EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 137 - February 20, 2005 - ISSN 1528-6703     8 of 9

Collector's Corner Vintage Mini-Arcade Video Games

By Michele Alice

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In response to the phenomenal success in the 1970s of electronic arcade games, small hand-held and tabletop models were developed for play at home. If you couldn't or wouldn't stand in line at the video arcade to play Asteroid, Pac-Man, or Donkey Kong, you could play a much smaller, but reasonable facsimile of your very own.

Like their full-sized namesakes, mini-arcade games had fully integrated software and hardware. Each game stood alone, as opposed to systems like Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) that used changeable game cartridges. (In this sense, Nintendo's GameBoy is not a mini-arcade game, but a portable console system.)

(Note: If interested in game consoles, especially the Atari 2600, check out Zander Kaufman's article in AuctionBytes-Update #128,

The release in 1976 of the first truly all-electronic handheld - Mattel's Auto Race #9879 - inaugurated what is generally considered the "Golden Age" of mini-arcade games. Lasting until about 1985, the period saw the release of hundreds of games, including the hugely popular Coleco series of tabletop models (Frogger, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Galaxian) and Nintendo's Game & Watch series.

Of course, mini-arcade games are still being manufactured today. Check out any discount store and you'll find dozens of games, like Electronic Poker, in the $5 to $15 range. You'll even find them at present as giveaways in boxes of General Mills cereals! (There are 5 Shark Tale games in all.) But, besides being fun to play, Golden Age games often sported fun designs or decals and were usually sold in cartons covered with colorful graphics. In addition, many incorporated the more expensive VFD (Vacuum Fluorescent Display) rather than the LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) and CLCD (Color Liquid Crystal Display) used almost exclusively today.

Vintage mini-arcade games are generating quite a bit of interest in the collectibles market. An early Tomy "Tron" handheld - obviously worn from use and lacking its carton and manual - recently sold online for $20. The Coleco tabletops have consistently been fetching from $50 to $150, depending on condition. And a 1983 Nintendo Game & Watch Multi-Screen Mario Bros MW-56, in "new" condition, garnered a very respectable $236 just this last weekend.

Of course, condition is, as usual, almost everything. The most desired games have little or no surface damage (scratches, cracks, etc.). All their decals and labels are still attached. Their parts (levers, buttons, knobs) are not missing. If the original carton has escaped the trash, wonderful. And if there are any accessories, like a power adapter, so much the better: those old electronic games were battery hogs. Some, like the Coleco tabletop models, accepted special adapters enabling them to run on household current, and collectors are generally willing to part with a few dollars extra for the part.

Most importantly, the game should still work. And here's a hint: if a game won't work, check the battery terminals. They may just need to be cleaned. (Check out, below, for cleaning and repair tips.)

For more information on vintage mini-arcade games, the following books and websites are recommended:


"High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games, Second Edition," by Rusel DeMaria, Johnny L. Wilson

"Official Price Guide to Classic Video Games: Console, Arcade, and Handheld Games," by David Ellis

"The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon - The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World," by Steven L. Kent


Classic Gaming Expo
This expo is billed "as the world's first and largest event paying tribute to the people, systems and games of yesteryear." Website offers information and news, including "retro" product debuts.

The Electronic Handheld Game Museum
Goal is to document "every electronic handheld game made in the late 1970's to the mid 1980's." Also has game manuals, links, more.

Game and
Everything you might want to know about this early (pre-Gameboy) line of handheld electronic games by Nintendo. Online Museum of Handheld Games
Great site with lots of pics and information on over 270 games; repair how-to's; links.

About the author:

Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ eBay ID: Malice9

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