Growing up, I was never very much into arcades. When it came to whiling away the precious days and weeks of my youth, I preferred to play video games at home. And in the early ’80s there were plenty of platforms to choose from. One of the most interesting was the series of tabletop arcade games produced by Coleco.
Coleco’s strategy for miniaturizing video games apparently involved three crucial elements – A satin jacket, oversized navigator-style sunglasses and some jiggly hands. Being only 7 years old in 1982, I lacked the jacket and sunglasses. Therefore I had to wait until my birthday to receive my own tabletop arcade game. I ended up with Pac-Man, the undisputed king of video games in the 1980s (until he was dethroned in a bloodless coup by a seemingly harmless Italian plumber).
In retrospect, everything about the Pac-Man tabletop game is great. Except for the game itself. It had the looks (sweet packaging, and of course that awesome commercial). It had the novelty (I still find the notion of a miniature arcade game kind of fun). But once you get past the hype, the experience itself was lacking. The game only displayed three colors (red, yellow and a greenish color). The sound was OK for the time, but it produced a buzzing effect that is acceptable for a sensory overloaded kid and no one else. And lastly, the controls were awkward. With the Atari, you had joysticks you could really grab hold of and move. With the tabletop, you had a little white nub.
That being said, I probably killed a few hundred hours with the Pac-Man tabletop. But charm aside, it certainly can’t hold a candle to the low-tech fun that was the Atari and the supreme awesomeness that was the Nintendo Entertainment System.