Epoch is a Japanese video game company, which in the 80s and 90s made a number of consoles and handhelds. They’re also the guys responsible for the disgustingly cute Sylvanian Families (or Calico Critters) toy line.

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The company, founded in 1958, is a bit like Nintendo, in that it made its name not just in games, but in kid’s toys as well. Where Nintendo was responsible for LEGO-like playsets and board games, though, Epoch is best known for a line of figures that are about the last thing you’d expect from folks who also built video game hardware.

Sylvanian Families—now known as Calico Critters in the US—are cute enough to make you sick. Largely unisex by design (though slanting more towards girls in practice), they take real animals, sweeten them up, put ‘em in pants, give them houses and cars and let you have little tea parties and family outings.

The were first released in 1985 in Japan, with the US following soon after, and they quickly became one of the biggest toy lines of the 80s. After a decline in popularity during the 90s, they’ve seen a resurgence of late, and are still widely available in many countries.

Which is interesting, but I don’t think you come to snack food and anime website kotaku.com for your Sylvanian Families history. What’s interesting here is that in addition to making something like that, Epoch were also at the same time churning out video game hardware.

The original Epoch Cassette Vision | Image: Evan Amos

In 1981, Epoch released the Cassette Vision, a primitive little home console that despite the name used cartridges, not tapes. It was OK, featuring around a dozen titles, and in 1984 it was succeeded by the more powerful Super Cassette Vision, one of the lesser-known (at least today) competitors to Nintendo’s Famicom.

The Super Cassette Vision | Image: Evan Amos

What I love about these consoles are the variants Epoch released. In 1983, the Cassette Vision Jr. hit the market as a smaller and cheaper version of the Cassette Vision, long before companies like Nintendo and Sony saw the benefits of doing something similar.

The Cassette Vision Jr. | Image: Evan Amos

Even better, though, was the 1985 release of the Super Lady Cassette Vision, pitched as literally as it sounds: a Super Cassette Vision, but for ladies. Just look at this thing:

Image: Giant Bomb

Shipping inside a very pink case, you can see the console there on the right, complete with custom Lady’s branding and transparent controller housing. It looks amazing (you can get a real good look at the console and it’s packaging here).

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On the right, offering practicality to go with the razzle dazzle, is space for the console’s AC adaptor, room to store other cartridges and, in the box, a copy of the SCV game Milky Princess.

Image: Giant Bomb

While the Cassette Vision consoles have largely been forgotten, swept aside as they were by Nintendo’s Famicom and Sega’s Master System, they did briefly go on sale outside Japan, with the SCV available in Europe for a short time before slipping quietly off the market.

Epoch would find more success with the Barcode Battler, a handheld device that scanned the barcodes from special cards and used them to create crude (it had no actual graphics) game scenarios.

1991's Barcode Battler was marketed and sold worldwide, and while it flopped in the West, it remained a hit in Japan, to the point where Nintendo licensed many of its characters from Mario and Zelda to feature on special Barcode Battler cards.

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Epoch are out of the hardware business now, but that deal with Nintendo was obviously an inspiration for Nintendo’s own foray into card-based battling with the 2001 introduction of the E-Reader for the Game Boy Advance.


Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.