Portable arcade tabletops of the '80s

A walk down memory lane with the Nintendo Game & Watch tabletop series. We look back at 1983 with the arcade game 'Popeye.'

The year was 1983--the last De Loreans were produced, the final episode of M.A.S.H. aired with more than 125 million viewers tuning in to watch, the "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign debuted, Jaws went 3D (don't know why), and the A-Team released so much ammunition without ever hitting anyone--Oh, What a Feeling!

I take good care of my stuff. Matthew Fitzgerald - CNET

This time portal has been initiated because I've dug something up from my closet. Not a skeleton, but a working 1983 original Game & Watch Nintendo Popeye tabletop system. For those who don't know how the Nintendo tabletop models worked, the LCD is mounted on the top of the game and reflects onto the mirror. It is illuminated via an opaque panel on the top, which works as a natural light source in order for the game to be visible. Color is simulated with a colored film placed over the LCD. The convenience of a rechargeable battery pack or adapter didn't exist. Instead, two "C" batteries powered it. The tabletop also doubled as a clock, hence the name Game & Watch.

Back when the adorable factor was high and worries nonexistent, I was an arcade-playing fiend. A single quarter and it was on like Donkey Kong; taking down anyone who put their quarter down on the machine to battle. The extent of the obsession showed every Sunday, after church, when I detoured to the only eatery known in the neighborhood to house arcade games, on the way home. Imagine an angelic little girl, in her Sunday dress, shiny Buster Brown shoes, and ribbons in her hair, feverishly slamming on the fire button while rolling a track-ball back, forth, up, and down, with such psychotic focus in her eyes. How adorable is that?!

So, when the opportunity came to purchase something that emulated the coin-operated arcade experience, in the form of a portable tabletop, I was there. The next three Christmases I got one; Galaxian, Donkey Kong Jr. (Nintendo version), and Popeye. However, the honeymoon was short-lived once the NES console came into the picture.

Popeye was a single-player game and the plot was simple: Bluto has kidnapped Olive Oyl, tied her up, and Popeye must save her. The goal is to box Bluto on the landing till he falls off. With each win, Olive Oyl kicks a can of spinach toward Popeye. Eating the spinach allows Popeye to knock Bluto out, onto a hanging hook, with one punch. There were two levels: Game A (easy) and Game B (adding in a shark to sporadically come up from the water to poke Popeye in the--err--bum, sending Popeye back a step.). For 8-bit graphics on a 4.5-inch screen, the colors were rich and vibrant, and the gameplay was neverending.

Ironically, Popeye was the least favorite of the three, but it was the only one I've found thus far. In the meantime, some co-workers have been playing with it relentlessly, while waxing nostalgic. Amazing how something so simple can be so addictive.

Dream Authentics Tabletop Arcade

If the need to recapture those moments has hit close to home, check out the Dream Authentics Tabletop Arcade (MSRP $2,495.95). Although it's helluva lot of money, it does include 160 arcade classics--Asteroids, Bubble Bobble, etc.--in one machine, on a 19-inch flat-screen LCD.

About the author

    While taking psych and theater courses in college, Julie learned her mom overpaid a PC technician to...lose her data. Thus, a tech geek was born. An associate editor for CNET Reviews, as well as a laptop testing analyst at CNET Labs, this wayward individual has maniacally dissected hardware and conquered hardware/software related issues for more than a decade. Just don't ask for help on her time off--she'll stare at you quizzically, walk away, and make herself a drink.

     

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