In the last few years, Nintendo has gone through a period of nostalgia. Releasing the limited edition NES and SNES Mini series, they decided to create a new Game & Watch (G&W) game featuring their beloved mascot, Mario.
It has the same form as the widescreen G&W games of the 80’s, but instead of being limited to a fixed LCD display, it has a full colour screen and is packed with features.
It might be best to think of it as similar in form to the Game Boy Micro, but without the ability to change the game, which is in keeping with the spirit of the Game & Watch.
Let’s take a closer look at what this device offers.
Before we start, I wanted to note the doors of democracy were thrown open once again to decide what should be reviewed next. To my surprise, the vote on Mastodon was for this contemporary choice amongst the other more retro alternatives.
So, Mario (and Luigi) won out over three late 80’s Multi-Screen G&W games, but don’t worry, we’ll be returning to review these all at a later date.
Nintendo has done a remarkable job making something which feels just like a genuine 80’s-era Game & Watch.
Weight-wise, it’s almost exactly the same as an original, although perhaps perceptibly on the lighter side. The size of the device itself is exactly the same as an original. The screen whilst being the same height is a little less in width than an original device. I will concede Super Mario Bros is based on the original “Wide Screen” devices, so doing a comparison with a “New Wide Screen” device – Donkey Kong Jr in my case – might be a bit unfair.
Unlike the original, which was perpetually on once you’d inserted some batteries, there’s a power switch on the side to turn the device on and off, alongside a USB C charging port. So yes, batteries not required! On the downside, it doesn’t have the built-in kickstand which used to be integrated into the original models. This was a nice feature which made it easy to prop up the device for show, or to use as a bedside clock.
Subtleties aside, it feels just like an original device, right down to the silver Game & Watch logo in the device’s top left. It really is an amazing recreation, and unless you have an original device close at hand for comparison, you’re probably not going to sense a difference in the look and feel to the way you remember it.
But here the similarities end. Whilst the originals had an LCD display fixing the device to a single game, this modern recreation has a modern LCD screen, and is packed with a good selection of features and gameplay.
Three games are included:
- Super Mario Bros
- Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels
The first two gaming options are faithful emulations of the first Super Mario Bros game and its Japan-only sequel, the The Lost Levels. The latter was famously considered too difficult for Western Audiences back in the day, so we instead received a re-skin of another Nintendo game –“Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic” – which is the Super Mario Bros 2 most of us are familiar with.
For those not familiar with The Lost Levels, it’s essentially the same game engine as the first game with new textures, the ability to play as Luigi and the difficulty level multiplied by two (or in some later levels, by three or four). The history of this game is probably worth a deep dive on its own, but suffice to say if you’ve mastered the original then The Lost Levels will provide you with hours of entertainment and frustration.
“Ball” is a recreation of the original Ball Game & Watch, but with Mario or Luigi providing a mode more synonymous with an original Game & Watch game. If you’re looking for an authentic experience with this device, then Ball will delight you.
I was however disappointed Nintendo didn’t include a recreation of the original Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch (more on this in a bit).
As you’d expect from a Game & Watch, the device includes a clock, but no alarm which was a staple of the original series. Perhaps this is due to the increased power consumption needs of the more modern screen, requiring the device to enter sleep mode when not in use.
The game also has a few Easter eggs dotted around. Hold the A button on the clock screen, and you can enjoy the lyrics to the Mario Drawing Song (yes this is a thing!) in the language of your choice.
Leave the device long enough to enter sleep mode to save power, and just before it does it will display a piece of Mario artwork for your brief enjoyment.
It may surprise you to know that this is the second Game & Watch game to carry the moniker of Super Mario Bros.
The first was released in 1986 – and again in 1988 – with the same form as the more modern version. It’s one of my absolute favourites in the original lineup, but sadly one I no longer own due to a burglary I experienced when I was back living in London. They’re now going for hundreds of dollars on eBay, so it burns doubly that I lost it.
I wish they’d included a version of this game in the updated package, but for whatever reason Nintendo decided to overlook this part of the Game & Watch’s history.
I still want to do a deep dive into this game in the future should I ever managed to procure a replacement, but for now we’ll have to make do with this scan I took of it before it was lost.
It’s worth noting that this device is eminently hackable, thanks to an active home brew community. Some have even managed to get Doom to run on it, but personally I’d be tempted to look into it further if it becomes possible to run MAME, as it’s then feasible to use this to emulate other Game & Watch ROMs (yes, they all had ROMs!).
This device is a fantastic piece of nostalgia, especially if you don’t own an original Game & Watch, but this is offset by the fact that it was a limited edition and not as easy to get hold of as it should be, although prices on eBay aren’t extortionate at the moment if you want to pick one up.
The included range of games is what you’d expect, but aside from Ball they’re available on so many existing platforms making this the umpteenth release of these games. My own preferred way to play them is the Game Boy Colour version, which comes not only with enhanced versions of both Super Mario Bros and the Lost Levels, but also many more features than supplied here.
Don’t get me wrong, this device will look fantastic in your collection and makes a great display piece. It’s just when it comes to playing the actual games, you’ll probably want to go for a more comfortable option.
So, with all this taken into account, I’m giving this game an admirable “C” rating. Absolutely worth seeking out if you’re a Nintendo fan or Game & Watch collector, and if you’re lucky enough to come across one don’t hesitate to snap it up. But, it could have been more than it is.
You can also read a retrospective on the Zelda Game & Watch here.