories for the elementary school set in a bid to cash in on the video-game craze, but no manufacturer could touch Nelsonic as the brand with all the hottest official properties.

Pac-Man

video game watches
Source: digital-watch.com

Released in 1980, Namco’s Pac-Man was the first true blockbuster of the arcade industry, and after siphoning off millions of quarters from the pockets of youngsters, the happy, hungry yellow pie chart made its way onto home consoles, licensed merchandise, and one of the most collectible video game watches ever released. The Nelsonic company was a licensing powerhouse, and their simple, but addictive Pac-Man LCD watch was a major hit, selling over half a million units back in the day. Gameplay was rudimentary at best, but you could actually play the thing, either via four directional buttons located on the front of the plastic case, or if you were lucky enough to score the lesser-seen grail version, utilising an actual screw-on joystick to control the action. This version came with four joysticks (colour-matched to the ghosts trying to eat you as you raced around the playing field), and they were stored right on the watch strap for easy access. One of my Insta pals, @southslope.nyc, has a sweet, working example of this bit of video game history. For a 40-year-old piece of tech, it’s pretty sought after, with primo specimens fetching upwards of US$500 on eBay.

Super Mario 3

video game watches
Source: mariowiki.com

Since his introduction in Donkey Kong, Mario has become the best-selling, most beloved character in the Nintendo universe, and its most evergreen. He’s the star of countless games on Nintendo platforms of every generation since, and was the main attraction for many Nelsonic watches, including this Super Mario 3 version, which included the addition of shoulder buttons to the standard front-mounted four. Again, gameplay is beyond basic, but Gen X-ers ate this stuff up. Consider yourself lucky if you find a functioning one, but hopefully, the one you had as a kid has been safe in a drawer since your grammar school days.

Frogger

video game watches
Source: handheldmuseum.com

Konami’s Frogger was a maddenly addictive title, where players attempted to avoid multiple lanes of traffic, playing as a hapless frog trying to cross an increasingly busy highway. After successfully cheating death, the frog hero had to traverse a river by hopping onto either turtles or little boats. Oh yeah, you also need to avoid being bitten by snakes, so there’s that. Nelsonic had its own version, so little wrists everywhere could feel the exhilaration of not becoming roadkill as they happily beeped and booped away the hours. Gameplay is again simple, but with a ton of replay value. In fact, its simplicity might be its greatest strength: With such a beyond-basic objective, there’s just no way this little device was going to beat you, right? Frogger was a monster arcade hit, and a strong title for Nelsonic as well.

Today, the mobile gaming experience is light years beyond these rudimentary LCD relics (which are tough to find in good working order), with smartphone games and dedicated systems like Nintendo’s Switch burning up hours and battery life in our always-on world. And modern tributes to these video game icons exist today, with Timex’s digital Pac-Man series, the new bright red G-Shock X Super Mario Brothers (fun souvenirs, but sadly unplayable), and even higher-end tributes like the TAG Heuer Formula 1 x Mario Kart editions. But you can’t help feeling a twinge of nostalgia for the days when all it took to occupy a lazy Saturday was a giant Slurpee, a pack of Fruit Roll-Ups, and the uncomplicated fun of trying to beat your high score on one of these simple, but addictive time-killers. And for the small but fanatical community of collectors of these little plastic bits of history (it’s a seriously deep rabbit hole, trust me), you can’t put a price on the memories of a simpler time.