Nintendo Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. Review
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I have a real nostalgic attachment to the old Game & Watch. I was a young lad in the mid-'80s and already a rabid gamer, I had a ZX Spectrum at home and access to my cousins Atari and NES.
The family used to go on summer holidays to Blackpool before that town turned into little more than a receptacle for the vomit of stag/hen parties, and I would struggle without something to play. I was not the most sociable kid, I only really liked playing with my friends and my sister, I was not interested in meeting new people. How little changes. It would be a few years before the Gameboy arrived and changed everything so options for portable gaming were limited to LCD games. Repetitive gameplay loops. Grey backdrops, graphics that were black static blocks (sometimes so opaque as to be invisible) that shifted to create the illusion of movement. Basic sounds, just blips and bloops. They were awesome.
As was always the case, Nintendo was the best at this. They were inventively designed and easy to understand and the Game & Watch was the benchmark of all LCD games. I owned Donkey Kong Jr and the classic Ball models. Donkey Kong Jr is fairly self-explanatory and such a mechanically simple game that it translated to the LCD format effortlessly. Ball was a curious one, it involved a stick man juggler with very basic limb movements trying to catch two moving balls. The beeps intensify as the balls speed up and it gets more challenging with every loop. It sounds stupid but it was deeply engrossing for a small kid at the time. These games kept me busy and entertained during holidays where my anxiety could have swallowed me whole.
Skip ahead to 2020 and I am playing on a new Nintendo Game & Watch. The design is so familiar, the case may feel disorientingly small in my adult hands but the layout of the buttons remains simple and perfectly intuitive. Everything is where it should and makes sense.
The difference, however, is in what it offers the player. In conjunction with the Super Mario Bros. 35th Anniversary, Nintendo has released a special Super Mario Bros. edition which comes with a full-colour screen and the classic 1982 Super Mario Bros along with the original Super Mario Bros 2 (known as The Lost Levels in the West). These games remain some of the best platformers of all time, they may have aged graphically but the level design and precision gameplay style remain top-tier to this day. These games work perfectly on a small screen like this and the Game & Watch control layout closely resembles the original NES controller design so it feels good to play as well.
The watch component is basic, presented in the art style of Super Mario with changeable backdrops while a little Mario runs around. When the time changes, the numbers drop off the screen to make room for the new number. It certainly makes the passage of time more interesting than a regular clock.
As a nice bonus of nostalgia, the new Game & Watch also comes with Ball and does a great job of replicating that very simplistic but compelling gameplay. It holds up better than I would have expected, it shows just how good Nintendo has always been at game design that something as simple as a juggling mini-game works this well after 30 years.
As a piece of kit, the Nintendo Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros is as solid and dependable as anything Nintendo has produced and as a gaming novelty it is one of my favourites in some time. The nostalgia factor invariably plays a role in this but it works wonderfully; it's nice to reminisce about while also being a lot of fun to play in the here and now.