Before the DS, before Game Boys, and even before games on phones, the handheld gaming device everyone had to get their hands on was Nintendo’s Game & Watch unit. Released in April 1980, the Game & Watch series quickly became a fan favorite. In case you didn’t get the chance to play one of these classics, here’s a small history of one of gaming's most cherished consoles.
The idea for the Game & Watch came from Gunpei Yokoi, a lead designer at Nintendo, while he was travelling. While sitting on his train, Yokoi noticed a man who, out of boredom, began playing with his digital calculator. The rest, you could say, is history. Over the next year, Yokoi designed what would eventually be the first Game & Watch title, Ball, where the player would toss two balls in the air and try to catch them as they fell. A dropped ball would result in a game over.
Although there were a few exceptions, all the games released for the Game & Watch devices contained an A game and a B game, in which B would be a more difficult version of A. However, later games such as Super Mario Bros did not retain the “two game” mode, instead relying only on one version.
A precursor to Nintendo’s future Game Boy, Game & Watch devices sold over 40 million units worldwide in its decade of life. In that period, 59 different Game & Watch titles were released, with the last being Mario the Juggler in 1991.
However, there was one special edition that was given as a prize for winners of Nintendo’s F-1 Grand Prix tournament, bumping the total units up to 60. The special edition featured a yellow-cased version of Super Mario Bros and, as only 10,000 were produced, it is considered a rarity among retro gaming collectors.
The Game & Watch devices have built quite a legacy since they were created. Without them, the original Game Boy would probably never have been made and, thus, handheld gaming devices as we know them wouldn’t exist. If you haven’t had the pleasure of trying one of these staples of video game history, find one and try it. At the very least, it will show just how far we’ve come in the video game world.