If you’re into retro video gaming then there’s a better than average chance that you’ve heard of, or even played, a Nintendo Game & Watch. These little Japanese games were huge for Nintendo and led the way for later innovations like the incredibly popular Nintendo Entertainment System.
A playing card making company for the span of its existence, in the late 70’s the writing was clearly plastered on the wall within the confines of the Nintendo Company. Electronic gaming was going to be the future and they needed to act. Following in line with what many early gaming companies did, Nintendo created its own version of Pong. With a flood of Pong consoles on the market the money share was rather low. Nintendo needed help and it found it in an unlikely place. A part time inventor and machine technician for the Hanafuda Factory in Japan, Gunpei Yokoi would revolutionize the home video gaming industry much like Ralph Baer did with his Little Brown Box. When executives of Nintendo toured through Hanafuda Factory they took notice of an extending “robot” arm created by Yokoi. Yokoi was tasked with creating the arm in mass for the upcoming Christmas buying season and thus the Ultra Hand was created.
Yokoi would go on to create the Direction or D-Pad now a staple in video gaming. He’d supervise a young creator by the name of Shigeru Miyamoto as he worked on a long shot video game called Donkey Kong. He was head of Nintendo’s R&D1 which created such classics as Metroid and Kid Icarus. The impact of Yokoi on gaming can’t be stated enough. But this article isn’t about him. This article is about one of his earliest creations, the Nintendo Game & Watch.
The Game & Watch series of games are simple video games. Compared to today’s selection of gaming the Game & Watch is downright prehistoric. If I handed a Game & Watch to my son he’d find some enjoyment in the thing for about 10 minutes before moving back to Mario Maker. The Game & Watch wouldn’t sell in today’s market outside of we retro few.
All of that being said, the Nintendo Game & Watch is AWESOME! So awesome in fact that it hardly ever showed up here in the States. Nope. We got the Tiger Electronics Handhelds and they were the exact opposite of awesome. They were cheaply made and what’s more, even as a young kid, we knew better. I honestly don’t know why the Game & Watch never took off here though I can speculate. I think it may have had to do with a few different things. First the Video Game Crash of 1983 all but murdered the home console market for the mid 80’s. No one trusted the market anymore and thus very few people were still buying games. Nintendo put the Game & Watch into a market that didn’t want it. The other possibility is that by the time the Game & Watch had a chance to do well in the States we already had the NES. The NES was new and flashy and it didn’t look like a gaming console. The Game & Watch was a pocket video game and for all intents and purposes was an inferior product to its much more powerful big brother.
Alas, it would take me the better part of 30+ years to get my hands on a Game & Watch and due to nostalgia I never even knew I had and the fact that we here at I, Geek love most things retro, I knew I’d missed out as a little kid. I’ve slowly grown my collection over the last couple of years and anytime I find a deal I’ll snatch one up. They can be hard to find but if you get a chance, get a Game & Watch. You’ll be happy you did.
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