Game and Watch Showcase

I was recently in the process of changing residences; a tedious and occasionally painful process which really drove home the fact that I own an absolute shitload of completely useless junk. At least 75% of these things could have been thrown away without me ever knowing, but since I myself had to sort through it all, about 99% of it is now sitting boxed in the garage of my new home. After all, we’re not merely talking about a bunch of random misplaced G.I. Joe guns and Ghostbusters toys caked with dried Play Dough; this stuff is memorabilia, for chrissake. If I sold all this stuff on Ebay I could make a fortune; never mind the fact that doing so would probably consume the rest of my life.

In particular, it seems that I was an absolute prodigy when it came to convincing my parents to nickel-and-dime away their paychecks on every little made-in-Taiwan diversion that caught my eye. Yet my videogame collection from back then was fairly limited, so it seems that I was only capable of convincing them to spend about five bucks at a time. Therefore the Nintendo games I did have were trophies, testaments to my proficient hustling talents (read: crying and throwing a tantrum).

Other times, when I was negotiating extremely well (but not quite well enough) a compromise could be formed. Mom wasn’t willing to spring the forty dollars to buy me Wizards and Warriors proper, but hey, this little handheld game is Wizards and Warriors too, and it’s only fifteen bucks, can’t I at least have that? And every once in a great while the ‘rents would cave, and I would be treated to a liquid crystal rendition of a classic game or cartoon. Granted, most of the time these bore little resemblance to their source material, but most of them were pretty fun nevertheless.

But Nintendo’s Game and Watches were nigh unobtainable. They were just a bit more pricey than the LCD games offered by companies such as Tiger or Bandai, and that price difference rendered them just slightly beyond the reach of my begging abilities. Throughout my childhood, I only ever received one solitary Game&Watch (for Christmas), and later I impulsively blew all twenty five of my vacation dollars on another one while waiting for an airplane transfer (a purchase I regretted at the time).

But in the years since then I’ve slowly amassed a fairly healthy collection of the little buggers, most of which now command grossly inflated prices on the Ebay circuit. Even a number of my own games were obtained through this route, which isn’t for the faint of heart, nor the light of wallet. Even thrift shop owners have started to get annoyingly savvy on the market value of these games, but lucky finds still occur, particularly at garage sales (in my experience). There’s also the ever-present threat of gleefully getting home with the treasure you just plundered, only to discover, upon battery insertion, that the liquid crystals are completely faded.

Hunting down these things is a heartbreaking endeavor, but for those of you with the drive… with the cajones… with the obsessive urge to collect essentially useless old junk, I present to you the following list. It’s by no means complete, not even close, but these are as far as my Game&Watch knowledge extends, so I’m passing that dark and esoteric information on to you, so that the cycle of abuse can continue uninterrupted.

Donkey Kong (Dual Screen, 1982)

Nintendo didn’t fuck around too much with old DK, and this first game paved the way for several others, making it the one and only G&W series. This first game stayed pretty faithful to the iconic first level of the arcade game, but they also added a little bit of extra challenge once you get to the top.

Kong was a tad bit more careful than usual when he choose where to make his stand this time, and he left a sizable gap between his and the next lowest platform. Clever Mario (who sports a sambo-like appearance which was common for G&W games at the time) has to hit a lever to activate a crane, and then make a perfectly timed jump to its dangling hook, from which he can remove one of four parts that are holding up the ape’s standing ground. Rinse and repeat three more times and DK will fall, landing teeth first on the corner of the platform two levels below. Pretty fucking brutal, but pretty fucking addictive too. It’s easy to see why this game was such a hit, and even today it’s one of the very best G&Ws out there.

Donkey Kong Jr (Widescreen, 1982)

With this game began a series of confusingly-titled sequels to Donkey Kong. In addition to Donkey Kong Jr, there was Donkey Kong 2 (a dual screen game), and then later came full color editions which were also titled Donkey Kong Jr (though they were totally different games) which were released in Panorama and tabletop form. But this was the first follow up, and while it adheres most closely to the formula that made the first DK a success, it’s arguably the most fun of the sequels (probably for that very reason).

Gameplay is basically a faster-paced and simplified version of the first game. As Jr, you have to climb up a tree and grab a dangling key with a well-timed leap, which he then uses to erase a quarter of his father’s cage. You the player will probably be slightly baffled by the elder Kong’s inability and/or unwillingness to escape from half, or even a quarter of a metal cage, since this would only require him to take a single step in the appropriate direction, but it’s not our place to question such things. After all, DK Sr looks a little pudgier and less fit than the aggressive and powerful ape he was in the first game.

Mario, for his part, does nothing to intervene. In fact, he doesn’t move a damn muscle throughout the entire game. He’s likely paralyzed with fear by the amazing prevalence of tree dwelling crocodiles (which Jr naturally must avoid, along with razor-beaked birds). Or perhaps Mario’s simply flabbergasted by the fact that he’s no longer black. After all, that’s only happened once before in history.

Donkey Kong Jr might not be quite the classic that his old man’s game is, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun, and if you prefer your games a bit faster paced, you might actually like this one more. The original has a slightly more deliberate pace to it, and it’s also a tad more difficult and complex.

Donkey Kong 2 (Dual Screen, 1983)

Game and Watch characters are a moody bunch. In one frame a character might be smiling like a retard, and in the very next frame he looks like he’s absolutely shitting bricks. Take another step and he’s panicky and surprised, but jump and he’ll be as content as Teller at Penn’s funeral – that is, until he lands at which point he’s freaking out again. In his second starring role, Jr is perhaps the most schizophrenic of all Game and Watch characters, and understandably so. This game really puts the poor ape through his paces, and you yourself will likely be making some pretty fucked up facial expressions as you play too. If you felt Nintendo dumbed down Jr’s first game a bit too much, they made this second one a real gauntlet.

The older Kong stands at the top of this gauntlet, looking majestic and pissed-off again, with his arms and legs firmly chained to the ground. Jr has to toss a key up a couple levels before making the journey himself; a treacherous path strewn with crocodiles and electric wires. The he has to retrieve the key and toss it into place next to one of the four locks holding his father in bondage. Next he has to climb up a rope while avoiding an onslaught of crocs and birds to undo one of these restraints. But rather than warping back down to the bottom, Jr has to make the trek again in reverse to grab the next key before starting all over again. Once all four of these chains are broken, his dad will take a swan dive off the edge into his son’s waiting arms, where both smile and pose for photo ops.

Again, Mario is reduced to the role of mere spectator. He simply stands motionless, probably wondering how the hell he’s going to get down from his dangerous perch.

All of this toil adds up to a very fun game, but I’d rank it a step or two down from the previous two. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the game to speak of, but I feel it’s missing some of the immediacy and magic of it’s predecessors.

Oil Panic (Dual Screen, 1982)

To me, this is the quintessential Game&Watch, and it really showcases the elegance and originality of Nintendo’s early game designers. The concept is pretty simple; oil is dripping all over the damn place, and you, as a lowly employee of this horrendously unsafe gas station, are tasked with collecting these drops in a ridiculously inefficient bucket which can only hold three lousy drops of this flammable liquid. To avoid your bucket overflowing, another man on the floor below you frantically runs around with a full-sized oil drum so that you can periodically dump the contents of your bucket into his larger drum.

This second, computer-controlled character is the digital incarnation of working hard rather than smart, since the game would obviously be infinitely easier if he simply set the oil drum down and sought out a less short-sighted solution to this dilemma. As it is, you not only have to scramble to catch all the oil drops, you’ve got to time the movements of the second guy (on a separate screen, no less) so that you can empty your bucket into his drum without spilling oil on one of the gas station customers below, who must drive some sort of super SUVs, because they’re perpetually filling their gas tanks regardless of how long you play.

Despite these glaring plot holes, which will forever haunt the game’s prospects of receiving a film adaptation (but a man can dream, can’t he?), Oil Panic is a classic through and through. It takes a little too long for the difficulty to ramp up, but once it does it’s extremely addictive and fun.

Safebuster (Dual Screen, 1988)

Back in the days of old, it wasn’t at all uncommon for a company to repeat their own successful gameplay formulas again and again. Thus, many of the game&watches are basically conceptual rip-offs of earlier ones. DK Jr bears a striking resemblance to his dad’s game; Egg and Mickey Mouse are basically carbon copies of one another; and Mario the Juggler is essentially just Juggler with Mario superglued on top.

Safebuster is basically a slightly altered version of Oil Panic, but with just enough differences to make it feel original. To be honest, while Safebuster is certainly less iconic than it’s conceptual forbear, I find it to be a lot more fun and challenging.

This time you find yourself in the shoes of a night watchman at a bank. A hook-nosed bank robber on the top screen lobs bombs at the safe on the bottom screen in order to blow it up and reveal it’s plunder. You stand diligently on top of this safe, with a test tube shaped canister that can catch these bombs without detonating them. If this all sounds a bit like Kaboom!, that’s because it basically is, but there’s a slight twist; your bomb catcher can only hold three bombs at a time, so you have to constantly discard them in receptacles to the far left and right.

Simple stuff, but there are some subtleties to it that add more strategy than the average Game and Watch. Dumping the bombs in the receptacle to the right simply disposes of them, while the one on the left leads to a furnace which detonates them, sending a little flaming ember up a chimney. A single bomb can only launch this little flame a little ways up, but if you constantly dispose of your bombs in the furnace, the ember will slowly work it’s way up until it exits the chimney – which happens to be right next to the robber’s box of bombs. Naturally this blows the shit out of your tormentor and gives you a nice point bonus to boot; a nice incentive to dump your bombs in the furnace, which can sometimes be risky when the bomber rapidly tosses his explosives to the right.

Fast thumbs are required, and the game gets downright hard after you reach about 500 points. This is easily one of my favorites, and it’s one of the most frantic Game and Watches out there.

Octopus (Widescreen, 1981)

If there was ever a G&W with truly tragic cast of characters, this would have to be it. You play as three old fashioned SCUBA divers on a quest to steal treasure out from under a giant octopus. The octopus, looking rather bored, idly probes the water beneath him with four of his eight tentacles. If he catches one of your greed-fueled divers, he’ll ring the life out of them like a wet rag, still looking rather indifferent and quite confident that sooner or later he’ll get every last one of you. It’s as if he’s saying “foolish men and their quest for gold. Can’t they see the fate that awaits them?” Or maybe that’s just the dialog I add when I play.

You’d think that after one of their friends never came back from one of his dives, the grim reality of their peril would hit home and the remaining two survivors would sail back home with the gold that their fallen comrade was able to plunder. Or, at the very least, when it was down to just one friendless diver, he’d feel obligated to return to shore and give his friends’ widows the treasure their husbands had died to obtain. But not these men. Their greed knows no bounds, nor their arrogance; each man thinks he is more capable than the man who went before him. And no matter how much gold you manage to successfully escape with, the game never gives you the option to simply be content with what you have and flee with incredible riches. Inevitable death is the only possible ending to this game, leaving your eight-legged assailant there as a grim sentinel, waiting to end the lives of the next boat full of treasure seekers.

Greenhouse (Dual Screen, 1982)

This is one of the most fast-paced and frantic game&watches in my collection. You assume the role of an African American gentleman (could it be- Stanley the Bugman, of Donkey Kong 3 fame?) tasked with the unhealthy job of spraying cancer-inducing pesticides at bugs within the enclosed space of a greenhouse. You see, the game was made in the 80s – long before science had discovered that it was possible for the human body to perish.

Oblivious to the tumor metastasizing throughout his chest, Stanley scrambles to protect frightened-looking sunflowers from endless hordes of worms and rare plant-eating spiders. The bugs, though equally as anthropomorphised as the sunflowers, are of no monetary benefit to the proprietors of the greenhouse, and therefore must be eliminated. And of course, this being a dual screen game, our overworked protagonist must constantly climb and descend a ladder between both screens; a strenuous task, even for an athletic African such as Stanley. Luckily, he moves as fast as your fingers can take him and is able to spray his carcinogenic “OFF!” at an alarmingly rapid pace.

If any game is trying to make a political statement, this is it. Not only is it saying something about blacks being forced to accept physically-demanding jobs with hazardous working conditions, but the name “Greenhouse” is obviously making a pretty bold statement about the environmental damage caused by the proliferation and overuse of pesticides. Those subversive goddamn Japs!

Pinball (Dual Screen, 1983)

I’ve played more than my fair share of LCD and LED pinball games, and they’re extremely hit and miss. Due to the physics-based nature of pinball, it’s difficult for designers to strike a balance between making it too easy and too unforgiving. I’ve played pinball games where you could pretty much just rapidly hit the flippers and never lose a ball. You just play until you get bored, which is usually alarmingly fast. Others feel cheap, like the fate of your ball is randomly chosen and no amount of skill can save you. Game & Watch Pinball, better than most others, achieves a pretty good balance.

That said, this is still just LCD pinball, and it’s not going to satisfy even the most fleeting craving for a pinball fix. This might seem a little harsh and unfair, given the limitations of LCD, but the way I see it, most other Game&watches are still very fun to this day, technological advances be damned. That’s not to say G&W pinball isn’t fun; it’s about as fun as it possibly could be. But there are far far better options for pinball on the go, whereas the rest of the games on this list provide experiences you can’t find anywhere else. So if you’re hunting down these old relics to actually play them, Pinball probably won’t be one that you find yourself coming back to very often.

Mario Bros (Dual Screen, 1983)

Unlike Donkey Kong, Mario Bros bears very little resemblance to it’s arcade counterpart. Rather then killing enemies in sewers, this G&W version see the brothers working hard in what appears to be a soda factory. The brothers, displayed here in classic picaninny form, both have their own screen and the player controls them both independently. Basically they just pass boxes back and forth as said boxes proceed up a series of conveyor belts, ultimately being shipped out on the back of a truck.

Once a truck has been fully loaded, it drives off, leaving Mario and Luigi a moment’s respite to wipe the sweat off their brows, before their bosses bust in and break it up. Then it’s back to work. Rather than a relief, these breaks are the leading cause of losing lives, since the box action resumes right where it left off, while the brothers have to be manually moved back to where they were. So if a box is right about to fall off the conveyor belt, you’ve got to make sure you move the appropriate bro to catch it, and pronto!

The game starts out very slowly – too slowly – but if you give it time to pick up some steam it’s a pretty fun and frantic game. Actually, once things really start rolling it becomes pretty damn tough, and you’ll find yourself maniacally switching your eyes from screen to screen as if you’re watching the most intense tennis match in history. Ultimately, Mario Bros is a game where I really love the basic concept, but it just isn’t quite as much fun as it seems like it should be. It’s not a bad game by any means, but of the games I’m covering in this feature, it’s definitely one of my least favorites.

Mario’s Cement Factory (Tabletop, 1983)

Man, Mario really deserves his sucess. When you look at how many crappy jobs he endured before finding sucess and contentment as a professional princess-saver, the Mickey Mouse-voiced corporate mascot reveals himself to be just a regular blue collar working stiff who merely had a lucky break. From a construction worker, to a doctor, to making minimum wage as a lowly factory worker, the man certainly isn’t discriminating about where he gets his paychecks from.

Though there is a proper Game&Watch version of Mario’ Cement Factory, this little review is specifically regarding the Tabletop version, which is reportedly somewhat faster-paced and more difficult than it’s handheld counterpart. Of course, by branding the Tabletop Series as proper Game &Watch releases, Nintendo created what is perhaps to this day the worst watch in history. Game&Clock would be more apt, because these things aren’t gonna comfortably fit on anybody’s wrist, pocket, or even purse; the units about as large as an adult human head.

The little game cloistered within this hulking shell challenges you to don the threadbare factory overalls (orange for safety) of Mario, this time rendered in cartoonish technicolor. Just because the game is in color this time doesn’t mean that this isn’t classic G&W-style gameplay. A piece of factory machinery randomly dumps cement in a bucket, which is pointlessly stacked above a second bucket, with a man in a cement truck waiting on ground level below that. This setup is mirrored on the opposite side of the screen, and you have to navigate a ludicrously perilous system of elevators to release the cement from all four buckets into both trucks. One elevator is going up and the other one down; learning to differentiate between the two makes the learning curve a bit steeper than standard G&W fare. Though the pace of the game is nice and leisurely in the beginning, as a whole this particularly hazardous gig Mario somehow landed is pretty damn difficult until you get a decent rhythm down. Most of your deaths will be due to errors in judgment regarding the elevators, while the immediate conflict of pulling the levers on the buckets before they overflow will rarely cause you to loose a life.

If you can rough it past these initial stages of frustration, the game can get just as addictive as any other Game and Watch. But as we all know, addiction isn’t always such a good thing, especially when you’re addicted to a crappy factory job that, honestly, should be shut down for grossly overworking it’s employees and placing them in needlessly unsafe working conditions. Still, this is certainly more fun than working in an actual factory. It’d be pretty boring to just be pulling one lever all day, the only entertainment being the occasional off-color joke hollered at you from the guy manning the adjacent lever. “Ey, Guillermo, you hear the one about the little blind girl…?”

Super Mario Bros (Widescreen, 1988)

Near the end of the 80s, Nintendo started releasing G&Ws which twisted the established rules of game&watchery in a direction which laid the groundwork for larger, more ambitious things to come. Gone (for the most part) were detailed backgrounds and environments; gone also were large, partially-animated characters. Instead, the LCDs themselves formed the obstacles, and character sprites were shrunk down enough to accommodate several different sprites within a small space. Think of it like this; the LCDs essentially serve the same function as pixels. In this way, games could break free of the static “single-screen” action of previous entries, and feature actual levels with a variety of obstacles. Super Mario Bros, Climber and Balloon Fight basically served as proof-of-concept for the Gameboy, which was to appear a year later.

Far from a mere experiment, Super Mario Bros was and is a really cool game. Basically you just run, jump and swim through eight levels before looping back to the first. Then you replay through the same levels, but this time with an additional enemy. The first loop features exactly zero enemies, which makes it sort of a drag to plow through after you’ve thoroughly mastered it. But luckily, there’s a remarkable variety of level-types to keep things interesting; mostly auto-scrolling platforming, with a dash of (extremely simple) underwater action, timed single-screen challenges (these are the toughest), and the final level even features a rudimentary maze.

Of course, with this many level-types, a certain degree of interpretation must be employed. A platform in one level can be a rotating bar of fire in the next, and since both are made from the same simple LCD “line,” this will confuse the hell out of you the first time you find yourself dead for no readily apparent reason. But overall, this is a forgivable offense, and while the game obviously isn’t in the same league as it’s NES counterpart, it’s a pretty unique little artifact that’s surprisingly fun to this day.

Climber (Widescreen, 1988)

Climber stands as perhaps – no,definitely – the most I’ve ever spent on a game-related item (barring, of course, consoles). It’s with no small amount of shame that I inform you, the reader, that I paid nearly two-hundred dollars for this thing. Scoff if you must, but for a man of my immense stature, such sums of money are but trifles. Be that as it may (but sadly isn’t), I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that, by merit of gameplay alone, Climber isn’t worth anywhere near that much.

But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not a good game. It’s quite good, though I find it to be incredibly difficult for some reason. You basically just jump up a series of platforms, “climbing,” if you will, until you get to the top of a stage, at which point you have to time one final jump just right to grab onto a bird who’ll take you to the next, more sinister level. Things quickly take a turn for the fucking sadistic, as you’re forced to jump between moving platforms while avoiding walls of thorns.

The game lacks somewhat in the momentum department. You’ll be hopping around like a mad hatter, when suddenly you realize that there aren’t any platforms accessible from the platform you’re standing on (placement of which I believe is random, which is a very cool perk, and a definite advantage over Super Mario Bros’ static level designs). The only solution in these situations is to wait for a brickman to collapse himself, creating a viable new platform for you. The problem is that sometimes (not often, really) you’ll be stuck in the center of the screen waiting for several brickmen to make their leisurely rounds setting up a bridge. These periods of just sitting and waiting, however brief, really interrupt the flow of the game, which otherwise moves along at a satisfyingly brisk pace.

Fun game overall, but I sort of feel like it’s a ticking time bomb on my shelf, waiting to self-destruct just so it can watch (from Game&Watch purgatory) this foolish-spending consumer cry about his wasted hundred and eighty bucks. So yeah… if anybody is interested in buying it off me, for chrissake drop me a line. No, seriously.

kroozelroy@california.com

Final Word

Well, that’s all the game’s I’ve got, though I’ve played many of the other sixty or so total games via Nintendo’s Game & Watch Gallery series. If you, the loyal Krooze’s Haunt reader, are seriously considering starting a collection of these little buggers, or beefing up an existing collection, here is my advice to you; take all that money and give it to a homeless guy on the street (preferably one who has some sort of dreadful addiction of his own). He’ll get ten times as much enjoyment from it, and honestly, you won’t be throwing away your cash any more than you would by “investing” it in these little charlatans.

Game and Watch Galleries (for the Advance as well as the original Gameboy) are your friends. You can actually play most of the best games via these compilations, and really, isn’t that the point of collecting games in the first place? The only real drag is that sometimes you need to unlock some of the games, an awful process that involves playing the various games for hours at a time – which is all fine and dandy on the enjoyable games, but the shitty ones will have you seriously questioning what you’re doing with your life.

Better than those collections, i feel, is a soon-to-be-rare (don’t quote me) DS game simply titled Game & Watch Collection (no sissy galleries here), which has never seen a retail release, but instead was a giveaway from the Club Nintendo service in Japan (something akin to collecting Kool-Aid points). For a so-called “collection” this package is pretty meager with a mere three games (all of the dual screen variety), but all of them are top notch; Oil Panic, Greenhouse and Donkey Kong. Since the DS hardware is based upon the handheld design these games pioneered, it actually feels like the real deal to play these extremely accurate emulations. As of right now, you can still import this cool little compilation for about the price of a forty dollar cheeseburger, and I highly recommend that you do exactly that.

I also recommend that that is as far as you allow your G&W curiosity to take you. These old relics should only have a place on the shelfs of the most obsessive and pitiable collectors, and everyone else should regard them as mere curios from the early days of this young industry. And like most curios, these too should be viewed from afar.

NOTE: Some of my information was taken from this interesting and informative site.

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~ by Krooze L-Roy on June 16, 2008.

2 Responses to “Game and Watch Showcase”

  1. you can find all game and watch games at http://www.armastevs.com

  2. That was a generally good review on Game Watches, but i must say your last paragraph was too acid and way too bitter. :(

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