Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bassmate Computer (1984): a newly discovered member of the Game & Watch family tree

Chances are high that you have never heard of Game & Watch BM-501. I had never heard of it myself, until a few weeks ago, when fellow Nintendo collector Sander mentioned that I should take a look at the Bassmate Computer; a pocket size electronic device that helps select the best lure and bait combination for every bass fishing condition. Sander had spotted it during one of his regular searches on eBay.

The Bassmate I saw was sold under the name of a brand called "Probe 2000" and dated from 1984. At first glance, it seemed like a regular sporting aid, be it one that was quite advanced for its time.

However, when checking out the image on the back of the box, something dawned on me. That shape seemed rather familiar! It looked just like a Game & Watch Multi Screen!

When taking a closer look, it appeared that everything matched; the overall design of the case, the hinges, the connector between the bottom and top part, the shape of the buttons - they all looked like they came straight out of the kitchen of the handheld master from Kyoto.

It was even made in Japan. Could it be true? Was there a link?

The box did not provide any further clues that explained the Game & Watch likeness.

But the manual did.

There it was, on the last page of the manual:

"Maker: Nintendo Co., Ltd. Japan"


So the Bassmate design wasn't inspired by or copied from Nintendo; it was an actual Nintendo product.

A product that somehow had managed - for almost thirty years - to stay out of the Nintendo history books. Up until now.

Besides the Bassmate Computer itself, the set contains a manual, a thermometer for testing the water temperature, a waterproof ziplock bag to store the Bassmate and a packet with two (also familiar) Maxell LR44 batteries.

The top of Bassmate has a metal faceplate and a lock at the front, just like a Multi Screen.

It opens to reveal a bottom and top screen, just like a Multi Screen.

When placing it side by side with an actual Multi Screen, we also see some differences: the Bassmate is slightly larger, its edges are more rounded and the top lid has a less strong bezel around it.

Bassmate Computer and Game & Watch Multi Screen Pinball

The bottoms are also slightly different, but the similarities are numerous here as well.

As you can image, I became very curious to understand the history of this item. The information embossed on the back of the Bassmate provided some details.

The model number is "165 SPS" and it furthermore mentioned a US patent, the term "Telko" and a copyright "Olliges/Miller".

The patent (number 4,398,804) is a generic LCD technology patent by Gunpei Yokoi, that is the basis for all Game & Watch screens. So it's not Bassmate specific.

As Nintendo was not mentioned anywhere on the exterior of the Bassmate, I could not resist opening it.

The printed circuit board inside contains the text "Nintendo Japan", providing further proof of its lineage.

It also revealed the internal product number, as used by Nintendo. Like all Game & Watches, it has two letters and a number: BM-501.

Of course, 'BM' stands for 'BassMate'. And I am sure there is some Game & Watch professor out there who can explain why it is logical that this is followed by the number '501'.

After researching the names found on the back of the Bassmate, it became gradually clear that it was a so-called OEM product, produced by Nintendo for an American company called Telko, who sold it under their own name and related brands like "Probe 2000".

The names "Olliges/Miller" stand for Bill Olliges and Ed Miller, who are the original designer and marketeer behind the Bassmate.

To be continued...

In the next post we will meet Bill Olliges, who designed the Bassmate thirty years ago, and who worked together with Nintendo to get it produced. If you are interested to find out how this product came to be, how it actually works, and how Nintendo got involved, then go to part two of this story.


  1. So cool. Really, really interesting read. Can't wait for the interview!

  2. i have one that is like brand new but without the box and the mannual. It's in a waterproof ziplock bag and has the thermometer.

  3. Very nice post, thanks! Greetings from Mexico =)

    1. Thanks and greeting back from The Netherlands!

  4. Ha, i have on of these mint condition still in the plastic bag. found it at a thrift shop and wasnt going to buy it till i flipped through the manual and saw that nintendo made it. i knew it was a good find.