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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #16: TRON

It's not just vintage...it's a legacy.

I think I saw the TRON movie when it came out in 1982. I was seven, and still more of a The Fox and the Hound kind of guy, so I might have missed it in theaters. Still, I was certainly aware of it, of its groundbreaking CGI effects and forgettable narrative, and I'm fairly certain it got some VCR rental play. My relationship with TRON has nothing to do with the movie and everything to do with one of the finest, most addictive handheld video games I've ever encountered.


The fun thing is that while TRON hit cinemas in 1982, this game landed in the market a full year earlier. Talk about advance marketing! I'm not sure which summer it was, though I think it must have been '83 or '84, when my family spent a week at a rented cabin on Wentworth Lake in New Hampshire. We did a lot of swimming and canoeing and fishing and read plenty of books, but what I remember most about that cabin was sitting in the bunkbeds with my brother just demolishing the hours with this thing. The gameplay was slick and engaging, and exactly the right kind of challenging to keep you coming back for more, because with a combination of luck and quick-twitch adolescent reflexes conditioned by thousands of attempts, you could beat a level and advance to the next set of puzzles and traps and combats. The levels themselves were creative and different, including navigating mazes and participating in a sort of frisbee-fight with your antagonist. It was all brilliant and perfect in lurid red and green. I think the most common verbal interaction with our parents that summer consisted of "please turn the sound off".


The TRON handheld was such persistent catnip that we would argue over who got to play it. There was another handheld that summer, but for the life of me I can't remember what it was. Donkey Kong? Pac-Man? Centipede? I know it had a white case. I also know that whatever it was, it was a distant second fiddle to the technological marvel of fun that was TRON.

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