To say that Nintendo know their business would be the grossest understatement. Their canny non-conformity to gaming trends and immortalised roster of characters mean that even when everyone thinks they’ve gone insane – and occasionally they have – they still ultimately come out on top. Yet, for all their idiosyncratic decisions, they are still a company that plays to the crowd, and as that crowd includes many somewhat older fans who’ve been with them since the 80s.
Following on from the NES and SNES Mini consoles, Nintendo are trying to make this Christmas portable. Their handheld line up obviously features the Switch and Switch Lite, but it now also extends to a brand new Game & Watch; Nintendo’s classic, and original, series of LCD games. For Nintendo fans of a certain age, it’s a nostalgia bomb that’s going to blow you back to 1985, but as you’d expect, it’s not as straightforward as all that.
In terms of form factor, you’ve probably forgotten how big or small a Game & Watch was because your hands are now much bigger. In the here and now, a Game & Watch is a surprisingly dinky little thing. Its memory-tickling dark red and metallic gold casing will have you thinking of a simpler time where all you wore was denim, and roller skates were the primary form of transportation. If you ever had one of these when you were a kid, you will adore it.
The old Game & Watch were a purely LCD affair. Starting with Ball (or the more questionably named Toss-Up if you’re over in the US) and taking in some of their most iconic characters in their earliest incarnations, they were the top tier of the proto-handheld gaming world. They were, to all intents and purposes, my first gaming platform, and the scratchy bleeps and bloops they emitted are etched on my psyche forever.
This 2020 re-release is a considerably more modern iteration, even if the games hidden inside it are still unequivocally retro. It boasts a clear and compact colour LCD screen, and alongside the system’s original Ball, Nintendo have seen fit to add in the original NES version of Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels. These are games that, if you’re a certain age or a dyed-in-the-wool Nintendo fan, you’ll have probably come across before, but never in quite this fashion.
The unit is rechargeable via USB-C, and there’s a neat little power button squirrelled away on the right-hand side. Marvellously it saves your state, so no matter where you are when you stop playing, whether that’s with multiple balls in the air, or as you leap past a Koopa Trooper, you can drop straight back in to where you were.
The Game and Watch stylings have had an upgrade on the control front, with this remade version now hosting a NES-style D-Pad alongside an A and a B button. There’s then a trio of selection buttons, with Game swapping between the three game choices, Time turning the unit into a handy little clock, and a Pause/Set button that also lets you change the volume and the brightness. It’s all very neat, well thought out and exactly what you’d expect from Nintendo.
It is about as perfect a stocking filler as you could find for that family member who simply can’t get enough of Nintendo. If you had one of the original Game & Watch handhelds as a kid there’s every chance that the amount of joy this will give you could overwhelm you on the 25th of December, but it’s possible that all that happiness could be somewhat short-lived.
Top of the issues is likely to be the fact that this is a £40 novelty, containing games you may well have played so many times you can make it through them without having to look at that bright, colourful screen. Secondly, a Game and Watch was a comfy enough thing to grip when you were seven, but as an adult you’ll find yourself carefully cradling it between your fingers. It’s not uncomfortable per se, but it’s a long way from being ergonomic.