Video Game: Game & Watch

Ball, the first of the Game and Watches.

When Super Smash Bros. Melee came out, there was a strange character that nobody except the most hardcore of Nintendo fans recognized. His name was Marth.


No, he's not the guy we're talking about today, we're talking about the guy that NOBODY recognized, or at least remembered. He was Mr. Game & Watch, the Smash representative of one of the first popular hand held game series: Game & Watch.

Back when Nintendo was in its early days (early for videogames, at least), Gunpei Yokoi saw a business man playing with his LCD calculator on his way home. This inspired him to make a watch that doubled as a game to kill time with. Thus the Game & Watch, a watch and a game that looks slightly like a calculator, was born.

Think it's boring? Think again. It was so entertaining, the success of this game helped popularize handheld videogames, started Nintendo's monopoly on handhelds, and catapulted Yokoi to a high position in Nintendo. From that position, Yokoi would create the Game Boy, Metroid, Kid Icarus, Dr. Mario, and Fire Emblem, before the... unfortunate mistake that the executives made with the Virtual Boy. In fact, the Game & Watch was Nintendo's first major success in the world of gaming (there was one long-forgotten home console and a few arcade games, but with one exception, nothing came out of them). Also, one of the templates for the Game & Watch was used in Nintendo DS. So, if you ever owned a handheld, you know who to thank now.

The games consisted of you controlling some guy doing some simple task, whether it was rescuing people jumping out of a burning building with a trampoline in Fire! (you had to bounce them three times before they'd get to the ambulance), or moving a single manhole cover to make sure people don't fall down as they walk across holes. Points were awarded each time you prevented disaster (such as when someone successfully walked across the gap in Manhole), and should you fail, you were marked with a miss. Three misses and you were done. The game would speed up and get more difficult as you went on, but there were methods to clear your misses, usually after two, five, and seven hundred points or similar. The Game and Watch Gallery series would usually throw you a heart you'd have to catch once you broke the point marker.

Oddly enough, they were a major hit in Japan but relatively unsuccessful in the US, to the point where they never became as popular or widespread as overseas. Part of this was due to bad marketing (Nintendo of America used their own employees in commercials) and part of it was due to Nintendo not understanding how the toy industry worked, since they had marketed the Game & Watch machines as toys rather then consumer electronics. This was a mistake they made only once - their next attempt at American video games was with the NES, and we all know how well that went. On the other hand these games became a smash hit in the Soviet Union, where the localized versions was license-produced as Elektronika IM. Very interesting fact: 

The games were rereleased on a series of Game Boy games, in sets of four with both the old unaltered version and a new better looking, with a couple of bonus features, version, and tracked scores on each version separately. This was actually one of the first remakes for a console game (albeit handheld), long before the days of SNES->GBA. Several Game & Watch games (in their original forms) were later released as part of DSiWare, with much more faithful graphics than the Game Boy editions thanks to the DS's increased capabilities.

The mascot himself is a bit of an enigma. Still, we have some information due to his role in the Super Smash Bros. games. As far as we know, he has no personality. Because of this, he's Nintendo's first everyman, as Mario's a year younger than him. By Word of God, he's True Neutral, as he has no understanding of good or evil. He may be a Disco Dan, as he still speaks in calculator beeps (with the exception of the "present" section in Game and Watch Gallery 4), he uses Limited Animation and he and his tools remain two-dimensional (except for a manhole cover). This probably isn't his fault; no game designer wants to be the one who updates him and gets attacked by his fans. His fighting style is, more or less, a mix of Confusion Fu and Hammerspace. And that's all we know about the monochrome enigma. But if you'd like to apply some tropes to him, head on over to his Super Smash Bros. Melee character page here and add them there.

Recently, the brand name has had talk of being revived in yet more crossovers, one known as Nintendo Land and another called "Game & Wario", both for the Wii U. Also, a new, fully-playable minigame in the style of the originals is present as one of the visualizations available in the Nintendo 3DS's "Nintendo 3DS Sound" app, which involves a Mr. Game & Watch darting around to bounce a soccer ball off of its head.

Some of the popular Game & Watch games:

  • Ball (1980): The very first game in the series. The player has to keep a number of balls in the air. Re-released in Game & Watch Gallery 2, Game Boy Camera, and is also available on DSi Ware, and has been recently re-released through Club Nintendo.
  • Boxing (1984) (Later renamed to Punch-Out!!): Similar to Urban Champion. Also available in Game & Watch Gallery 4.
  • Chef (1981): As a busy chef, the player must avoid dropping various foods. Playable in Gallery 2 and 4, where Princess Peach is the chef. Downloadable through DSi ware.
  • Donkey Kong (1982): Practically the same as the arcade game. Playable in Gallery 2 and 4. The D-Pad was created especially for this game, and would be used in virtually every game system, Game and Watch and otherwise, afterward.
  • Donkey Kong Jr. (1982): Appears in Game & Watch Gallery 3 and 4.
  • Egg (1981) (Later re-released as Mickey Mouse): Playing as a hungry fox, the player collects eggs from hens. Appears in Gallery 3. The original game saw a rare re-release with Mickey Mouse in place of the fox, as a tie-in game. This game was later ported in the Soviet union as a tie-in to the popular Soviet cartoon series Nu, Pogodi!.
  • Fire (1981): Perhaps the most popular game in the series. Two firemen must bounce people from a burning building to an ambulance. Appears in Gallery 1, 3, and 4.
  • Flagman (1980): The player mimics a sailor, who holds numbered flags. Appears in Gallery 3 and as DSi ware.
  • Greenhouse (1980): Playing as a gardener, the player guards precious flowers from insects. Playable in Gallery 3.
  • Helmet (1981): A simple Point A to Point B game, where the player must dodge falling tools. Playable in Gallery 2 and as DSi ware.
  • Lion (1981) Two men must keep wild lions inside a cage. Appears in Gallery 3.
  • Manhole (1981): The player must fill in the holes in a bridge to keep travelers safe. Appears in Gallery 1 and 4, also as DSi ware.
  • Mario Bros. (1983): Very different from the arcade game of the same name. Mario and Luigi are in charge of a cake factory, and must get the cakes through the factory belts safely. Playable in Gallery 3 and 4.
  • Mario the Juggler (1991): The very last game in the series. Ball with a Mario twist.
  • Octopus (1981): Three divers go under the sea to salvage treasure. A large octopus guards it. Appears in Gallery 1 and 4, and part of Club Nintendo's Game & Watch collection.
  • Popeye (1981)
  • Oil Panic (1982): A boss and employee of a gas station must keep an oil leak under control. Appears in Gallery 1.
  • Super Mario Bros. (1986): A condensed version of the NES game. Introduced the Auto-Scrolling Level to Mario, which would be embraced by future games in the main series.
  • Turtle Bridge (1982) The player must deliver a package from one side to the other, across a bridge of hungry turtles. Appears in Gallery 3.
  • Zelda (1989): Another condensed version of the console game, the only Game & Watch game featuring Link. Appears as the final game in Gallery 4.

Tropes that apply to the original handhelds:

  • All There in the Manual: The plot to later games such as Zelda and Climber are hidden in their manuals.
  • Amusing Injuries: Any miss in a game that involves people usually results in this.
  • Art Shift: The designs varied from game to game, from ultra-stylized ("Helmet", "Fire") to comparatively detailed ("Fishbowl", "Snoopy Tennis"), and from monochrome with a white background to a black background and simple color in the tabletop and panorama series.
  • Attract Mode: Time Mode, when the game's just being a watch, plays animations from the game. This is absent in the Gallery series, but present in the DSiWare releases. The Game & Watch Soccer visualization in Nintendo 3DS Sound works the same way, the game playing itself until controls are initialized.
  • Book Ends: The first game in the original line was Ball. The last was its Updated Re-release, Mario the Juggler.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Unsurprisingly, the Game & Watch variant of Zelda is not a part of the timeline.
  • Cats Are Mean: The one in Chef who shows up only to shove a fork in one of the falling food items and mess up your timing.
  • Cigar Fuse Lighting: A hazard in Mario's Bombs Away. That guy lounging in the corner is a real help.
  • Clever Crows: One appears in Game B of Rain Shower just to tug on your clothesline.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Climber's manual calls the Condor "the mysterious bird Hentori". "Hentori" is Japanese for "strange bird".
  • Difficulty By Acceleration: As you progress. Then it slows back down to the first level when you get your score high enough, likely throwing off your tempo.
  • Difficulty Levels: This is typically the difference between Game A and Game B. The DSi remakes even have a Score Select feature to play at any speed.
  • Drop the Hammer: Vermin and Judge.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Nintendo did a lot of things here that they would probably never get away with now with the exception of rereleases.
    • Fire Attack was about fighting back The Savage Indian horde who was trying to burn down your settler's fort. Oddly enough, this one got a full remake in Gallery 4.
    • Mario's Bombs Away has Mario (yes, that Mario) is fighting in The Vietnam War, with someone visibly smoking. This is available as an unlockable minigame in Gallery 4.
    • Donkey Kong Circus is probably never going to see a rerelease, since the premise is that Mario is keeping Donkey Kong as a circus attraction, forcing him to juggle pineapples whilst dodging fireballs. This is also a case of Characterization Marches On, as in the original Donkey Kong's lore, Mario, or Jumpman back then, was an all-around abusive pet owner; he's nowhere near that anymore.
  • Endless Game: The extreme simplicity of a Game & Watch game meant that there's no story or a victory condition. Only an aim for the highest possible score until you failed three times.
    • Averted with Zelda, the one Game & Watch title that can actually be finished.
  • Engrish: The majority of the instructions; this scan provides a good enough example. Averted with games launched after the NES, as their marketing became more global, the translations improved.
  • Epic Fail: In Safebusters, you're a bank robber trying to blast open a vault door. If you dump too many bombs on the left instead of the right, however, or if you miss one, then you blow up everything except the vault door.
  • Eureka Moment: Meta example; Gunpei Yokoi watching a bored businessman play around with a calculator.
  • Explosive Stupidity: Not only can the smoking troop blow up the bomb in your hands in Mario's Bombs Away, but Mario also has to dodge the oil spill he keeps setting ablaze.
  • Fireman's Safety Net: You have to move one around in Fire.
  • Follow the Leader: The series inspired quite a few handheld electronic games built in the same style, the most well known being Tiger Electronics. Bizarrely enough, while Nintendo made very few new Game & Watch games in the tail end of the 80's and stopped making them entirely in 1991, Tiger's handhelds actually prospered during this era and continued to be produced for a good number of years afterwards.
    • Many people bemoan LCD versions of more intricate games such as pinball and card games. Nintendo indulged in themselves, with Multi Screen models appropriately titled Pinball and Blackjack, respectively.
  • Foreign Remake: Some of the Elektronika IM titles, most famously Nu Pogodi, of Egg, as detailed above.
  • Game Over: The game shuts off after you lose your third life in most of them.
  • Hit Points: In Boxing.
  • In Name Only: Mario Bros., which took place a factory with conveyor belts rather than a sewer that could be run through.
  • Limited Animation: The handhelds used the same architecture as a calculator, so animation in any real sense was not supported at all, only fixed frames which "filled in" at different times.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: High-speed acrobatics just to keep your clothes dry in a rain storm? Taking care of garden pests with a giant mallet? Yes, please.
  • New Job as the Plot Demands: Mario has been a packager, cement factory worker, soldier in Vietnam, a lot more things than he even normally is. That's not even taking the Gallery series into consideration.
  • No Ending: As simple as the games are, did you really expect one? Though there is an exception, in Zelda.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Where do we start...?
    • Helmet's entire premise is that careless construction workers are just casually dropping their tools. You're a fellow worker who can hardly get from one office building to another without getting his head smashed in because of it.
    • Manhole has massive gaping holes in busy bridges that anyone can and does just fall through to the water system below. You and the manhole cover you carry are the only reason why everyone there isn't soaking wet.
    • Oil Panic has a gas station that has a big enough structural fault to where gasoline is constantly leaking from the ceiling. Oh yeah, and it immediately catches fire if it hits the ground. And the disposal crew is just above the customers.
    • The titular cement factory in Mario's Cement Factory functions thanks to its open elevator shafts that barely stay in one place long enough for the worker to get on. They're lethal if you misstep.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You: Fail to catch a civilian in Fire, and they just storm off in a huff.
  • Older Than the NES: By five years.
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: Mr. Game & Watch and his few fellow playable characters, with few exceptions.
  • Palette Swap: Sort of. Mickey Mouse and Egg are the exact same game bar the unit's colours and the character you control, and they were even released on the same day. Egg is supposedly more challenging earlier into the game however.
  • Player Versus Player: Whenever it didn't adjust Difficulty Levels, Game B started a multiplayer game, such as in Judge, Donkey Kong 3 and Boxing.
  • The Savage Indian: With torches, trying to burn down your fort in Fire Attack.
  • Scoring Points: Almost all of them have this as their primary goal.
  • Side View: Almost all of them, with few exceptions. Mr. Game & Watch HAS no front side, after all.
  • Sword of Plot Advancement: The magic sword in Climber.
  • The Dragonslayer: The player character in Climber.
  • Threatening Shark: In Parachute.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The civilians in Manhole will walk right into an open pit. That's why it's your job to make sure that they don't.
  • Updated Re-release: Mario the Juggler to the original Ball.
    • The earlier Wide Screen series were mostly just variants of the Silver and Gold line up with some nicer visual touches and a bigger screen. These include Fire and Manhole.
    • The New Wide Screen and Crystal models, launched later in the Game & Watch's lifespan, are rereleases of some of their more popular and in-depth games, such as Super Mario Bros., Manhole and Climber. They typically incorporated newer technology for the screen as well as making it bigger.
    • The Mini Classics line-up, again taking the most popular games and putting them in a scaled-down Game Boy style casing with a key-chain. They were first released back in 1998, although Nintendo still allows companies to produce them to this very day.
  • Ur-Example: Of the handheld video game console, of the D-pad (Donkey Kong)...

Tropes that apply to the Game & Watch Gallery series:

  • Anachronism Stew: The Cast Credits in 4 feature the Modern and Classic characters interacting with each other.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • The ability to suspend play by pausing and turning off the power. Earning 1,000 points can take roughy a half an hour if successful on the first try, so this was a welcome feature.
    • In the original Mario's Cement Factory, the moving platforms were lethal if you weren't immediately on their level when trying to board them, falling right through any other platforms that might be on the screen at the time, which could get ridiculous if the platform was about to rise and you just pressed the button a tiny bit too early. In the Modern version, jumping down onto a platform below you is possible and you won't take damage.
  • Artifact Title:
    • The games no longer have watch or alarm functions. But you probably already knew that.
    • Some modern versions of the games in Gallery also qualify compared to their classic counterparts:
      • In Vermin, you control Yoshi who must defend his eggs against Fly Guys, Paratroopas and Boos instead of vermin. Oddly enough, a Monty Mole will allow Yoshi to clear a miss by giving him a heart.
      • In Ball, the character you play will juggle many items not resembling balls.
      • Subverted in Egg. Instead of catching eggs laid by hens, Yoshi must catch cookies on a conveyor belt. If he eats enough of a type of cookie at the right temperature, he will lay an egg.
      • In Turtle Bridge, you control Toad who must cross a makeshift bridge of Goonies across an open sky instead of turtles across a pond.
      • In the original Rain Shower, a man is trying to keep his hanging clothes dry from a passing shower. In the remake, Mario must protect his friends from paint balloons thrown by Bowser.
      • The remake of Mario's Cement Factory takes place in a cookie factory.
  • Canon Immigrant: 4, released in 2002, officially adopts the Mr. Game & Watch design used in Melee.
  • Compilation Re-release: Good thing, too, because by the time the Colbert Bump arrived, the original line had been out of production for ten years.
  • Easter Egg: In Modern Helmet, if you get a game over with less than 100 points and choose to retry, you'll play as Wario.
  • Gaiden Game: The first official game in the series is Game Boy Gallery which was only launched into UK and Australian markets in 1994. It includes Ball, Manhole, Vermin, Flagman and Mario's Cement Factory (renamed to just Cement Factory). The games are simply the classic variants with updated visuals, there are no Mario characters or references whatsoever and it noticeably lacks features that made the rest of the series more enjoyable (suspend play, unlockables, score saving etc.). The only reason it can be considered part of the series at all is that Australia used Game Boy Gallery as its Market-Based Title for all future Game & Watch Galley releases.
    • For those interested into game coding, Wario Land II uses the Game Boy Gallery version of Flagman as the basis for one of the minigames, including the Super Game Boy border.
  • 100% Completion: Unlocks the Cast Credits. Good luck with that.
  • Retraux: The Game Boy is clearly capable of more than calculator graphics, but that would defeat the purpose, wouldn't it?
  • Suddenly Voiced: 4 is the only time that Mr. Game & Watch has ever talked.
  • Updated Re-release: The Modern versions, and to further that, 4 contained further-remastered versions of several of the games in the previous three in the series.
  • What Could Have Been: In-universe. 3's version of Fire was an early factory beta that was less detailed and reversed right-to-left, included and playable as a historical curiosity.
  • Wolverine Publicity: Mario and friends were the main attraction, as Mr. Game & Watch wouldn't be recognizable or appealing to contemporary audiences until 2001.

Alternative Title(s):

Game And Watch, Game And Watch Gallery