Nelsonic Frogger

Nelsonic Frogger

Creating wristwatch -sized versions of successful arcade games was becoming second nature to Nelsonic by the time they unveiled the Frogger (licensed by Sega) watch in 1983.

They had already had great success with Pacman the previous year, and Q*Bert was released at around the same time too.

Nelsonic had a knack for producing very playable games, despite limitations of hardware (consumer-level silicon chips were still relatively new and costly) and software — they still had to factor in timekeeping functionality, and in some cases a daily alarm too.

The game can be played with sound on or off (like with Pacman this is set in alarm mode — if the alarm is on, the game has sound; if not, it doesn’t).

In game mode you first see the current high score (so there must be a dollop of RAM in this watch too) and pressing start gives a passable version of the game start melody that is familiar in the arcade game.

Like the arcade, you are a frog who has to cross a busy road, then a river in order to get home.

There are three home spaces and, once you’ve filled them all, you’re given a bonus and move to the next screen where the cars go faster AND a snake appears in the ‘safe’ area between road and river to complicate things further.

Adding the snake (which has its own warning sound when it arrives on-screen) is a nice touch to a game that’s already more challenging than you’d think, and must have pushed the limits of the programmers and the available code space they had to work with. And then…there are two snakes – amazing!

A final dimension to add to the game’s difficulty are the flashing turtles in the river. While you can jump on them, just like the non-flashing ones, don’t stay too long or you die – another nod to the arcade version where certain turtles sink if you stay on too long.

You have three lives — there’s another melody that plays on game over — and it’s a great effort from Nelsonic particularly given how old this particular game is.

There was another version of the watch produced, identical in game play but with different graphics printed on the LCD. There are no blue lines indicating the river and the green is much brighter. Personally I prefer this one which, unfortunately, is the harder version to find — and finding any version is hard to begin with.

When you do see these for sale, they’re often listed as ‘was working, but when the battery was changed it didn’t work again’ — which can be a difficult fix (see Q*Bert as an example of this). This particular watch was listed as working but no sound and a damaged sticker.

I had anticipated having to resolder the upconverter coil which is held on by two wires thinner than a human hair and is easily damaged due to the way the module is put together (don’t pull the module apart unless you know what you’re doing, or know what you’re looking for). But in a stroke of good luck, it was just due to the way the caseback had been put back on after a battery change. If the caseback is upside down, you won’t get any sound.

The sticker (originally printed onto thin metal) was a different story. It was quite damaged (as you can tell by the wonky photo) and I’m going to redraw it in Illustrator and have it printed onto vinyl with a clear protective coat as well which should see it outlast the rest of the watch.

Good luck finding a Frogger, they’re very rare — but worth the wait when you do finally get one as it’s a nice recreation of the arcade game with some great touches.

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