As video games like Pong rose to fame in the 1970’s, toy makers took notice of their growing popularity. This led to the development of handheld electronic games near the end of the decade. A lot of these were short-lived novelties, but some managed to concoct the right combination of nifty features and challenging game play. One of the finest examples was Parker Brothers’ Merlin, a handheld marvel that offered plenty of electronic bang for the toy buyer’s buck.
Introduced in 1978, Merlin was made of red plastic and was powered by six double-A batteries. It was divided into three sections: The top part was a speaker, the middle part was a keypad with several plastic buttons that concealed red lights, and the bottom part contained four buttons that controlled the various game functions. The overall design was quite eye-pleasing, but Merlin had much more going for it than just cool design. It beat out other electronic game competitors like Simon because it wasn’t just one game, it was six.
These many games offered Merlin owners plenty of diverse options for their computerized enjoyment. Tic Tac Toe and Blackjack 13 both brought classic games into the electronic age. Other games tested the player’s strategic abilities: Magic Square challenged the user to form a square on a shifting playfield, while the logic game Mindbender dared users to figure out a secret number. The remaining games were just as cool: Echo was a memory game similar to Simon, and Music Machine allowed the user to play Merlin like a keyboard.
Merlin eventually gave way to home video games like the Atari VCS and Mattel’s Intellivision, but for a time, owning this little red beauty was like holding the power of a game-playing wizard in your young mortal palm.