The Most Popular Handheld Games of the 80s

Technology ramped up hard in the 1980s, and maybe the most visible evidence of that was the explosion of video games available to kids (and adults!) at home, and even right there in the palm of their hands. Yes, indeed, the handheld games of the 80s changed recess forever and were the technological ancestors of today’s smart phones. How many of these classics do you remember?

Game Boy

The Game Boy was one of the handheld game giants that dominated in the 1980s. Released by Nintendo in 1989, this handheld console had two different models which were differentiated by color: a gray version and a black-and-white version. Using either an infrared beam or an attached “light gun,” players could shoot targets on the screen.

Game & Watch

Another handheld game giant was the Game & Watch, and it was made by Nintendo. Released in 1980 by a company called Gunpei Yokoi, this handheld console featured two screens that were usually used to play different games at once. The first model had two buttons while later models would have four or six button controllers for various games such as Donkey Kong Jr., Mario Bros., Popeye, etc.

Adventure Vision

One of my personal favorites from back in the day is Adventure Vision which was released by Entex Industries in 1982. This little handheld system could be plugged into any TV with a coaxial cable–so no batteries required! There are three cartridges available: Space Raiders (a space shooter), Video Olympics Games II (basketball shooting game), and Grand Prix (race car driving game)

Atari Lynx

Released in 1989 by Atari, handheld games of this variety were more simple and straightforward. One example is the handheld version of Tetris which came out in 1990; it’s a classic game that I think everyone should try at least once! Another handheld release from Atari was Pac Man–this brings back memories for me because my sister always had one when we were younger so we played together all the time.

Etch A Sketch Animator 2000

Released in 1988 by The Ohio Art Company, this handheld game is available for purchase at many stores. It’s a great find because it features 16 colors and comes with four Etch A Sketch pens–plus your creations can be saved to memory!

Electronika IM-26

Released in 1988 by Electronika, handheld games of this variety were more complicated and came with a lot of instructions. One example is the handheld version of Space Invaders which started out as an arcade game but was reproduced for handhelds; it’s really fun! Another handheld release from Electronika that I played lots when I was younger is called Combat–it’s still available on Amazon today and features two-player action!


Released in 1982 by Colorvision, this handheld game is a bit different because the player has to use both hands. You have to find and touch two objects that are similar while avoiding other colors–it’s tricky! I still remember my sister telling me about it but we never had one as kids; now there are lots of color handheld games out there.

Children’s Discovery System

The handheld Children’s Discovery System was a collaboration between Mattel and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. It features games that teach math, reading comprehension, geography, biology and physics–it has lots of educational value!

3D Gamate

Released in 1983 by VTech, this handheld game is a bit different because the player has to use both hands: each hand controls one direction. But that’s okay–it only takes two weeks of playing for it to be mastered! This handheld arcade-style handheld game was played by pushing down on sensors and pulling up, which made players feel like they were in charge of their own handheld gaming experience.

Mattel Auto Race

Released in 1982, this handheld game was one of the first handhelds that allowed players to drive on a track. With only three buttons (left turn, right turn and brake), it’s not easy to get all the way across America–but no worries! It just takes six months for anyone to master this handheld racing experience.

(Like Popular Handheld Games? Then you might like our article on Coleco Electronic Quarterback, click here.)

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