Nintendo first hit the LCD game scene all the way back in 1980 with Ball, a simple but thoroughly playable affair at the time that may be familiar to fans of the Game Boy Camera or those brave souls who ventured onto the DSi shop. From these humble beginnings Nintendo's LCD empire spawned a myriad of licensed and original variants coming in all shapes and sizes - dual screen, colour, two player games with individually wired miniature joypads - whatever you can dream up; Nintendo did it, and they did it well. It's really no accident that these titles are still sought after collector's items worldwide over thirty years after the series' launched thanks to their combination of quality gaming and sensible-justification-of-purchase clock/alarm functionality.
But just as Sega, Atari, SNK, NEC and others tried to compete with Nintendo's wildly successful Game Boy range, the Game & Watch line also faced notable competition both at home and abroad.
Let's start with what is probably the most obvious to gamers of a certain age - Tiger Electronics massive range of tie-in titles that covered the hottest IPs of the eighties and nineties, from Altered Beast and Castlevania II to Street Fighter II and Golden Axe. These titles were bold and beautiful to look at, either in the pages of mum's Argos catalogue or held within a tantalising display case in your local branch of Dixons, but if we're honest they couldn't hold a candle to Nintendo's offerings as games. Sure they had the right artwork around the edges and the characters were generally recognisable, but they were rarely the sort of thing anyone would choose to play.
As time went on and LCD games struggled to justify their existence in an increasingly affordable Game Boy Color world the company had to go to greater lengths to capture gamers attention and wallets, creating miniature light guns for their Virtua Cop LCD game or trying to fit 32-bit classics such as Symphony of the Night, Daytona USA and Virtua Fighter into a one-colour fixed screen device. Thankfully these disgraceful attempts didn't fool anybody, and Tiger's LCD range faded into obscurity without anybody noticing or caring.
But while Tiger's offerings may arguably be the most familiar of all the "Hey wasn't that a game on something else already?" LCD publishers to us Westerners Japan has been quietly producing quality licensed titles for decades, and while demand has naturally diminished it's still a successful enough niche to allow for some to be sold new on various online outlets.
Japan's older titles go just as far back as the Game & Watch line and naturally reflect popular licenses of the time - Mobile Suit Gundam and Space Adventure Cobra to give some examples on the anime side of things, and games such as Pac Man and Dragon Spirit bringing some gaming representation to LCD handhelds. But while LCD gaming may be from the past it didn't stay there, undergoing something of a retro-revival in this area in the past decade that has allowed for high quality "ports" of titles such as Fantasy Zone, Puyo Puyo, Beatmania and more to grace LCD games roughly the size of a large key fob or Dreamcast VMU.
Technology has naturally moved on in the decades since LCD games first kept young thumbs busy on a Sunday afternoon, meaning these modern takes on the classic style are generally smaller with more detailed screens and sound (even including real speech on the odd occasion!) and while of course a little leeway is still needed, they produce a more faithful rendition of the games they're trying to imitate than their older counterparts. The "gimmicks" of those last-gasp Tiger days still surfaced from time-to-time with some games sporting unique controls (Beatmania's turntable, to give just one example), rumble packs, or headphone sockets, but they're generally more thoughtfully integrated than they were on the older games kids used to smuggle into the playground in the eighties.
Nintendo's Game & Watch line absolutely deserves the near-legendary status it has attained since Gunpei Yokoi first saw a bored man playing with an LCD calculator on the train, but there's actually a wealth of quality games out there from the likes of Capcom, Konami, Sega and Taito that also deserve to be celebrated too, and the first step is knowing that we've been missing out in the first place.
If you'd like to know more about some specific LCD titles, Kerry's started covering the games shown in the photos above on her personal blog, Shinju Forest.