Elektronika 24-01 Igra Na Ekrane
Image: Lost in Cult

Gunpei Yokoi, who designed the original Game & Watch, once said: "The Nintendo way of adapting technology is not to look for the state of the art but to utilise mature technology that can be mass-produced cheaply."

It was this design philosophy which also made the devices so easy to bootleg. The boom in the digital calculator market had started a manufacturing race between companies like Casio and Sharp, and Elektronika in the USSR, and as a result, the necessary semiconductors and liquid crystal displays were already in abundant supply.

Elektronika’s Game & Watch clones featured a single LCD screen, often with static game architecture printed onto the glass. They had four or six controller buttons, a built-in clock display, and usually played one game each. The brain powering these devices was the KB1013VK1-2 microprocessor: a Soviet-made clone of the Sharp SM-5A inside each of Nintendo’s Game & Watch handhelds.

One of the first Soviet releases was the Elektronika 24-01 Igra Na Ekrane (Game on Screen). Launched in 1984, it was a direct clone of the 1981 Nintendo Game & Watch MC-25 Mickey Mouse — in which players move Mickey between four different positions, catching falling eggs in his basket while Minnie waves from a window above.

Nu, Pogodi!
Nu, Pogodi! is one of Russia's most popular cartoon series

The Soviet version had the same chunky build as Nintendo’s model and an identical button layout. However, while Nintendo’s device utilised a widescreen format, the Elektronika did not. Also, in the top left corner, where the original device had featured the Game & Watch logo and Nintendo brand name, Elektronika’s version had only blank space; while naturally all text on the Soviet copy appeared written in Cyrillic.

Nintendo also produced a version of this game that didn’t feature the Disney brand but instead, a wolf catching eggs, which was also released in 1981 as the Game & Watch EG-26 Egg. When the Soviets duplicated this one, they replaced Nintendo’s wolf with a slightly different character: the wolf from the popular Soviet cartoon Nu, Pogodi! (Well, Just You Wait!).

The result, the Elektronika IM-02 — now featuring a uniquely Soviet character on the screen — sold millions of units, becoming one of Elektronika’s most popular releases and an icon of Soviet youth culture. A popular rumour at the time had it that if you reached a score of 1,000 points on Nu, Pogodi!, the handheld’s LCD screen would play a full episode of the cartoon. It would have been a technical impossibility of course, but that didn’t stop the story from spreading like wildfire through Soviet-era playgrounds.

This piece is an excerpt from the upcoming A Handheld History: 1988-1995. You can pre-order a copy here.