Last Updated on June 15, 2023
Before the Switch and the DS, Nintendo kicked off handheld gaming with the Game and Watch series.
In the fast-paced world of modern gaming, it’s easy to overlook the humble beginnings of handheld gaming.
While the Nintendo Switch and mobile devices dominate the market today, there was a time when handheld gaming was a novelty, and the pioneers of this portable pastime often go unnoticed. One such pioneer is the Game and Watch series, a line of handheld electronic games released by Nintendo in the early 1980s.
These pocket-sized devices may seem primitive compared to today’s technology, but they laid the foundation for the handheld gaming revolution we know today. In this article, we’ll dive into the fascinating history of Game and Watch, exploring its impact on the gaming industry and the legacy it left behind.
So grab your magnifying glass and join us on a journey to uncover the forgotten pioneers of handheld gaming.
The history of handheld gaming
Before we delve into the story of Game and Watch, let’s take a step back and examine the history of handheld gaming. The concept of portable gaming dates back to the 1970s when handheld electronic games first hit the market.
These early devices, such as Mattel’s Auto Race and the Microvision, paved the way for the handheld gaming industry we know today. However, it was Nintendo’s handheld that truly revolutionized the landscape.
The birth of Game and Watch
Developed by a talented team led by Gunpei Yokoi, Game and Watch made its debut in 1980 with the release of Ball. This simple yet addictive game was a smash hit, selling millions of units worldwide.
The success of Ball prompted Nintendo to continue developing more titles, each one offering a unique gaming experience. These devices featured a dual-screen design, with the top screen showing the game and the bottom screen serving as a control panel. The LCD screens, although monochromatic, were a marvel of technology at the time.
The games quickly became a cultural phenomenon, captivating players of all ages.
Popular Game and Watch titles
Over the years, Nintendo released a wide range of Game and Watch titles, each one showcasing the company’s creativity and innovation.
Some of the most popular titles included Mario’s Cement Factory, where players had to guide Mario through a bustling cement factory while avoiding obstacles, and Donkey Kong, a game that marked the debut of the beloved character. Other notable titles included Fire, Octopus, and Oil Panic, each offering its own unique gameplay mechanics and challenges.
These games captivated a generation of gamers and became synonymous with portable entertainment.
Features and innovations of Nintendo’s early handhelds
While Game and Watch may seem primitive compared to today’s handheld devices, these devices were packed with features and innovations for their time.
Each game had its own distinct gameplay mechanics and objectives, offering players a unique experience with each title. The devices also featured a built-in clock and alarm, making them more than just gaming devices. The LCD screens, although monochromatic, offered crisp visuals and smooth animation. The controls were simple yet intuitive, allowing players to quickly pick up and play.
These features and innovations set the foundation for future handheld gaming devices.
Impact and influence of Game and Watch
The impact of Game and Watch on the gaming industry cannot be overstated. These portable devices introduced gaming to a whole new audience, expanding the reach of the medium beyond arcades and home consoles.
It also laid the groundwork for Nintendo’s future successes, serving as a stepping stone to iconic franchises such as Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda. (Both of which have been released on modern Game and Watch handhelds.)
Its success also inspired other companies to enter the handheld gaming market, leading to increased competition and innovation.
The decline and legacy of Game and Watch
As technology advanced and new handheld gaming devices entered the market, Game and Watch faced stiff competition.
Nintendo eventually shifted its focus to the Game Boy, a more advanced handheld gaming system that would go on to become one of the most successful gaming devices of all time. While the older games may have faded into obscurity, the platform’s legacy lives on. The devices are highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts, with some rare titles fetching high prices in the secondary market.
The impact Game and Watch had on the gaming industry can still be felt today, as the concepts and innovations introduced by these devices continue to shape the handheld gaming landscape.
Collecting Game and Watch
For those who have a fondness for nostalgia and a love for gaming history, collecting Game and Watch devices has become a popular hobby. These handheld devices are considered rare and valuable, especially the more limited edition and hard-to-find titles.
Collectors scour flea markets, online auctions, and retro gaming stores in search of these devices, often paying a premium for well-preserved units. With the resurgence of retro gaming, the demand for these handhelds continues to grow, making them a highly sought-after collectible.
Rediscovering classic Nintendo handheld games
While Game and Watch may have faded from the mainstream gaming scene, the recent release of the Game and Watch: Super Mario Bros. edition has brought these devices back into the spotlight. This limited edition device features the classic games Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, and a digital clock.
The release of this special edition has sparked renewed interest in Game and Watch, with fans and newcomers alike rediscovering the joy of these classic handheld games. The popularity of the modernised, pocket-sized consoles serves as a testament to the enduring appeal of the format.
A Game and Watch in your pocket
The Game and Watch series may have been forgotten by many, but its impact on the gaming industry is undeniable. These pocket-sized devices laid the foundation for the handheld gaming revolution we know today, introducing gaming to a whole new audience and inspiring future generations of game developers.
While they may seem primitive by today’s standards, these (usually) single-game consoles were a marvel of technology at the time, packed with features and innovations that set the stage for the handheld gaming devices we enjoy today.
So let’s not forget the pioneers of handheld gaming, the Game and Watch series, and appreciate the role they played in shaping the world of gaming as we know it.