Thrift Store Halloweekends – Tales from the Cryptkeeper LCD Handheld Game (Micro Games)
In our first Hallo-weekend post, we’ll be looking at the Tales from the Cryptkeeper LCD handheld game, made by Micro Games in 1994. I paid a buck for this in our local thrift store.
It’s hard to believe in this era of smartphones and incredibly sophisticated consoles, but handheld video games were a big deal in the 1980’s! Before technology allowed video games the portability they began to enjoy in the mid Nineties, these simple toys utilized “liquid crystal displays” to give players a video game like experience. Designed something like a cartoon, the LCD screen featured a number of printed images that worked in tandem with one another to replicate movement based on user interface. In other words, it was as low-fi as a video game could get and still be considered a game.
Despite their limitations, handheld LCD games remained quite popular even after more sophisticated handheld consoles like Nintendo’s GameBoy and Sega’s Game Gear opened the market. LCD games were far cheaper than a GameBoy cartridge and like I said… most gamers were, if not contented by the limited game play, they were at least somewhat mollified. I also think one of the keys to the LCD handheld’s continued success after their day had come and gone was branding. Every TV show, movie, and video game worth a damn had a dedicated LCD game on the shelves. For some properties, this was a natural progression – as a kid, I owned a Tiger Electronics’ Batman game based on the ’89 movie I loved, as well as several others.
The game we’re going to be looking at today is an adaptation of Tales from the Cryptkeeper, an animated series based on the HBO original series Tales from the Crypt… which itself was an adaptation of the famous horror title published by EC Comics in the 1950’s.
Some background: Tales from the Crypt was an anthology comic series that pushed the limits of psychological and horror storytelling in comic books, using some of the finest artists and writers of the time period.
The stories were introduced by the pun-loving ghoul The Cryptkeeper, who became a major draw for readers. EC Comics’ output was the target of a U.S. Senate investigation on the causes of juvenile delequancy, the results of which lead to the demise of EC’s entire line of horror comics.
Of course, the children who grew up reading Tales from the Crypt kept fond memories of The Cryptkeeper and company and eventually one such fan, film director Robert Zemeckis, brought the property back as an HBO anthology series which much like it’s comic predecessor, pushed the boundaries of standards for television.
Gore and nudity were a regular part of most Tales from the Crypt episodes, as was the wise-cracking host. The Cryptkeeper (brought to life as a horrific puppet) became a pop culture touchstone in the same way that Freddy Kruger and Jason Vorhees did.
Keeping that in mind, why the heck would anyone think to base a children’s cartoon on such a violent, scary property?
During the early to mid 1990’s, YA friendly horror gained a foothold in pop culture thanks largely in part to R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series of paperback novels. Young children have always loved to be scared and Stine’s slightly whacked out horror tales fit the bill for children of the Nineties. Goosebumps was a phenomenon not only in publishing but on television as well – a live-action series based on the property was also a certifiable hit. Looking to fill a niche, Tales from the Cryptkeeper told spooky stories suitable for Saturday mornings and was also fairly popular. It ran for three seasons and there was a host of merchandise available to fans, including this handheld
This LCD handheld runs on two AA batteries and considering it’s two decades old, is in fine, working condition.
The game mechanics are a little like Frogger. You play a small boy in a graveyard. Monsters (they look to be a werewolf, a mummy, and a zombie) move toward you from the left and the right of the screen. You dodge the monsters while collecting rocks that The Cryptkeeper throws from the gate to the cemetery.
Now, here’s the part where I betray how bad I am at video games of all stripes. I cannot figure out how to advance in this game! I can score points by collecting rocks, I can avoid the monsters to a decent degree… but I cannot for the life of me suss out what the next step of this game is. I would imagine it has something to do with throwing the rocks either at the monsters or the Cryptkeeper, but I absolutely cannot puzzle it out. I can’t tell if that’s my own stupidity or a flaw in the game, but I’m betting on the former.
I should also mention that the music for this game is totally lame and inappropriate for the subject matter. I don’t want to become a music critic for LCD games but you’d expect a spooky-type bunch of bleeps and bloops, right? Well, that’s not what you get here.
I thought I’d provide a little video of my skills playing Tales from the Cryptkeeper to give you the full experience.
That the game wasn’t good isn’t really a surprise- the graphics and input for these types of handhelds were always incredibly limited. I sort of wish the game had been a little… I don’t know, creepier? Is it wrong to expect a Tales from the Crypt video game to be a little creepy?