I Finally Added Nintendo’s Game and Watch: Super Mario Bros to My Collection…Here’s Why It’s Special
I remember going to a thrift store in San Francisco a few years ago, where I met an avid Nintendo collector who introduced me to the Game & Watch. He was so obsessed with Nintendo that he carried every major handheld console in his backpack. I still remember the expressions on his face when he let me hold the camera.
The Game & Watch system has a glorious history – after all, it was Nintendo’s first handheld game system. Nintendo created a series of Game & Watch handhelds in the 80s. I don’t own any of these, but I have a remodeled version that matches the classic model in size and appearance. Although it was released in 2020 to mark the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros, I only recently got my hands on the device.
The Game & Watch Super Mario Bros made me smile. And, like many fans, I constantly look to these cultural reference points to understand Nintendo’s place in the gaming world.
When Game & Watch Changed Handheld Gaming and Nintendo
There is a common perception that it was the Game Boy that started the handheld gaming phenomenon in the early 90s and made Nintendo the gaming juggernaut it is now. While the Game Boy may be one of the most influential tech products of all time, it’s clear that the Game & Watch was the first handheld gaming system ever created.
Created by Nintendo engineer Gunpei Yokoi (he’s the same guy who created the Game Boy, Metroid, and Virtual Boy), the Game & Watch was a series of handheld game systems that were mass-produced between 1980 and 1991. Yokoi had the idea of creating a simple portable gaming system while traveling on the Shinkansen and saw a businessman playing with an LCD calculator to pass the time. This gave him the idea to develop a portable gaming device.
The Game & Watch development journey has been fascinating. The principles set forth by Yokoi at the time are still reflected in the design of Nintendo hardware today. His philosophy was called “The Lateral Thinking of Withered Technology”. Simply put, it means using existing, readily available technology in a different way to create something new. Yokoi somehow figured out that he could use the same LCD technology in the calculator to create a miniature game that could help kill time and also double as a watch.
The emphasis on fun and unique gameplay rather than advanced technology makes a Nintendo device different from its competitors. The use of inexpensive LCD technology and its low power consumption together with the easy availability of ‘battery powered’ batteries ensure longer battery life.
One of Yokoi’s priorities when developing Game & Watch was to find a solution that would replace a conventional joystick. With Game & Watch portability in mind, Nintendo developed something called the “D-pad” or “directional pad” which is the primary way to use and control directional actions in video games, even today. The D-pad was first implemented on Donkey Kong’s Game & Watch unit.
The Game & Watch series ran from 1980 to 1991. Each device came with a single pre-installed game and over its lifetime a total of 60 Game & Watch devices were released in 12 different series, each series being composed of its own unique form factor. Gameplay was simple and addictive, and the handheld form factor made the Game & Watch hugely popular, only successful with the Game Boy. The first game released on Game & Watch was called Ball. Several games big and small have appeared on Game & Watch including Donkey Kong 3, Super Mario Bros and Zelda.
Tribute to the original Game & Watch
When I asked my sister to get the Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. from GameStop about two years ago, I was ecstatic. I knew I was getting something that I will always treasure for the rest of my life. It might be a modern take on a Game & Watch, but as a Nintendo fan, I see it as a prized possession. The gold and red color scheme reminded me of the Japanese version of NES, also known as Famicom. The revamped Game & Watch is smaller than my iPhone 13 mini and has a 2.36-inch color screen. The build quality and overall experience of using the device is top notch. The face is made of a brushed metal which is very attractive, although the device is all plastic it doesn’t pick up fingerprints at all.
The device’s color screen is bright and I won’t say it’s accurate, but playing games on it is a breeze. It has a narrow viewing angle, so when your hand moves a few degrees while playing a game, the colors also change. You’ll find a four-way directional pad on the left and red A and B buttons on the right. Its four-way d-pad is tiny but still feels great. The Game, Time, Pause/Set buttons are located in the right corner of the device. They are made of tactile rubber and feel solid.
The modern Game & Watch ditches replaceable batteries for rechargeable, USB-C powered ones. A cable is included, next to the power button. Nintendo doesn’t rate battery life between charges (I think it will last 8 hours on a single charge), but the screen automatically turns off after a few minutes when not in use . The left edge of the device contains a small slot for the mono speaker. That sounds loud for a device as small as this.
I love the clock…but the device doesn’t have a kickstand
The idea of a portable gaming device that can be used as a clock always fascinates me. The Super Mario-themed clock displays the time as different blocks, with Mario running from left to right repeatedly. It comes with 35 hidden secrets – and there’s an element of fun in uncovering hidden items. It is soft! Click the Time button to set your clock for the included Watch mode. My only issue with the system is the lack of a kickstand. The original Game & Watch had a small metal kickstand that could be clicked on the back. I don’t know what caused Nintendo to omit this metal accessory from the revamped version of the Game & Watch.
The games are fun but I wish Nintendo would add more classics
One of my issues with Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch is the limited number of games preloaded on the device. It includes the original Super Mario Bros NES, Super Mario Bros 2 (also known as The Lost Levels) and My Favorite Ball – one of the original Game & Watch games. Super Mario Bros. and The Lost Levels play surprisingly well on Game & Watch. The software emulation is decent and everything seems fine…the background music, controls and screen are large enough to enjoy retro gaming.
A small touch but certainly a welcome move is the way your progress is retained in the game when you turn off Unity or switch to another title, picking up where you left off. I loved the revamped Game & Watch, but I still wonder why Nintendo only includes three games, since we know it’s possible to add more games through emulation. Of course, Super Mario Bros. is classic but there is no Super Mario 3, Super Mario Land or its sequel.
A collector’s item that never gets old
For someone who collects all major Nintendo consoles, it was an obvious choice to own the new Game & Watch. I bought the Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. simply because not only does a device like this evoke nostalgia, but it also introduces me to an era of gaming I was not a part of. I don’t know who asked for a reincarnated Game & Watch (just kidding), but I love how Nintendo likes to rework its own devices for today’s consumers. I like the comfort of looking back at the history of the game – and people like me see rare, collective devices, perhaps dating back to a certain era or bringing back memories of the device when they were growing up. Although I only paid $50 for this device, you can get one for just Rs 6,000 from Amazon India. It’s a fascinating collective device that appeals to Nintendo fans.
How big is a Nintendo fan? Do you still own old Nintendo devices? Let us know in the comments.