We’ve reached a point where the best handheld gaming consoles can truly provide amazing experiences on the go but that wasn’t always the case.
Before we had the Steam Deck and the Nintendo Switch, handheld gaming was dominated by the original Game Boy and its successors. While Nintendo’s Game Boy was the console to beat at the time — especially since you could swap cartridges to play different games — many of us in the late 80s and 90s grew up playing handheld games from Tiger Electronics.
Unlike Nintendo’s portable consoles, each device from Tiger Electronics played one game and one game only. There was no swapping cartridges or downloading new games. Instead, you just had to buy another handheld if you wanted to play a different game.
I’ve spent the past week playing the modern equivalent of one of Tiger Electronics’ handheld games though the device I played on isn’t shaped like any handheld console I’ve ever played. Instead, it’s shaped like a Chicken McNugget and can only play one game: Tetris.
You might have heard the news that McDonald’s and The Tetris Company had teamed up to create a Chicken McNugget-styled game console back in May but I’ve actually had a chance to go hands-on with it. Here are my thoughts on this one-of-a-kind handheld gaming console and why playing Tetris on anything else will never feel the same.
Celebrating a 40-year anniversary
What do Chicken McNuggets from McDonald’s and Tetris have in common? I’ve been wondering the exact same thing and I’m still not entirely sure I’ve found the answer. You see, the Chicken McNugget Tetris game console I’ve been playing is actually from China and was brought to me by a friend who recently came to visit.
The online magazine Retro Dodo was the first to break the story after translating a post on the McDonald’s China website. While I and many others first thought that the promotion had something to do with the Tetris movie being released in China, that actually isn’t the case.
Instead, the Chicken McNugget handheld game console was created to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Chicken McNugget. That’s right, the iconic McDonald’s menu item was first released in 1981 but it wasn’t until 1983 that they became available worldwide. Coincidently, the creator of Tetris, Alexey Pajitnov came up with the idea for the game a year later, though the first playable version of Tetris was completed in 1985. Still, both Chicken McNuggets and Tetris come to mind in any discussion about the best parts of the late 80s.
After asking my friend living in China to pick one up for me, I’m now the proud owner of an oversized Chicken McNugget that can play Tetris. However, if I had known only 400,000 of these Tetris-playing handheld gaming consoles would be made, I might not have opened it but then you wouldn’t be reading this story.
The console itself is exactly what you would expect one would need to play Tetris on the go. There are four directional buttons to move the tetriminos around the screen, a large button on the right to rotate them, a pause button, a mute button and a power button. However, as the console also has indentations similar to the ones you’d find on a real Chicken McNugget, it’s surprisingly easy to hold in your hands.
The Tetris experience I didn’t know I needed
If you haven’t watched the Tetris movie yet, you absolutely should as it clearly lays out what made the game so appealing when it was released and why it’s still one of the most popular game franchises today. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a gamer, after watching someone else play for just a few minutes, you know exactly how the game works. It’s also incredibly rewarding to watch a line of blocks disappear after you’ve carefully positioned them to take up an entire row.
After booting up the Chicken McNugget console for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the iconic Tetris theme song playing from the single speaker at the rear of the device as the word “Tetris” scrolls across the screen followed by a heart. The McDonald’s logo remains on the lower right side of the screen under your current level and an image depicting what type of tetrimino is coming up next.
For those that grew up playing the original Game Boy which was known for not having a backlit screen, you’re in for a familiar experience here. When playing Chicken McNugget Tetris in bed, I found I had to have the lights turned on just to see what was on the screen. Still, I enjoyed trying to get to the next level in Tetris and the pause button made it easy to take a quick break every now and again.
One thing I particularly like about the Chicken McNugget console is that it has removable batteries at the back. Oftentimes with cheap little handheld gaming devices like this one, manufacturers use watch batteries but that isn’t the case here as this console is powered by two triple-A batteries. I also like how there’s a separate on/off switch at the rear to help save battery life.
I’m Lovin’ It
If you’ve got this far and are thinking about picking up your own Chicken McNugget console to play a bit of Tetris in the most nostalgic way possible, you’re going to have to turn to eBay as McDonald’s in China is no longer selling them. While paying $18 to $30 might be a bit high for what you get, being able to play one of the most iconic games on such a strange form factor could be worth the appeal.
Although I would love for McDonald’s in the U.S. to follow in the footsteps of its Chinese counterpart and release a similar version of the Chicken McNugget console, doing so could leave the fast food giant with another Szechuan Sauce situation on its hands.
I personally plan on treasuring my own Chicken McNugget console for as long as it lasts and while it’s really portable, it will be staying at home where I can keep a close eye on it. Especially since my toddler is quite fond of chicken nuggets and if he finds out I have one that can play games (a single game in this case), I’ll likely never see it again.
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Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.