Electronic games were all the rage in the late 1970s, and sitting at the top of the pedestal was Merlin, a handheld device that looked more like a portable phone than a toy. Programmed to play an assortment of fun and challenging games, Merlin packed quite a punch and, as such, became a must-have toy towards the end of the decade.
The fine folks at Parker Brothers introduced Merlin in 1978. Created by a former NASA scientist, the device contained a microprocessor that was programmed to play six games with varying degrees of difficulty.
Users could play tic-tac-toe, blackjack, Mindbender (reminiscent of the classic Mastermind game), Echo (a blatant ripoff of the popular game, Simon), magic square, and music maker, which allowed kids to use Merlin as a musical instrument that allowed you to program and play back sequences of musical notes.
Merlin featured an 11-key touchpad and each of the buttons were illuminated by their own LED light. The top of the device contained a speaker, while the bottom offered four buttons that allowed you to select which game you wanted to play. Operated by six AA batteries, Merlin was perfect for long car trips, rainy days, pretty much anywhere that childhood boredom reared its ugly head.
Merlin wasn’t the only electronics game introduced in the late 1970s, but it was arguably the most popular. Upon its initial release, Parker Brothers sold over 5 million of these toys. They followed up with Master Merlin which offered more games than the original, and Split Second, which added the extra challenge of a timer.
While both sold well, neither came close to the original, which saw its popularity continue well into the next decade.
A completely redesigned version of the game, called Merlin: The 10th Quest was introduced in 1995, which featured updated technology such as an LED screen and voice synthesizer. Unfortunately, what it lacked was the sheer simplicity of the original, which remains one of the most beloved electronic games of the era.
If you were the proud owner of a Merlin game, or just wanted one really bad, I do hope you’ll take a moment to share any memories of this iconic toy in the comments section below.