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Video games are everywhere these days, even when you’re not in the house and staring at a television or monitor. Thanks to smartphones and tablets, mobile gaming is more popular than ever even amongst casual gamers, and core gamers can buy a dedicated handheld console such as the Nintendo 3DS or PlayStation Vita. However, playing games on the go wasn’t always this easy.
Before the original Game Boy arrived on the scene as the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, all eager gamers had to play while out of the house were handheld electronic games that came as part of a single unit. There was no swapping games in and out; you bought the unit, and you were stuck playing that game until such time as you (or, more likely, your parents) bought a replacement.
I don’t particularly miss those days, but because they happened during my childhood I have an occasional yearning to revisit them for a dose of nostalgia. Which is where a website called Pica Pic proves its worth.
Game & Watch
The handheld electronic games that preempted the original Game Boy utilized LED, LCD, or VFD displays. They worked in a similar way to digital watches, with all of the visual elements present on the screen, but only certain lines and characters highlighted at any one time. This obviously limited the complexity of the games to a significant degree, though some of the later titles were a lot more involved than the early ones.
Several different companies manufactured these games and the units that housed them, but Nintendo was the biggest name. The series it produced was known as Game & Watch, and it was the brand which most people associate with those early days of handheld gaming. It isn’t the only series to have earned a place on Pica Pic’s hall of fame, just the most famous.
Pica Pic has actually been online since 2011, when we noted its existence without covering it in any great detail. Fast-forward two years and a lengthy write-up on Mashable has renewed interest in the site. I had previously never heard of Pica Pic, but am now rather addicted to this nostalgic slice of handheld gaming as it existed in the late-1980s.
It’s a website set up by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinscy, a husband and wife team from Poland. They wanted to preserve the memories of these games and be able to show them off to friends online. Creating the digital versions of these handheld electronic games was no easy task, with every element having to be painstakingly recreated using Flash.
All of the games featured on the site, of which there are over 20 at the time of writing, are obviously copies of copyrighted games. The copyright owners have not given permission for these copies to be made, but with no adverts on the site or profits being chased Pica Pic will probably escape any serious legal trouble. Just in case, enjoy the site while you can.
With more than 20 games to choose from it would be impossible to detail them all, so instead here are brief descriptions of just four of the titles on offer on Pica Pic.
Donkey Kong is an undisputed slice of gaming history. Not only does it introduce the character of Donkey Kong, it also heralds the arrival of “Jump Man,” who would later be renamed Mario. As you ascend the construction site avoiding the obstacles in order to rescue Pauline(?!) bear in mind that this “platformer” would change video games forever.
I have vague memories of owning Caveman, and thinking it was the bee’s knees. Still, I was only about 5 years old at the time. It’s not a very innovative game — you play as a caveman trying to steal eggs from a dinosaur — but it provides a hefty challenge for those who can see past the obvious repetition.
Even in the 1980s there were video games based on popular movies. And then, as now, they were mostly unplayable piles of nonsense designed to make a fast buck. The Terminator isn’t a bad game, but it’s not great either. Interestingly it’s a shooter, a genre that is now dominant as far as console gaming goes.
If movie tie-ins weren’t bad enough, we then had terrible attempts at creating games based on television shows, in this case, The Simpsons. It’s almost unplayable, but it’s worth persevering if only to witness an early attempt at wringing money from children and their know-no-better parents.
Pica Pic provides an amazing nostalgia fix. From the high-resolution images of the hardware, to the immaculately recreated game screens, Pica Pic manages to capture the essence of these games as well as the basic structures that house it.
When you run out of lives and are presented with the opportunity to put your initials next to your new high score, it immediately takes you back to a time when what is now retro was fantastically futuristic. The chances of getting your name on the All Time Top 10 leaderboard are remote, but you’ll keep trying regardless.
Having spent just a few days testing my natural gaming ability against these decades-old classics I’ve realized two things: gaming has evolved for the better since 1990, and I suck when there is no option to dial the difficulty level down to ‘Easy’. Still, playing these titles has brought memories flooding back and given me hours of fun in the process.
Do you remember the Game & Watch era or are you left wondering how ancient I actually am? Did you have a favorite handheld electronic game that you remember spending far too many hours playing? Do you think Pica Pic does a good job of recreating those titles? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Image Credit: Andreas Fischler