Nintendo’s Game & Watch: a loving tribute
When asked to list Nintendo handhelds, fans will most likely mention Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, and the DS, three systems that have helped the publisher achieve great success.
That said, the company first entered the laptop market with a line of simple LCD games under the Game & Watch brand, produced between 1980 and 1991.
Created by legendary Nintendo designer Gunpei Yokoi, each Game & Watch doubles as a video game and alarm clock.
Some games and watches featured a rectangular shape (Parachute, for example), while others, like Donkey Kong, had a clamshell design that Nintendo then reused for its DS and 3DS.
Then there were the tabletop units, like Mario’s Cement Factory, which had more in common with an arcade machine, while others had gold trim and panoramic screens.
Unlike the systems you see today, however, the average Game & Watch didn’t use interchangeable cartridges. Instead, these devices could only play one game, all built around simple goals.
The first Game & Watch, Ball, has you juggling. Chef, meanwhile, challenges players to continually flip food while keeping it away from mice on the floor.
Then there’s Fire, one of the most popular Game & Watch titles. Here you have to use a trampoline to catch and bounce people safely.
Manhole, another favorite, allows players to quickly close manholes to prevent pedestrians from falling.
While all of these games were enjoyable on some level, Nintendo realized the importance of using a well-known license; it’s hard to get excited about a game called Ball.
With that in mind, the publisher has paired trusted brands with Game & Watch, bringing simplistic versions of Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, and Zelda to the mainstream while designing games featuring Mickey Mouse, Popeye, and Snoopy.
Completing a collection, however, was and still is a bit tricky. While Nintendo produced 59 units for retail sale (with 43 million in sales), a 60th Game & Watch, a special edition of Super Mario Bros., was offered to the winners of the F-1 Grand Prix tournament; only 10,000 were produced.
Fortunately, you can check out some of these games today, although Nintendo is making that a bit difficult.
The easiest way to do this is to use the 3DS Virtual Console, accessible through the online eShop. Here you can download Game & Watch Gallery, a $ 2.99 compilation originally released on Game Boy and bundled with Manhole, Fire, Octopus, and Oil Panic.
Handhelds also have a nice appearance in the Wii beat-em-up, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, where players can switch from 3D to 2D in the special Flat Zone scene that takes place inside a Game & Watch. You can even play as the official Game & Watch mascot, aptly named Mr. Game & Watch.
If you are a member of Club Nintendo, the publisher’s premium service, you can exchange 1,600 gold coins for the super exclusive Game & Watch Collection and Game & Watch Collection 2 for DS not sold in stores; they cost 800 gold each. The former features Oil Panic, Donkey Kong, and Green House, while the latter features Octopus, Parachute, and the all-new Parachute X Octopus.
Club Nintendo’s crown jewel, however, is Game & Watch: Ball, a sweet replica of the 1980 original that will set you back 1,200 coins. Of course, there’s always eBay, although genuine Game & Watch units are quite expensive.
With that in mind, and if you’re a Nintendo fan, be sure to pick up a Game & Watch at some point. Yes, they don’t have as many features as a 3DS, but these little devices played an important role in making Nintendo the video game giant it is today.