The Microvision has the distinction of being the very first handheld games console with interchangeable game cartridges.
Though quite crude and dated even by the standards of the Game Boy (which arrived in 1989, ten years after the Microvision was released), it’s nonetheless an impressive and inventive piece of technology for its time.
For numerous reasons – including technical problems that meant LCD screens were easily damaged, as was the console itself (which we’ll go into in more depth on, with our history of the console below), there were only ever 12 games released for the Microvision – so let’s take a look at them all as we check out the Best Microvision Games, some would even say that the best on this list deserves to be in our best retro games list!
Though in theory the Microvision should have been a great console to play pinball on, the tiny screen size and the fact that, despite the title, this isn’t even really a pinball game makes it one of the biggest disappointments in the console’s tiny library – a sadly worthy contender for the very bottom of the Best Microvision Games list.
11. Star Trek: Phaser Strike
Now this is exciting – a licensed game on the humble Microvision? Sign me up! Or rather, beam me up – right? Actually, don’t bother.
This one’s terrible; it’s just a few squares shooting at more squares moving across the screen. It does make you wonder why they bothered paying for the Star Trek branding; it was removed for the non-US releases and just called ‘Phaser Strike’ – and it loses nothing in the process.
Of course, taking away the licensing doesn’t make it any better to play either. Probably the biggest disappointment in the entire Microvision library – narrowly missing out on being at the lowest point of the Best Microvision Games list.
10. Vegas Slots
Though there’s nothing really wrong with Vegas Slots per se – and it does have a slightly more interesting two player mode, with a little push your luck mechanic added into the proceedings – it is far too random to be much fun.
It does exactly what it sets out to though, which is being a random slot machine gambling simulator. So – mission accomplished I guess?
Another game that doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong, Bowling is just far too basic to be particularly enjoyable. Timing is key but once you have that sorted, there’s really not much else to sink your teeth into.
A two player mode saves Bowling from being further down the Best Microvision Games list, but it’s not much better with another human.
Though many Microvision players rate this puzzle game quite highly, I just found it a bit dull to be honest. Pressing ‘lights’ in specific patterns to eliminate them all or – in its second game mode – trying to surround smaller squares with bigger squares is all you’ll get here, gameplay-wise.
Impressively though, players can configure their own puzzles – not a bad feature for a tiny LCD game, eh?
Like Bowling and Vegas Slots, Baseball does what it sets out to do pretty well, with excellent use of the paddle to swing the bat and hit the ball during play – a design element that bumps it up the Best Microvision Games list a bit.
However, Baseball ends up being far too basic and repetitive to be much fun, again just like those two aforementioned titles.
6. Cosmic Hunter
Definitely one of the best looking cartridges in terms of its colourful logo and buttons, Cosmic Hunter just falls a little short in the gameplay department, feeling a bit more abstract than it should. Your little square is chasing another square (of course), but can only succeed in catching it when it’s exactly 2 squares away.
Get any closer and the enemy turns the tables, catching you instead! Cosmic Hunter is an original spin on maze games, but could have done with a bit more pizazz and extra features in the game itself, beyond the fancy cartridge design.
5. Connect Four
This is a game that needs no explanation – everyone knows tabletop game Connect Four, right?
The Microvision game is an excellent implementation of the physical game, though it stops short of brilliance by it being a little difficult to tell the pieces apart on the tiny, monochrome LCD screen once it starts getting filled up with pieces.
4. Alien Raiders
Taking advantage of the Microvision’s paddle style controller to deliver a unique spin on an arcade-style sci-fi shooter, players control a ship on the left hand of the screen, facing off against aliens who approach from the right.
Cleverly, the player’s weapon is a laser beam – the length of which is adjusted by moving the paddle.
If you miss any of the titular Aliens and they land on your side of the screen, it’s Game Over, man!
3. Sea Duel
Another example of very clever, unique game design that’s perfectly suited to the tiny, low resolution screen of the Microvision, Sea Duel sees players – either against the CPU or another human player – taking turns to move and line up shots with their naval vessels, before both then fire simultaneously, hoping to have guessed their opponents position correctly to score a hit.
It’s a surprisingly strategic affair and Sea Duel definitely deserved a bigger audience than it got – and it’s a close race in terms of where Sea Duel sits in the Best Microvision Games list, with all of the top three being absolutely superb games.
2. Block Buster
Akin to having the super addictive and timeless Tetris bundled with Game Boys, having Block Buster as the title included with each console was a genius move.
Though super challenging – as so many games were back in the early days – it’s addictive and immediately accessible.
Block Buster was very nearly the epitome of Microvision games and very nearly makes it to the top of the Best Microvision Games list, despite being the one that most players would have owned first. No doubt the fact that almost no other game – except its sequel – came close to the quality of the bundled Block Buster didn’t help the software library grow either.
1. Super Block Buster
This Europe-only release skipped the States entirely, which is a shame. In our opinion, Super Block Buster is near enough the perfect Microvision game, despite its similarity to Block Buster, the game that was bundled with the console.
The main addition to the gameplay here is the second wall, below the player’s paddle – with no lives and no way of losing the ball, failure occurs when this lower wall of blocks is destroyed.
It’s a fast, frantic and fun Breakout-style game that was sadly the final release for the promising, way-ahead-of-its-time console. And now that we’ve reached the very top of the Best Microvision Games list, why not check out our history of the console below?
Who made the Microvision?
Milton Bradley is a name that’ll be familiar to anyone who grew up in the 70s, 80s and even early 90s; their red and blue logo – featuring the initials M and B – were prominently displayed on countless hugely popular board games, many of which seemed to be owned by every family you knew.
Yet their products went way beyond just board games – they were responsible for the underrated mid-80s console/vector display monitor all-in-one machine the Vectrex. The Vectrex was a commercial failure upon release – but is fondly remembered and highly sought after these days; its design and vector-based games still feel incredibly unique to this day, and many of the titles in its software library have aged surprisingly gracefully.
Three years prior to the release of the Vectrex, however, Milton Bradley were responsible for bringing another unique console to market: the Microvision.
What is the Microvision console?
The Microvision was a handheld console with interchangeable cartridges that released in 1979. Yep, a whole decade before the release of Nintendo’s Game Boy console, there was the Microvision. It was very ahead of its time, however – instead of a console with a built in, relatively complex dot matrix display as the Game Boy had, the Microvision cartridges were essentially interchangeable LCD games.
LCD games – like Nintendo’s Game & Watch or handheld games from companies such as Tiger Electronics – are a lot more primitive and limited than more traditional consoles, due to the nature of their liquid crystal displays. The Microvision’s display was just 16×16 pixels!
Yet in the late 70s and early 80s, having a game you could carry around with you – decades before the advent of smartphones and, as mentioned, a whole ten years before the emergence (and then dominance!) of the Game Boy, it was quite a novelty to have one. With the Microvision, you weren’t limited just to one game either, you could have several!
How did the Microvision work?
The Microvision itself feels a little like a plastic shell with a bare LCD screen and the paddle controller at the bottom of the device; each game ‘cartridge’ actually contains the unique game screen overlay and labelled, custom controls. This slots into the console itself to create each different game.
How much did the Microvision cost?
The console itself was priced at $49.99, which doesn’t sound so bad until you adjust for inflation – that cost is equivalent to more than $300 in today’s money! On top of that of course is the cost of each cartridge, meaning that the cost of owning a Microvision was quite high back in the day.
Why haven’t I heard of the Microvision?
It’s probably before your time, young one. Also, despite being a moderate success upon release, the console was beset with problems: the games were susceptible to screen rot (which is actually the liquid crystal leaking from the display – yuk!), early units were vulnerable to electro shock damage and even the buttons themselves are prone to being destroyed due to the thin plastic overlay that’s used on each game.
So with all of these issues, the console and games have become increasingly rare to find in working condition over the years, leading to it becoming an oft-forgotten footnote in gaming history.
How much is a Microvision worth today?
Boxed, used consoles tend to be priced at around $200 on eBay these days, but new, shrink-wrapped consoles are sold for close to $1500! Games vary massively depending on the title and condition, though they can often be reasonably priced – generally between $10-$30.
With only 12 games in the Microvision’s library, it’s a good choice of console for collectors who are keen to get their hands on a console’s entire software range, despite the difficulty in finding consoles and cartridges in fully working order.
So there you have it – the Microvision in a nutshell. If you plan on acquiring one of these unique consoles and its games yourself, best of luck and happy hunting!
Jason – who lives in the UK – has had a lifelong interest in video games, which all started when he discovered Space Invaders in the early 80s. The first game he ever completed was Wonder Boy in Monster Land on the Sega Master System – which remains one of his proudest gaming achievements. Jason is a passionate writer – and has been writing about gaming since the late 90s. He currently runs pop culture blog midlifegamergeek.com, which he updates on a daily basis (and has written more than 700 articles on the blog alone!).
Outside of video games, Jason is a keen tabletop gamer, film buff and comic book fan.