Last week, Nintendo released the fantastic final component of this year’s Super Mario Bros. 35th-anniversary celebration, the Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch. Even among previous anniversary products like throwback collection Super Mario 3D All-Stars and toys-to-life racer Mario Kart Live, the Game & Watch stands out as an oddity, harkening back to one of Nintendo’s earliest advances into the video game marketplace.
Initially available between 1980 and 1991, the Game & Watch line was a series of rudimentary portable gaming devices centered around crude LCD displays and a simple directional control interface. While these single-use devices are quaint by modern standards, they were an undeniable childhood status symbol during my elementary school days. However, they were quickly supplanted by the arrival of cartridge-based Game Boy, with their most enduring legacy likely being the contribution of the titular Mr. Game & Watch character to the Smash Bros. roster.
For gamers of a certain age, though, Game & Watch games remain a highly sought-after item—one that is far more fragile and proportionally expensive to acquire as opposed to the tank-like Game Boy DMG.
While I personally have dozens of Game Boys of various models in my own Nintendo collection, I never managed to add a Game & Watch. That is until Nintendo of America treated me to an amazing promo package containing this new SMB model last weekend.
Like the systems of old, this new Game & Watch consists of a small red plastic case topped with a metallic golden front plate. It remains, as ever, uniquely portable, a physical reminder of simpler times when telephones had long, tightly coiled cords and the most technologically advanced item available to American schoolchildren was the calculator watch.
Times, obviously, have changed, and the Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch has updated its offerings nicely with a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery and a gorgeous (but tiny!) full-color backlit screen.
A power button on the right (just north of the USB-C charging port) turns the unit on, and a trio of rubberized grey buttons control its core functionality. The Game button can be used to toggle between the original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (the proper Famicom version of Super Mario Bros. II), and old-school Game & Watch title Ball.
While there are no discreet save states to manage, you can swap on the fly between the three titles, with the Game & Watch allowing you to pick up where you left off unless you specifically reset the game in question using the Pause/Set button, where you can also adjust the brightness and volume.
The Time button reverts to the system’s clock feature—the watch part of Game & Watch. This too has been handsomely updated to show Mario bounding through a number of world backgrounds as the day progresses.
Gaming on the system is enjoyable—if potentially eye-straining to those of us old enough to require bifocals—thanks to an amazingly sharp display screen paired with comfortable rubber A and B buttons and a nicely responsive D-pad.
While, in 2020, it can be difficult to find a device that doesn’t play Super Mario Bros. with some combination of dubious emulation and touch control trickery, owning this console classic alongside two other games in a perfectly collectible package is easily worth the $50 price point—especially when you consider all the little details of construction and coloration that call back to the original Game & Watch.
Of course, since this is Nintendo we’re talking about, there’s more below the surface. Specifically, some 35 secrets and hidden events that help make this quirky release even quirkier.
And now for some fun secrets for the new Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros.! pic.twitter.com/THDTMhBORF
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) November 13, 2020
Playing on the Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. is a ton of fun and undeniably responsive, although my adult-sized hands often find themselves looking for something more substantial to grip on than the system’s diminutive frame. And beware: those corners can seriously dig into your palms.
Minor gripes aside, I simply adore my Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch and can’t help but enthusiastically recommend it—especially to old school Nintendo gamers like myself.
Retailing for $49.99, this Game & Watch is available at retailers nationwide through March 31, 2021. Predictably, first-run units sold out quickly online—seemingly all to eBay scalpers who dare not breach its packaging for fear of ruining its resale value—but I’ve already spotted units in-store at my local big-box, so strap on a mask and head to town so that you too can relive your gaming past in vibrant portable color.
Review and promotional products provided by Nintendo of America. This post contains affiliate links. Please don’t feed the scalpers.