Nintendo’s Adorable Retro Handheld Is Perfect

After the release of the NES and SNES Classic Edition consoles in 2016 and 2017, many hoped that Nintendo would also release a classic edition of the Game Boy in 2019, for its 30th anniversary. Instead, a year after, to celebrate the 35th birthday of Super Mario Bros., we are experiencing a renaissance of the Nintendo Game & Watch series. As retro gaming hardware, it is a Super Mario Bros experience perfectly pocketable, it takes more than three games.

Years before Nintendo’s Gunpei Yokoi spawned the incredible success of Game Boy, he was responsible for a series of simpler portable gaming devices called Game & Watch—so named because, in addition to a game, they also had a digital watch at a time when it was a real sales feature. Unlike the Game Boy’s pixelated screen, which could be used to show more than a thousand different games, the Game & Watch handhelds had a segmented LCD display with limited graphics capabilities. The gameplay was simple but addictive, and as a result, there was the Game & Watch line for more than 11 years before it was completely supplanted by the Game Boy.

Although similar types of simple LCD games( such as Tiger handhelds) are better known than the Game Boy, GBA, DS, and Nintendo Switch predecessors, the Game & Watch line actually influenced the design of the NES’s boxy gamepad, introducing the world to the cruciform D-pad that can still be found in one form or another on modern controllers. The Game & Watch series also included the first video games with Mario as the main character( without playing second fiddle to a giant monkey) and that’s why Nintendo decided to restart the hardware to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the first NES Super Mario Bros.

With the new Game & Watch, Nintendo really sets the retro look with a shiny, red-gold finish that pays to the Japanese VERSION of the NES, known as Famicom. I don’t hate this, but it wouldn’t be my first choice if I was given options.

The handheld is not a direct copy of the original Game & Watch handhelds, but a compilation of the greatest hits that highlights the best hardware features of these various devices. Its four-way directional pad is slightly smaller than the Game Boy’s, but it still feels good. If a company wants to offer an excellent D-pad experience, it will be Nintendo.

The only feature that Nintendo has not adopted from its classic Game & Watch handhelds has been the raw monochromatic LCD screens of yesteryear. We now get a 2.36-inch color LCD display with excellent (and adjustable) brightness levels. It does not contain as many pixels as the screen of a modern smartphone, but there are more than enough to make even the smallest text readable, and enough to match the resolution of 256 x 240 pixels of the NES. Mario and the mushroom kingdom look much sharper than ever on their parents ‘ huge 80s TV.

For nostalgia’s sake (I think), the B and A action buttons on the new Game & Watch are made of rubber, not smooth plastic, but they feel good and have a softer spring than the handheld’s D-pad.

The simplicity of the handheld means that there aren’t many menus to browse, so a set of three smaller buttons are more than enough to navigate through options like volume and brightness settings (neither has dedicated button commands), set the time, or go back and forth between the digital clock and the games without losing progress.

On the page of Game & Watch you will find a Power/Sleep button and the only port of the device: a place where you can connect a USB-C cable to charge the battery of the handheld computer, which Nintendo promises well for about eight hours of play, but it could take a hit if you have increased the screen brightness. On the opposite side of the device there is a small speaker slot, but what you will not find is a headphone jack. If you are playing somewhere where the sound might disturb others, your only option is to turn it off completely. Since the switch does not even support wireless headphones, it is not surprising that this is also not an option on the Game & Watch.

With Nintendo’s pedigree in portable games, Game & Watch’s hardware looks like a crucial step towards the portable emulators we see from China. It does not have the impression that the corners were cut, and although it is made of plastic, the thin device is of reassuring strength. However, where this disappoints is on the software side. Super Mario Bros. is an obvious classic and deserves to be the star of the series here, and US players can finally see the true sequel to Super Mario Bros. experience.designed by Miyamoto, which Japanese players received. Not the oddly reworked version of Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic that US players knew under the name Super Mario Bros.2.

The included juggling ball game is a fun reminder of the path the portable game has taken, although after three minutes the nostalgic charm has completely disappeared and I will probably never touch it again. And although no one needs a digital clock in 2020, Nintendo has filled it with Easter eggs and fun animations, you may want to use the Game & Watch as a table clock.

But overall, the new Game & Watch looks like a missed opportunity for Nintendo to put a wider range of retro titles into a handheld device. The hackers have already started the reverse engineering of the game and the clock and found that the standard Rom game files are loaded into the device’s RAM on the fly, which means that with a little more memory (the original game of Super Mario measured only 32 kilobytes) Nintendo could include a number OF NES titles, or even replicas of all Game & Watch single-screen handhelds ever released. Even including the Super Mario all-Stars collection would help better justify its price.

With the 35th anniversary of the original the Legend of Zelda and Metroid in 2021, we’ll likely see special Game & Watch versions of these games next year. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s an approach that gives the impression of trying to take advantage of retro gamers instead of helping them celebrate the reason they’re still buying Nintendo games today.

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