This article is presented by Nintendo.
If you were born in the ‘90s, you likely aren’t too familiar with Nintendo’s Game & Watch line of LCD handheld gaming systems. But this series of 59 handheld games from the ‘80s holds a very important spot in video game history. This Game Boy predecessor not only solidified Nintendo’s ambition to let gamers play on the go, but its influence can also be found in the dual-screen Nintendo DS and even the Nintendo Switch.
Just in time for Mario’s 35th anniversary celebration, Nintendo is releasing Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. on Nov. 13. This limited-edition variant features the classic 1985 platformer (plus Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels) wrapped up in a shining gold package. It also features Ball, the very first Game & Watch title ever released.
Check out this look back at the history of Game & Watch series for a better look at how these handhelds evolved over time:
Ahead of the re-release of Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros., we’re looking back at our favorite Game & Watch systems of all time…
10. Mickey Mouse
The House of Mouse is obviously no stranger to video game tie-ins, but one of the earliest examples is the 1981 Game & Watch release in which players take control of the Disney icon to catch eggs before they crack on the floor. Like Ball, this game is about speed and timing your moves just right.
This specific unit was part of Game & Watch’s “Wide Screen” series, which featured bigger screens than the earlier handhelds. While Mickey himself is only depicted via two alternating images, it’s still loads of fun to see him in action. Plus, Minnie Mouse appears periodically as a cameo!
9. Black Jack
The easy-to-learn card game Black Jack was translated into its own multi-screen Game & Watch system in 1985 so that players could “stick” or “hit” their way to 21 on the go. This handheld served as a great way to make use of the console’s dual-screen setup, with the dealer portrayed on the upper screen while the player made his moves on the bottom screen.
Being a successful Black Jack tycoon means betting up to $100 (out of a starting pot of $500) on each hand, attempting to beat the dealer while not going bust.
8. Gold Cliff
Hunting for treasure has been a staple in video games almost since their inception, so it was inevitable that Nintendo would eventually release a Game & Watch handheld around this very concept.
In 1988’s Gold Cliff, players control an adventurer moving their way from the bottom screen to the top while clambering up platforms, timing jumps so as to not fall to their deaths. Gold Cliff is notable for being the first Game & Watch handheld to feature a “Continue” button that allowed players to carry over the progress and restart at the point where they were killed.
Ball might look a bit simple by today’s standards, but this two-mode game was surprisingly addicting back in 1980. Game A featured a stick figure named Mr. Game & Watch tossing balls in the air and attempting to catch them, which doesn’t sound like much at first until the game speeds up and you’re suddenly breaking a sweat trying not to drop any balls. Meanwhile, Game B is a fast-paced take on juggling.
Besides being the first handheld in the series, Ball’s biggest contribution to Nintendo history is Mr. Game & Watch himself, a recurring character who has most recently appeared in several of the Super Smash Bros. games.
6. Donkey Kong Jr.
Aside from boasting a cool metallic blue faceplate, 1982’s Game & Watch interpretation of Donkey Kong Jr. is notable for being the first entry in the “New Wide Screen” series, a wide screen format that ran at the same time Nintendo began experimenting with dual-screen Game & Watch systems.
Like in the original arcade game, Donkey Kong Jr. must climb his way up a set of platforms to rescue his father, all while dodging traps set by Mario and collecting keys that will open his father’s cage at the top of the level.
1983’s Pinball is one of the highlights of Nintendo’s “Vertical Multi Screen” series, the line that today can be considered the forefather of the Nintendo DS and 3DS. This particular LCD handheld featured a clasped shell design with a screen on both the top and bottom, letting players launch balls from one to the other in what is still one of the most colorful iterations of Game & Watch. Flippers exist on both of Pinball’s screens, increasing the odds that you’ll keep the ball up for as long as possible while pursuing that high score.
4. Spitball Sparky
1984’s Spitball Sparky was the first entry in Game & Watch’s short-lived “Super Color” series, which boasted a drastically different design than the other lines. The handheld featured a vertical single-screen and looked more like a calculator than a gaming system.
The game itself plays similarly to classic brick breakers like Breakout, as Mr. Game & Watch works to keep the ball afloat and hit tiles by continually spitting out puffs of air. The key to success is maintaining a good rhythm in order to destroy as many rows as possible. Spitball Sparky plays simply enough but touted a nice layer of depth thanks to the different tile colors, with red ones located at the very top requiring two hits to be destroyed.
3. Mario’s Bombs Away
From a purely technical perspective, Mario’s Bombs Away might be the most impressive Game & Watch system ever released. The 1983 game is simple enough: Mario moves bombs from left to right while avoiding flammable oil and enemy torches, but there’s more behind this handheld than meets the eye.
Mario’s Bombs Away takes place at night, which necessitated some clever hardware workarounds. Essentially, the game utilizes an internal backlight in order to function, shining on a downward-facing LCD color screen that is then reflected using a mirror to make the action viewable.
The unit is also aesthetically unique, looking more like a traditional arcade machine rather than a handheld device. An ingenious design to this day.
If you thought that 1988’s Zelda II was the only example of the iconic fantasy-adventure series trading a top-down view for the 2D plane, think again. Game & Watch’s version of Zelda arrived on a multi-screen system just a year later, challenging our plucky silent hero to fight his way through many enemy-filled chambers.
This game is noteworthy for pushing the boundaries of what players thought was possible on a Game & Watch system, sporting a map and inventory menu on the top screen as Link battled moblins along the bottom. The final fight against the dragon takes place on the upper right corner, delivering a sense of scale and ambition not seen in any prior Game & Watch release.
1. Super Mario Bros.
Despite being somewhat limited in what platforms the LCD screen could actually display, the Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch retains all the magic of the NES original, with 8 unique worlds, mushroom power-ups, and Princess Peach’s ability to appear on different tiers depending on the level. As one of the later Game & Watch releases, Super Smash Bros. is extremely advanced and still impressive today.