A few decades ago, gamers got their fix at an arcade or–if they were lucky enough–via home consoles. Fast forward to today, and we have quick access to an endless array of games right on our smartphones. But the road to that ubiquity had to start somewhere. Around the late ’70s games made their way into the sweaty palms of gamers on the go. Take a look back at the history of handheld gaming through these retro commercials.
In 1976, Mattel pioneered the market with “Auto Race,” which was less of a racing game and more of a game where you moved lines on a screen on what looked like a cassette tape. Over the next few years, this was followed up by similar games such as “Electronic Football,” Coleco’s “Electronic Quarterback” and a bunch of other games that were just made up of lines on a tiny screen.
In 2014, it might seem strange to have grown men dressed as giant, anthropomorphic versions of your product, but not in 1978. Not only is this commercial’s cast apparently from some rejected Pixar movie, but the Coleco product being advertised is kind of a jerk to the competition’s product. No one likes a sore winner, Coleco.
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“Dots and lines just weren’t cutting it by the late ’80s, and Nintendo made a change.” The hulking mass of the original Game Boy was a huge deal at the time, finally giving players a visual experience that looked like what they got on bigger screens. “It’s portable, it’s in stereo, and its games are interchangeable,” boasts the ridiculous commercial as a boy is transported to an apocalyptic future to battle a Robocop knock-off at “Tetris.” This dystopian video game ad is the most enjoyable commercial on this list.
As great as Game Boy was, Sega was not impressed with the competition. The company behind the Genesis launched the Game Gear in 1991 and brought color to the mix, along with one of the clunkiest designs for any portable gaming device.
If you weren’t lucky enough to have a Game Gear, the commercial gives you some advice. Just play your Game Boy and hit yourself in the face with a squirrel, sending you into a psychedelic hallucination — problem solved. The creative geniuses of Sega’s marketing team deserve an award for this one.
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Game Gear didn’t have the same life span as its Nintendo counterpart. The Sega handheld was discontinued in 1997, and Game Boy came out with a color alternative to meet the demand for vibrant games. Going a step further, Nintendo created the Game Boy Advanced, the next generation of handheld gaming consoles.
The odd thing about this commercial isn’t the patient having surgery playing his GBA, but the list of games they brag about having for the device. “Frogger Advanced” sounds like an oxymoron, because that’s one of the most basic games of all time, and “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” wasn’t exactly an action-packed movie; the video game adaptation was any better.
A Spider-Man game was the final straw, so the doctors give up on the surgery and leave the patient to deal with his pesky illness.
The PSP felt revolutionary in 2005 when it first launched. The idea of gaming, listening to music or watching TV on one device wasn’t commonplace like it is now that smartphones dominate our lives.
The commercial itself lacks the goofiness of the older ads on our list, with the styles and tech being fairly modern. Luckily, the music reeks of cheesy mid-2000’s hip-hop, and even that’s a stretch. Sony wins the commercial game; this is a great ad.
It was a big year for handheld gaming, with Nintendo also releasing the DS, but the DS didn’t have an entire episode of “South Park” dedicated to how cool it is.
Games existed on cellphones for years, but Apple’s app store changing everything. Sure, your old phone might have had bejeweled, but now you could download and enjoy diversions on a larger and more responsive touch screen.
The commercial is standard issue Apple advertising: solid color backdrops (preferably white), inoffensive indie rock and a couple of vague phrases to drive the point home. You’ve been watching them for years.
Now that everyone has access to games, everyone is a gamer to some extent. Not every one of them will get your Portal references and your woes about having too many games on Steam, but most people with smartphones have played something like “Temple Run” or “Cut the Rope.”
Sorry, guys, video games aren’t nerdy anymore.
Here we are at the current generation of mobile gaming consoles. The 3DS has a similar design to its predecessor, but what stands out about the latest hit from Nintendo is the 3D feature. “3D games, photos, entertainment and more; no 3D glasses required.”
To drive the point home, Nintendo made an unrealistic demonstration about what it’s like to play the game. No, you won’t see floating heads all around you that you have to shoot down. That would be terrifying.
The best part might be the “Simulated Nintendo 3DS game images,” disclaimer at the bottom of the screen, because people couldn’t tell that the game didn’t literally leap out of the console.