What you see up there is a piece of my past.
You see, while the Game Boy Advance was out when I was six, I never had a proper handheld console until I got a Nintendo DS Lite six years later. And after more than a decade that thing is still working, I checked it a few days ago from the time of writing. Holy shit are those things built to last.
But anyways, before the DS, the only handheld games available to me are these things, and the 9999 in 1 tagline is technically underselling it. There are 702 entries, going from item A to item ZZ, and each entry has 10 difficulty levels and 10 different speeds, which by right should give you 70200 games. In all honesty, however, that claim of 9999 games in one is a filthy, filthy lie because last I remember at least 90% out of the 702 entries are just Tetris. Not even variants of Tetris, it’s literally just the same Tetris game over and over again. And let’s not kid ourselves, the levels and speed selections do not change the games enough to make them completely different games, so in total there’s about a couple dozen. While that’s still a decent selection, that is way off from 9999.
While this was a common thing back when I was a kid, they are all but extinct nowadays. Sure, you can buy them online from China, but these brick game consoles, once so common you can use as roofing tiles and generally used to shut kids up, are nowhere to be found where I am now. I suppose handphone games are just so much more attractive nowadays that these just fell out of favour. Parents will just pass kids their phones instead of buying one of these bad boys for about 5 bucks to keep them happy. Since I can’t buy one, and I lost my old one years ago, I can only relive this through a mobile game made to replicate it.
If you want to know how it was like, you can download the game here for free for Android or Apple. It’s a reasonable facsimile of what is now lost, except that it says 18 games in 1, which is far too honest and breaks the illusion of me being eight years old again for a bit. That, and the presence of my spectacles and lack of nap times. While having physical buttons will definitely make it more enjoyable, I take what I can get.
The one nice part about the old brick game machines is that the menu always have a small animation at the bottom showing what the game is about, which the emulation here has as well. I mean, the screen doesn’t really have enough resolution to display the names of the game to begin with. And even if it can, the names won’t be as good at telling me what the game is as the small animations below. It’s a good feature.
And if you notice the pale grey blocks, that’s simply how the old LCD screens are like. The blocks when activated turn black, but they are still visible when not activated. In fact, if you held it at certain angles all the blocks look black regardless of which ones are turned on. I normally used them as visual guides while playing Tetris so I know if I can soft drop or not.
And speaking of Tetris, that is easily the main game of this console. Back then, as long as you press left or right soon enough, you can get the tetromino to slide across the whole width of the screen if it’s unobstructed. Other than that, it’s just regular Tetris without the “hold piece” function. As far as I recall, T-spin isn’t a thing either, but I was never good at Tetris to begin with, and young me was even worse, so I have no idea if that was truly the case.
There are also clones of other popular classic games, like Snake, Breakout, Tank, and really basic versions of Frogger and Space Invaders. To be very honest, the layout of the screen makes it so that only Tetris is optimal for this console among all the classics. Guess the original makers knew that, which is why we get what feels like endless entries for Tetris among the options available.
However, there are some games that, as far as I’m aware. are unique to this console.
Here we have a pattern matching game. When you clear 25 goals, you’ll progress to the next level, where the distance between your entries and the top of the screen decreases by one row, giving you less time to react. Given that the level limit is 10 and that the screen has 20 rows, you have 16 rows to react at level 1 (minus two rows for the input and another two for the pattern you are supposed to match) and 6 rows to react at level 10.
And this is basically if Tetris and Space Invaders had a baby. You shoot to add blocks, and once you get a whole row filled it will disappear. Just like Space Invaders, if the blocks touch you, you’re dead.
These two games are great because they are made for the console, instead of being adapted for it. Thus, they work a lot better than the others mentioned earlier. Although let’s be real here, they could’ve adapted worse games. Can you imagine playing Pac-Man on this?
This is a decently large part of my childhood. While it bums me somewhat that I can’t get my hands on a physical version anymore, it’s still nice to relive them through an mobile game duplicate. Kid me never knew what he had, and adult me only knew after he lost it.