Video Game Firsts - Microvision

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Geek Dave grabs it in his hand and plays.

Designed by Jay Smith and released by the Milton Bradley Company in November 1979, Microvision was the very first handheld game console to use interchangeable cartridges.

Microvision had an LCD screen, a small paddle controller and a 12 button keypad. It was quite a strange design as changing cartridges led to pretty much the whole front of the device being removed and replaced.

Different games required different buttons to play, so, as you can see from the image above, the cartridges themselves would have the appropriate buttons included on them. These would then align with switches buried under a layer of flexible plastic on the device itself.

MicroVision's combination of portability and unique cartridge-based system led to sales of $15 million in the first year of the system's release. However, interest quickly declined, and with only a total of 12 games released (one of them only available in Europe) it was dead in the water by 1981.

It's pretty rare to find a working one nowadays. Many of the LCD screens are damaged, with the liquid crystal leaking and unable to display properly, also the interchangeable keypad design often caused the thin material of the device's keypad to stretch and eventually tear.

But despite it's flaws the Microvision did a lot for handheld gaming. One of the last cartridges released, 1981s Cosmic Hunter, featured a 4-way movement capability, manipulated by the player’s thumb on four buttons. This was an early inspiration for the D-Pad, which was used on many future console controllers, as well as, of course, on the GameBoy.

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