Nintendo Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros Review: Handheld History

In a year where gaming has gone big, Nintendo is keeping things small.

The company’s response to the physically huge new consoles from Microsoft and Sony is a throwback about 30% smaller than my smartphone. It’s a remake of the device that paved the way for Nintendo’s eventual dominance of the NES, and it’s focused on the character that made the company famous: Mario.

the Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch comes with this original NES pack-in game, as well as Super Mario Bros. 2 (not the weird one; the one normally called Lost levels in the US), a Mario-themed remake of an old LCD juggling game, and an adorable clock.

I love the clock.

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Let’s do a little history lesson. In the early 1980s, the Game & Watch product line was Nintendo’s take on handheld electronic games. These battery-operated devices usually featured a single game, sometimes with a few variations, played on a rudimentary LCD screen. Even with limited technical capabilities (and stamina), they were popular as low-cost diversions for a society still getting to grips with the idea of ​​video games.

The first set of Game & Watch devices dropped in 1980, a huge (and painful to realize for those alive at the time) 40 years ago. Nintendo’s recently revamped 2020 edition is based on the first release in this line, a simple juggling game called Ball (Throw in the air in the USA). But the new device is also a celebration of Mario, who turns 35 in 2020.

In a year where gaming has gone big, Nintendo is keeping things small.

Game and Watch: Super Mario Bros. ditches replaceable batteries for a rechargeable, USB-C powered one. The older edition’s monochrome screen is also blown, and in its place we get a just under 2.5-inch LCD screen. It’s a small thing, but powerful enough to give you around eight hours of play on a single charge.

There’s not much to say about the games here that hasn’t already been said. Super Mario Bros. and even Lost levels were discussed, re-discussed, dissected, and then dissected again. They are known entities. Ball hasn’t been talked about as much, but it’s a simple game of moving hands left and right to hold a set of balls in the air. Miss one and it’s game over.

Then there is the clock. My God, I love the clock. It is a digital watch with a Super Mario theme. Over time, an AI controller Mario runs from left to right, dodging Goombas, grabbing power-ups, and occasionally hiding in a pipe. The reading of digital numbers is made up of brick blocks, and when a minute passes, the blocks shatter to keep up with the time.

You can even switch scenes by pressing the “Time” button, switching between three familiar Super Mario environments at your leisure. It’s cute! The only downside is the lack of a kickstand. If you want to set up the Game & Watch on your desktop as an original watch, you’ll need to install something. I use a smartphone holder equipped with a kickstand which works well. (However, it must remain plugged in, otherwise it will turn off after a few minutes of inactivity.)

Don’t get me wrong: this is a nostalgic piece and a collector’s item. It can’t compete with the now-discontinued Nintendo 3DS – or even the original Game Boy, let’s be real – but it looks and feels like a smaller version of the thing that many Nintendo fans owned. The squishy directional pad and A/B buttons might not be the best way to play the included games.

I’m old enough to remember coveting (and eventually owning) the weird Game & Watch console, including Ball, and I can totally see myself tossing this remake in a bag before a long (post-pandemic) flight or train journey. But it will never replace, say, my Switch. I would also almost prefer to set it on my desk and leave it there permanently as an eye-catching way to keep track of time.

From the device itself to the nifty plastic case that houses the Game & Watch box, Nintendo offers fans the opportunity to collect it. Much like the NES and SNES Classic that preceded it, it’s another way to play a game that you probably already have access to on half a dozen other screens (at least).

The math here couldn’t be clearer: Game and Watch: Super Mario Bros.. is a $50 limited-edition release that launches just before the holidays. It’s an economical gift that will delight any Nintendo fan in your life.

by Nintendo Game and Watch: Super Mario Bros. releases November 13 and will be available for purchase until March 31, 2021.

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