Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Game and Watch History

From a company standpoint, there was nothing about the Game and Watch that stood out from Nintendo's other products. They had been releasing hanafuda cards for over three-quarters of a century and Gunpei Yokoi had already experimented with electronic devices since being hired at Nintendo by Hiroshi Yamaguchi (Most notably, the Ultra Hand). The Game and Watch wasn't even the first console Nintendo had worked on, as they helped create the Mangavox Odyssey for it's release in Japan. The Game and Watch is famous for the complete opposite reason the Virtual Boy is famous: It was Nintendo's first ever successful video game system and it jump-started a long line of successful video game consoles (that being said, more on the Virtual Boy later).

The Game and Watch was, at the very least, the first handheld games console that Nintendo published outside of japan. The console had a dual screen clam-like structure that was the inspiration for the original architecture for the Nintendo DS that they showed at E3 in 2005. Gunpei Yokoi created the Game and Watch after seeing a bored businessman playing with an LCD calculator. He then thought of a watch that doubled as a game machine for killing time (like the modern day iPhone). This type of thinking wasn't exactly new to Yokoi (seeing a mechanical arm was his inspiration for the Ultra Hand) but it was part of this forward thinking that helped to accelerate development of the console.

One of the most interesting things about the system was that each system contained exactly one game. This added a sense of collection to the series that collectors are still trying to obtain to this day, helped by the existence of gold, silver and colour editions. There's a nice convenience about the literal pick up and play aspect of the Game and Watch without worrying about cartridges or discs (again, like the iPhone). These kind of games were a small breakthrough in the market that would later inspire other developers to make small, profitable games in the hope of making some quick money, regardless of the quality. Unlike other developers, Nintendo isn't known for wanting to make money the easy way at least until the Wii came along and within the span of just over a decade, they released 59 original games onto the market (with a sixtieth game available through a premium competition).

While there were 60 Game and Watch games overall, most games came with two different modes, called Game A and Game B. These two games were arguably the invention of difficulty levels in video games, as in most cases Game B was a more difficult, faster version of Game A to add a bit of variety to what were very simple games. Along with the nonconformist design, the series was noted for the system's mascot, Mr. Game and Watch. Modern gamers are likely to associate him with his rather bizzare appearances in Super Smash Bros Melee/Brawl. His first appearance was in the game Ball and later became more apparent than even Mario/Jumpman which lead to him being the mascot for the series (that being said, Nintendo never declared him as a mascot until the Melee appearance).

Keeping the success in mind, it's hard to call the Game and Watch more influential on gaming than some of Nintendo's other products such as the Famicom or Donkey Kong. It's probably fair to mark Game and Watch as the transition period of the golden age of video games from simplistic pieces of computer code to a wide medium of entertainment for almost anyone to enjoy. Nintendo took what they learned from the Game and Watch and used it to great effect. The original Game Boy in particular owes a lot to the Game and Watch due to the portability of the system and the multi-screen version would be known as the prototype to the Nintendo DS.

Whether the games themselves have held up is obviously a matter for debate, but for a product created over thirty years ago that ran on a phone battery they don't exactly command the ridiculous prices that some of the gold editions can conjure up out of thin air. That being said, for anyone who doesn't have thousands of pounds to spend of gaming memorabilia, the games have been compiled in collections for all of the portable successors (the DS version is the best bet as it's the only Game and Watch successor that actually has two screens) and Nintendo have tried to make the games readily available through devices such as the e-reader. In fact, Nintendo recently re-released Mr. Game and Watch's debut game, Ball, for only 1200 coins on their Club Nintendo website for North American consumers. In short, the Game and Watch may not be Nintendo's most well known creation, but it was a vital step the company had to make in order to become what it is today.

Find Game and Watch on ebay


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