I absolutely loved handheld LCD games growing up, and was constantly harassing my mom to buy whatever the latest one was that I would spot at the toy store so I could add it to my collection. In the pre-Game Boy era, there was just something so fascinating to me about having a little video game that I could tote around wherever I went. Of course, my brain would have exploded out of my skull had I known that a few decades later I’d have a device as powerful as an iPhone in my pocket, but I still hold a special fondness for those simple monochrome screens of yesteryear.

Apparently, the folks at Dawn of Play have a tender spot in their heart for the LCD era too, as evidenced by their game Monkey Labour [99¢]. Monkey Labour is a lovingly crafted riff on Nintendo’s Game & Watch handhelds, but with its own unique gameplay. It was released back in December, but a recent update added some interesting new graphical features and gameplay tweaks which caught my attention. While LCD game recreations are nothing new on the App Store, none have come close to the level of detail contained in Monkey Labour.

The game starts by showing a 3D rendered Monkey Labour handheld system, and the main menu is the back of the system itself - complete with imprinted product codes and removable battery lid. Starting a game flips the system over to show the LCD screen and buttons. Tilting your device and viewing the screen at an angle reveals all of the silhouettes of the game that are used to create the illusion of animation, just like a real LCD screen. When elements of the game are in motion, a subtle shadowing effect recreates the slow response time of an LCD screen. Best of all, touching the game screen will create dark pressure marks just as it would on a real liquid crystal display.

These tiny details shoot the novelty factor of Monkey Labour through the roof for an experienced LCD game player, but luckily it also has solid gameplay to go with it. You play as a robot named Mobot who must travel back and forth along the bottom of the screen bringing logs to throw on a furnace. Your monkey boss moves along a platform above tossing bricks down at you which must be avoided. As you throw more bricks into the fire, the flames grow larger and will eventually ignite one of three leaks in a pipe above your monkey boss’s head. Time it just right, and you can torch the monkey increasing your score and adding to a multiplier.

The game mechanics and two button control scheme in Monkey Labour work very well, and it will take fast reaction speed to earn any sort of meaningful high scores. One nice addition is Game Center integration for achievements and leaderboards for comparing high scores, which is something that wasn’t possible with original LCD games. It’s also a universal app, and although I prefer playing it on the larger screen of the iPad it feels more authentic to a classic handheld on the smaller screen of the iPhone or iPod touch.

Just like the classic games that inspired it, the gameplay in Monkey Labour is incredibly simple on the outside but contains subtle complexity and depth which is hard to master. Fans of old LCD games should definitely check it out as the attention to detail is stunning and the game itself is quite fun. Younger gamers who grew up on more advanced systems might not see what all the fuss is about, but also might appreciate seeing what it was like for us old folks who gamed back in the day. Players in our forums have been enjoying the title, and just for the ability to relive my childhood experiences Monkey Labour is well worth the download.

TouchArcade Rating

  • EastsideStompers

    Thanks for this. I feel ten again: ) So lovingly put together.

  • Darkpixel

    If you like this game try Landlubbers... a bit like Nintendo's lifeboat

  • metalcasket

    About time Monkey Labour got some damn attention! =D

  • http://www.mooedia.co.uk Tom - mooedia

    This games universal, how does it look on the iPad? Anyone tried it? Think im gonna grab it as it looks good and should bring back memories of days gone by!

    • http://www.mooedia.co.uk Tom - mooedia

      Went ahead and purchased it for my iPhone anyway. Gotta be worth it for 59p and being universal itll be good on the iPad to. Spot on! More developers should have universal apps. Spot on!

      • Matej Jan

        Thanks so much for your support! The iPad version is actually what I used myself to get on top of the leaderboards. I like the bigger graphics, even though the handheld feel is the most authentic on the iPhone/iPod Touch for its original small size.

        To get an idea how it looks on iPad, see this video from our live-stream relaunch party: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAvsts3RGzc
        Feel free to skip over the first part of the video as it was just intro for those watching on the live stream.

      • http://www.mooedia.co.uk Tom - mooedia

        Looks good. Game plays really well on the iPhone. I will most certainly be reviewing it tonight. I followed the relaunch event that was on the website. Its good to see developers supporting their products. Ultimately it would be great to be able to purchase a collection of these titles bundled into 1, but at the moment i'm happy with how things out.

        Having the app universal was one of the things that enticed me to purchase. I hate having to purchase apps twice, even if they are worth it!

        Excellent stuff!

  • http://twitter.com/drelbs drelbs

    Don't forget, Great Leaping Lambrettinis is a fantastic Game & Watch styled game which also has all the extras of the menus flipping around to the box sides, etc...

    • Ron

      amen! Lambrettinis = awesome game which got so little exposure it's criminal. Well-made and absolutely worth the download if you love LCD

      they should probably have named it something easier to type..

    • Anonymous

      Count my vote for Lambrettinis as well. Havent tried this one yet but really enjoyed Lambrettinis. Easily the best G&W game on iPhone I've played so far


    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      Cool, I never knew about that one for some reason. Just downloaded and it's pretty good! I still give the hat tip to Monkey Labour, the gameplay is a bit faster and it feels more "polished" (hate that word) overall. But Lambrettinis is not bad at all! Thanks for the heads up 🙂

      • EastsideStompers

        I agree with Jared. I just bought Lambrenettis and played a bit, and Monkey Labour is the clear winner for me. If it weren't for the lack of physical buttons, I would as good as forget that I'm not playing on the real thing. Also, the game play is much more fun, imo.

  • Jay

    Yeah those Tiger LCD handheld games were totally awesome back in the day 🙂

  • Adams Immersive

    Cool! I may have to start a retro LCD collection on my iPhone. Another one is iElektronika (which I think may be recreations of actual games from the USSR).

    What I’d love to see, though, is equally loving retina tributes to what I grew up on: vacuum fluorescent display games! (Kind of like multi-color LEDs but with a distinct look, and gameplay made from lighting up custom shapes much like LCD games.)

    I remember playing VFD-based Galaxian 2 and Crazy Climber. Sadly, I never had any of the Coleco tabletop ones that looked like tiny arcade cabinets.

    • EastsideStompers

      I remember those! Galaxy Invader 1000 springs to mind: )

  • http://twitter.com/VULTR3 Mike

    I dunno guys... It needs guns.

    • Matej Jan

      In the case that you're not joking, I respectfully disagree. 🙂 See what I have to say about creation/destruction themes in my video blog posted on the forums:

      • http://twitter.com/VULTR3 Mike

        Did you really think I wasn't joking? Although, just for the sake of disagreeing, (respectfully of course) I completely disagree with you.

      • Matej Jan

        Haha, not really, just wanted to bump that thread. 🙂

        Joking aside, I'd love it if you'd add your thoughts on it there, even if just for sake of disagreeing. I think the topic needs some serious discussion.

  • EastsideStompers

    Anybody know how to "release a trapped furry"??? It's one of the achievements...

    Also, wondering how you earn gears???

    Cheers: )

    • Matej Jan

      Jared left a little hint for you in the review: "... complete with imprinted product codes and removable battery lid."

      As for the gears, you have to master the game, young padawan. Let me just say that I (Retronator on Game Center) got barely 73 points away from getting three gears. That is the only achievement that nobody in the world has yet. Not even me, and I made this thing! But soon, the force is growing strong with me. 🙂

      • EastsideStompers

        I SAVED THE FURRY!!! Yes!!! I somehow feel so...complete! : )

  • http://www.facebook.com/iztok.levac Iztok Levac

    I really enjoyed the gameplay already in first version, but with this cool retro update you blew me away! Good job!

  • Ddimokritos

    i want donkey kong retro game & watch !!!

    • EastsideStompers

      I just googled that and had totally forgotten I had one of those! Thanks! Loved that orange casing. I see that there is a good but rare version for the DS (Game & Watch Collection) if you're interested. Mega expensive, but hey, nostalgia is priceless, right? ; )

  • nick caveman

    thanks pals for mentioning the lambrettinis.
    i wondered, why we had 11 downloads yesterday.
    but if i have a look at the ranks of monkey labour (with majicranks) i think, we did something wrong with the lambrettinis. ^^

    yeah, i know: the name!
    and no you tube video!
    etc. etc.

    we still think about an update. if you have some wishes, please post it in the lambrettinis thread (somewhere here in the forum).

    ok, time to download monkey labour.

    • Matej Jan

      Yeah, we didn't even know there's other good LCD games there (appart from the original game & watch remakes which I think had mixed reviews) until a reviewer on iTunes gave us an honest 4 stars and mentioned that you guys have the surrounding packaging stuff even better done that us. That's how I got to know about the Lambrettinis. 🙂

      Thanks for checking our game out and reminding me that I still haven't got around to playing yours. Was curious the first time around at how you got the effects and everything going so no better way to find out than play. 🙂

  • Matej Jan

    Thanks to everyone trying out our game the number of players on Game Center leaderboards has just reached over 1.000!

    To celebrate I prepared a little thank you not in the form of all my knowledge of reaching the #1 spot with 8.927 points currently, a brief 73 away from getting the last achievement which no one in the world has yet.

    Here it is, the ultimate Monkey Labour FAQ:

    • PUP

      You guys really nailed the whole Game & Watch style with this app!

      Any plans for more? Please...

      • Matej Jan

        Well, we were of course going to do an Angry Birds Game & Watch version, but seems the Tiger guys beat us to it:

        (It's a joke, stop the press. :))

      • PUP

        How 'bout a "Grouchy Pigs"? You know, turn the tables on those feckin' birds. 🙂

      • PUP

        Oh, one last thing:

        It's really just a pet peeve, but consider eliminating the "..." from your app's desktop name by changing it to something like: "MonkeyLabor" or "MonkeyLabur" or "Monkey Lab" or some such.

        Currently, it mocks me with an unsightly: "Monke...bour", which isn't good for anyone really.


      • Matej Jan

        The title writes in full on an iPad, so I never really noticed. The unfortunate thing is that if we change it for iPhone it then also changes on iPad, where it's perfect the way it is. But we'll think about it and definitelly keep this in mind for the next titles.

      • PUP

        Oh, well. I'll try my best to ignore it.

        Thanks for the response!

  • Anonymous

    Haha! love it! Exactly like those Game & Watch handhelds of the early 80's.

  • Tempus

    I miss "Manhole" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oasFK0toZvU). Would definitely buy it if an iOS version was made.

Monkey Labour - 80s handheld LCD retro game Reviewed by Jared Nelson on . Rating: 4