For a short while, listening to popular songs played on old-school calculators was a fun YouTube distraction. Fads come and go a lot faster on the internet, however, which is unfortunate for Casio. It’s releasing an updated version of a popular ‘80s calculator that plays music and a video game—but maybe a few weeks too late?
Thirty or so years ago, when I was a grade-school student before smartphones and Game Boys existed, I would have loved a calculator like the classic Casio MG-880. In addition to basic math calculations, it could be used to plink out electronic tunes (like Star Wars, for example), and even play a crude version of Space Invaders. Spelling out BOOBIES with numbers on a segmented LCD display loses its novelty real quick, and the MG-880 would have been a much better distraction in school, had it been sold outside Japan.
Casio’s new-and-barely-improved SL-880 calculator emulates everything the MG-880 could do, with the addition of a solar panel, larger buttons, and a bigger screen. As Casio’s press release points out, there’s been a rise in the popularity of retro video games from the ‘80s, but I’m having a hard time believing there’s as much nostalgia for a calculator game as there is for Super Mario Bros.
The MG-880/SL-880's re-release isn’t without precedent, however. Back in 2013, Braun released a replica of Dieter Rams’ iconic ET66 calculator whose design Apple copied for the original iPhone’s calculator app. The ET66 comes close to being a genuine work of art that I’d gladly keep perched on a shelf in my office. I can’t say the same for the SL-880, but perhaps there’s still a musician or two looking for their 15 minutes of YouTube fame with a rousing calculator rendition of The Final Countdown.
Casio hasn’t released pricing details for the SL-880, but it will be available starting on March 23rd and it’s expected to sell for somewhere around $20— only in Japan, again. If you want to get one outside the country, you can always turn to import sites like Japan Trend Shop, which is asking $100 for the SL-880. Just how badly do you want to scratch that nostalgic itch?