Monday, January 10, 2011

Obsession of the Month ---Mini Tabletop Arcade Games

 Those of you who know me know I tend to obsess over certain geek relics until I have thoroughly researched or purchase a few of them from ebay or the local dirt malls.   Past examples of this include MadBalls, Slurpee character cups, Promotional Character Glasses from fast food chains, and Garbage Pail Kids. The majority of these items are all linked to childhood memories.

madballsslurpeecupslurpee glasseslooney tune glassessmurfglassescarebearsGarbagePailKids

  My current obsession are Mini Tabletop Arcade games.  You see,  I have a special place in my heart for Arcade games.  My dad was a fan of video games and pinball machines.  My earliest memory of him was him smiling ear to ear, still dressed in a dark blue tshirt fresh from work at the sheet metal shop, setting down an Atari 5200 box on the kitchen table.  By extension, the majority of my early memories involving him include shoving handfuls of quarters into the arcade cabinets at the local greasy spoons and Pizza Huts.  The original Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr and a cocktail table version of Pacman are specific titles I remember standing on a stool in front of in order to reach the joystick and play two players with Pops.

  So, since keeping a few of arcade cabinets in your basement was both spatially and financially cumbersome, one of my favorite childhood toys was the Donkey Kong Jr mini arcade game that my grandpa (my dads dad, so he knew the score) gave to me on the Christmas of 1984.


  It followed the same basic premise of the larger version.  That despot Mario has kidnapped Poppa Kong and is going to torture him in retribution for Kong's earlier dalliance with the Princess and Jr must save him.

  Honestly, considering how often the Princess ends up in the hands of some large, hulking creature, I think maybe she is just into the XXL sized bad boys. Mario having a career and all, plus the ability to bring home the coins, probably makes him the safer relationship material.  Always the moth, never the flame poor Mario.  But, I digress.

  I played this game for hours for years and can still remember the music.  It even had an alarm clock function which I would use from time to time.  Donkey Kong Jr is listed as a CLCD (Color Liquid Crystal Display), which necessitated playing under a light as the screen was lit via a translucent panel at the top.


  The tabletop mini arcade was incredibly popular during the early 80's and hundreds of titles were created.  Coleco was the main forerunner of the genre and thru a special distribution deal created several mini versions of soon to be popular Nintendo characters.

   Over the several years of youth I picked up a couple of other mini arcades, exclusively purchased at garage sales stocked with playthings that my cousin, who seemed to have every cool toy ever, had gotten bored with.

  Q*bert is a solid piece of entertainment even if the storyline is lacking and fairly is difficult.


This title, along with other classics such as Pacman, Frogger, Zaxxon and Galaxian had incredibly bright VFD (vacuum flourescent display) style game play screens.  I had to look up why they were so bright as well as what the acronym stood for once I discovered what it was so don't be impressed by my geek badge on that one.

Cosmic Clash was shockingly cool considering it seemed like a knockoff title.
  Its animation came from transparent ships on moving tape that would light up when they were available to shoot.  The audio was fantastic and incredibly loud, which meant this one was primarily played while on the opposite side of the house from the adults.

My sister had Ms. Pacman, which was one of the few toys of her I still covet to this day (her Madballs and Green Lantern Super Powers figure being the others).

   This too was a shockingly accurate and playable version of the larger game cabinet, and like the Q*bert game featured exceptionally bright screen graphics via a VFD.


 One of the things that impresses me still is the playability of these games despite their simple design and mechanics.  You could play forever, as the level simply repeated with faster enemy speeds until your lives were used up, but since you never had to worry about finding another quarter that wasn't such a bad thing.

  One of the holy grails of these mini tabletop arcade games was Tron.


 Considering that the full sized arcade cabinets are equally hard to find and thus highly sought after this makes sense.  As an additional plus, apparently the game play on this title was pretty fantastic considering the limited technology the toy utilized.


There were a surprising number of titles within the tabletop arcade genre, and they are really hard to come by outside of ebay.  If you see one in the wild then let me know!  Considering the majority of them are almost hitting their 30 year mark their rarity is understandable, your modern playstations/xbox/wii's start dying off after 2 years.  If you have one I recommend taking care of it, keeping it out of direct sun and making sure the batteries aren't left inside of it.  Nothing will kill vintage electronics faster than a corroded battery.

Here are a couple worthwhile sites for Geek-search if you are so inclined.  The first link features those stupid bright VFD displays...which I guess is kind of redundant now that I think about it.  VFD display.  Its like calling an ATM an ATM machine.   Anyway, enjoy.

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