Saturday, August 7, 2010

Is that a SEGA Arcade in your pocket?

A little over a month ago I went to my family cabin in northern Minnesota. It had been nearly seven years since I had last been there, and yet when I went back to the same bargain warehouse that I had been to back in 2003 I found the exact same SEGA Tiger LCD handhelds that I had seen hanging on the pegs all those years ago. Guess nobody wanted them.

The Tiger SEGA Pocket Arcade line hit stores during the Saturn years at a time when the clunky old Tiger handhelds were on their way out. Tiger, it seemed, was struggling in a world of Game Boy Colors and was attempting to use the names of big name SEGA Saturn console titles to sell cheap little flip open handhelds. I'm going to assume Tiger failed as a good number of these were found at an overstock warehouse, marked down from $15 to $8 to a final $4.79.

The first of these Saturn titles isn't a Saturn title at all, just don't tell the packaging that. It's Sonic 3!

I guess technically Sonic 3 is on the Saturn thanks to Sonic Jam, but I still think the packaging error is due to a sloppy cut and paste job. As seen above, the button layout is constant among all of the Pocket Arcade releases regardless of the genre, with the only variations being the color of the plastic. I also own Sonic 3D Blast, which essentially Sonic 3 played at an odd 3D-like angle.

For those who don't know what LCD games look like, think "calculator" and you've got a pretty good idea. The background remains the same, and every image on the screen remains hidden until it appears in black. As boring as I find playing LCD games, I always love the creativity that goes into assembling the puzzle that is every image. As nothing can overlap, you get this clusterfuck of character bodies,  legs, arms, enemies and environments. To view every image at once, all you have to do is hit the "reset" button with a pencil.

  As LCD games are so limited, one can imagine that the more complicated the game, the worse the gameplay. Stuff like Pong, Breakout and Tetris can be a lot of fun, but when you take a game like NiGHTS you have near unplayable junk. While I haven't opened the packaging, I do remember playing a friends NiGHTS handheld. If you played the Saturn version, then you sort of got how to play it, however the idea that you could be playing the real version sort of ruins the experience.

Virtua Fighter is definitely an odd choice when it comes to a Tiger game. How in the world can they fit 8 playable fighters on the screen at once? Well, they sneakily made it so that four fighters appear on each side of the screen, with a basic body and then defining characteristics showing up based on the fighter chosen. It isn't perfect, and it's not like they have their signature moves, but it's a creative way of including the full roster. Still, give me the Saturn or 32X version any day.

That's Dural to the right, and I'd assume Kage-Maru on the left.

The final Pocket Arcade title that I own is Super Monaco GP. The gameplay is similar to the old Atari 2600 racing games that required simple dodging and created the illusion of a track via alternating lines.

SEGA and Tiger produced quite a lot of these handhelds. I had thought that the five I own would be the complete set, however a little Google snooping brought me across more including SEGA Raceway and Ecco. Check out my finds below:

I can't even imagine how they'd make a game like Ecco on a Tiger handheld
Probably plays very similar to Super Monaco
Finally, Bug! on the go!
While the Pocket Arcade line isn't too fun a handheld, they make for a pretty cool collectible. The large number of odd titles and low prices make for interesting conversation pieces. Article ending in 3, 2, 1.


  1. Thanks for the post, from I.B. Nelson, character designer and animation layout designer for the first generation of Pocket Arcade Games: Eternal Champions and Ecco (also worked on Baseball, Sonic and Football but those were never produced with my designs).

  2. I used to own some of these as a kid. I'll always have a soft spot for this archaic technology and how awful they were--in a fond way.