When asked to list Nintendo handhelds, fans will most likely mention Game Boy, Game Boy Advance and the DS, three systems that helped the publisher achieve great success.
That said, the company first entered the portable market with a line of simple LCD games under the brand, Game & Watch, produced from 1980-1991.
Created by legendary Nintendo designer Gunpei Yokoi, each Game & Watch doubled as a video game and alarm clock.
Some Game & Watches featured a rectangular shape (Parachute, for example), while others, like Donkey Kong, had a clamshell design that Nintendo later reused for its DS and 3DS.
Ball, the very first Game & Watch.
Then there were the tabletop units, like Mario’s Cement Factory, which had more in common with an arcade machine, while others featured gold trim and had panoramic screens.
Unlike the systems you see today, though, the average Game & Watch didn’t use interchangeable cartridges. Instead, these devices could only play a single game, all of which were built around simple objectives.
Even Zelda received the Game & Watch treatment.
The first Game & Watch, Ball, tasks you with juggling. Chef, meanwhile, challenges players to continuously flip food while keeping it away from mice on the floor.
This Donkey Kong Game & Watch looks awfully familiar. Now where have we seen this design before?
Then there’s Fire, one of the most popular Game & Watch titles. Here, you must use a trampoline to catch and bounce people to safety.
Manhole, another favourite, has gamers quickly closing manholes to prevent pedestrians from falling.
Super Mario Bros.
While all of these games were enjoyable on some level, Nintendo realised the importance of using a well-known licence; it’s tough getting excited for a game called Ball.
With this in mind, the publisher paired trusted brands with Game & Watch, delivering simplistic versions of Mario Bros., Donkey Kong and Zelda to the masses while also designing games featuring Mickey Mouse, Popeye and Snoopy.
Parachute and Mickey Mouse
Completing a collection, however, was and still is a bit tricky. While Nintendo produced 59 units to be sold at retail (with a whopping 43 million sold), a 60th Game & Watch, a special edition version of Super Mario Bros., was given away to winner’s of the F-1 Grand Prix Tournament; only 10,000 were produced.
Thankfully, you can experience some of these games today, though Nintendo makes doing so a bit challenging.
Game & Watch Gallery, the old Game Boy title, now available on 3DS.
The easiest way to do this is through the 3DS Virtual Console, accessed via the online eShop. Here, you can download Game & Watch Gallery, a $2.99 compilation originally released on Game Boy that comes with Manhole, Fire, Octopus and Oil Panic.
The always charismatic Mr. Game & Watch
The handhelds also have a neat cameo in the Wii beat-em-up, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, where players can go from 3D to 2D in the special Flat Zone stage that takes place inside a Game & Watch. You can even play as the official Game & Watch mascot, aptly named Mr. Game & Watch.
Game & Watch Collection 2, a Club Nintendo exclusive.
If you’re a member of Club Nintendo, the publisher’s premium service, you can redeem 1600 gold coins to pick up the super exclusive Game & Watch Collection and Game & Watch Collection 2 for DS not sold in stores; they cost 800 gold coins apiece. The first includes Oil Panic, Donkey Kong and Green House, while the second has Octopus, Parachute and the brand new Parachute X Octopus.
The new Club Nintendo version of Ball.
The crown jewel of Club Nintendo, though, is Game & Watch: Ball, a sweet replica of the 1980 original that’ll set you back a whopping 1200 coins. Of course, there’s always eBay, though authentic Game & Watch units are quite expensive.
With this 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 Nintendo becoming the video game giant it is today.