Game & Watch Still Scratches A Very Particular Itch, And I Need More

Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

If you’ve only played the simplistic 35th Anniversary cuts of “Ball” or “Vermin”, you may be scratching your head as to what all the fuss is about. But do trust me, later Game & Watch titles have much more depth. And the modern Gallery renditions dramatically elevate the experience so as to fully realize the addictive score-chasing gameplay mechanics of their 1980s LCD forebearers.

One of the striking things you’ll notice with the classic-styled Game and Watch titles is just how charming they are despite technical constraints, epitomizing Gunpei Yokoi’s – the pioneering engineer who created the Game & Watch and Game Boy (and the unloved Virtual Boy) – development tenet of “lateral thinking with withered technology”, which the Big N still adheres to.

At its simplest, it means harnessing cheap readily available technology in novel and delightful ways. The Game & Watch utterly succeeded at this, and I believe it’s the reason its titles can still strike an addictive chord in the modern day, even with up-and-coming gamers like my cheeky niece. I also personally see the Game & Watch as some of the best ‘commute gaming’ out there.

Nintendo Game & Watch
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

You may be familiar with the old anecdote of Yokoi observing a bored Japanese salaryman pecking away at a calculator during a subway ride sometime in the 1970s. Office dwellers clearly needed something more fun to do while going to and fro. At that moment, Yokoi spotted a gap in the gaming market that he would go on to fill with the Game & Watch.

These days, there is no shortage of electronic distractions to fill your commute. While the Switch brilliantly takes home console games on the go, I admittedly dislike playing large-scale, mechanically dense games out in the wild, especially in crowded surroundings. Doing so is dizzying and gives me the feeling that I’m squandering gameplay that should rightfully be on my gleaming 55-inch.

When out and about, I look to arcade-style, score-chasing games; charming and simple short-burst fun while moving from A to B. You could opt for a Switch Lite (I do) or punish yourself with ad-infested mobile games. But what I really want during my commutes is a ‘best of’ Game & Watch Collection, with the button-feel and gorgeous design of the 35th Anniversary models.

It’s an itch the Switch can’t fix.

Nintendo Game & Watch
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

This product line is an integral part of Nintendo’s history, giving rise to innovations such as the four-way directional pad and the clam-shell dual-screen design. With its 45th anniversary due in two years, Nintendo could drop some (more) Game & Watch titles on Switch. We’ve had relatively sparse compilations before. But it’s now high time for a dedicated device to commemorate these iconic games.

While I am delighted with the 35th Anniversary models, what I was left wanting from them was, ironically, more Game & Watch content – not necessarily NES games that can be optimally played on the Switch with an old-school Switch Online NES controller. The truth is that those commemorative devices were created more to be displayed than played, which is fine.

But if a proper Game & Watch Collection existed with at least a dozen or more games in their classic and modern iterations à la Game & Watch Gallery, I would double-dip. One for the shelf display and another to be perpetually played while on the subway. Wherever the late Yokoi is now, his legacy would be best honoured by one less bored salaryman making their way home.

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