The best way to preserve your past is to literally own your past.
The Nintendo Game & Watch is technology that is fairly unique for this blog: the first Game & Watch was released before I was even born. While I have always considered myself blessed to be a games preservationist that has grown alongside the gaming medium, Game & Watch arguably belongs to Generation X with its initial release in 1980. Premiering with titles that I am doing my best not to describe as “primitive as a Flintstone”, the Game & Watch initially showcased games like Ball, Flagman, Vermin, and Judge. These pocket-sized devices all played one game per unit, and featured not only time-keeping functionality, but upwards of two game modes. Were these titles basic? Yes, of course. But could they be fun? Absolutely! If nothing else, they beat playing with your calculator on a train ride, so further Game & Watch titles were consistently released straight through 1986. At about that point, the Gameboy was preparing to take over the portable market, so new Game & Watch models became limited, and new titles for the “system” began to dribble out at a slower pace. But, for a time, Game & Watch ruled the roost, and Nintendo “the toy company” established itself in this new “videogame market” that may or may not have been recovering from an apocalyptic alien invasion (that is currently buried in New Mexico).
In short, if you are considering the whole of the history of videogames, you have to remember the Game & Watch. The Nintendo Entertainment System may have defined the home console for a generation, but just a few years before that box (and its dastardly robot) graced our shores, we were already playing with power, one Game & Watch at a time. And, while the “limited to one game” thing was saddening, this also encouraged an awful lot of wonderful mutations across the line. This was the first we saw buttons that increased or decreased in number according to a game. This was the first we saw the iconic crosspad. This is the first we saw “dual screen” gameplay, in both horizontal and vertical formats. Game & Watch is the first place we saw Luigi.
And that latter point is pretty damn relevant, because when was the last time you heard about Mario’s other jobs with his brother? Nobody questioned when Mario claimed he was a doctor, because we were already used to his construction, bottling, and cement factory jobs…
A Mario Bros. where two brothers prove their plumbing credentials through flipping over turtles and crabs is the Mario Bros. everyone always remembers, but Game & Watch Mario Bros. was released four months before its arcade brother. It was a horizontal dual screen Game & Watch title, and saw Mario and Luigi (again, appearing in a game for the first time) working at some manner of delivery plant (is that a thing?). Both of the brothers (each clearly labeled by their respective joypads as “Mario” and “Luigi”) must work in tandem to pass something (boxes? cakes? bottles?) along and into a waiting delivery truck. There are not any “tricks or traps” to speak of, but the intermediary conveyer belt is a harsh mistress, and likely to break more than a few whatsits if the brothers (or your thumbs) don’t move fast enough. There are no monsters here, though, so this is a wholly mundane adventure focusing on what must be Mario & Luigi’s summer jobs. And speaking of jobs, this particular Game & Watch model eventually earned sponsorships from some businesses like Pokka (a Japanese food company) and Campari (an Italian liqueur producer). So Mario does know what alcohol is!
But if you are getting your historical information from Nintendo, Mario’s wine knowledge has been… let’s say obfuscated.
Game & Watch Mario Bros. has not been completely forgotten by Nintendo, but it has been diluted in modern incarnations. Mario Bros. appeared in both Game & Watch Gallery 3 for the Nintendo Gameboy, and Game & Watch Gallery 4 for the Gameboy Advance. Unfortunately, there was basically no way for modern (“modern” being “made after 1984”) systems to emulate the hugely horizontal play area of the original Game & Watch, so everything was compressed to fit a squarer playing area. And, obviously, Mario & Luigi now work at a simple package delivery company, so the impressionable players could never have an inkling that the super brothers were ever transporting wine. And the “modern” reimagining? Well, now we’ve got a cake factory in the works (not even a cement factory?), Wario is a delivery driver (that should not be allowed), and Bowser occasionally stops by to muck up the conveyer belts (dude does not have anything better to do today). In both the GBC and GBA versions, it is a much prettier and a more modern, palatable experience… but it isn’t remotely the same. The basic elements of Mario Bros. are there, but everything from the sunny graphics to the aspect ratio feels like an entirely different animal. For the first appearance of the most famous player two in all of gaming, Game & Watch Mario Bros. is preserved about as well as a sandwich bag filled with ranch dressing (honey, I know you hate to throw out food, but we have a perfectly good bottle of the stuff right there on door).
And don’t even get me started on Game & Watch The Legend of Zelda!
But let’s not imagine we live in a world where Game & Watch and its contributions are completely ignored. Why, there’s Mr. Game & Watch right there, starring in one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises. And his “package attack” move echoes exact animations from Game & Watch Mario Bros. Same for his down taunt, which recalls the exasperated sitting of the brothers when completing a level. And we just got a Super Mario Bros. 35th Anniversary Edition Game & Watch! It didn’t actually include Game & Watch Mario Bros., but it definitely included… uh… Ball, apparently! And Super Mario Bros.! Everybody likes Super Mario Bros. better anyway! What’s the problem?
Well, the problem is that whole likability thing with a healthy mix of hardware versus profitability. Would people rather play Super Mario Bros. or Game & Watch Mario Bros.? Well, considering the Game & Watch collection was a modest hit, while Super Mario Bros. is a game that is continually released on every system ever produced by Nintendo (and with a few weird mutations, too), it seems pretty obvious that more people are interested in seeing the brothers when they are a little more super. And that is convenient, because Super Mario Bros. can be perfectly (or at least reasonably) emulated to practically any device with a screen, whereas the wine factory (I am sticking to this for you, Campari) requires two side-by-side screens for a perfect experience. And Nintendo has decided to drop this whole “dual screen” thing as of the retirement of the 3DS and WiiU, so official Nintendo hardware is out of the question. Could some other company, maybe one without as many valid revenue streams as Nintendo, carry this burden? Some “lesser” hardware manufacturer would be happy to reissue a few Mario games. An Evercade for the Game & Watch? I know I would be down for such a boutique item.
But it ain’t gonna happen. Nintendo holds an iron grip on any and all legal ownership of Mario, Luigi, and the Game & Watch. It would not be as profitable to focus on “perfect” Game & Watch preservation as it would be to steer those resources into other departments, but, by the same token, there is no way Nintendo is going to let someone else profit from technology made by Nintendo nearly 40 years ago. The original creator of Game & Watch died nearly 25 years ago (!), but Nintendo is going to own that hardware lock, stock, and barrel until the day you die. And if you are under the mistaken impression that Nintendo would be cool with some modern modding, go ahead and ask anyone that listed a video on youtube about how to hack the latest Game & Watch release. Oh, wait, you can’t, because Nintendo copyright claimed all of them out of existence. Want to do anything you want with that fifty dollar doodad you got for Christmas? Not on Nintendo’s (game &) watch, buddy!
But this is the future for nearly all intellectual property out there. Nintendo will own Game & Watch for the next hundred years, and there is absolutely no reason they would ever have to loosen their grip on the IP. And, with that in mind, they control how Game & Watch content exists for the rest of time. You want to play the original game? No, no you don’t. You want to play with silly, beepy Mr. Game & Watch, and exchange tales of his “references” with your friends. You don’t want to remember when Nintendo was proudly peddling liquor sponsorships to get a foothold, you want to remember when the Nintendo Entertainment System defined gaming. There was never a “desperate” Mario that had to beg for your attention. There has only ever been a complete, genre-defining Mario.
History is what you make of it. And if you own your history, so much the better. For you.
FGC #582 Game & Watch Gallery
- System: Technically ROB chose the Gallery for Gameboy, but I did a lot of focusing on the Gameboy Color enhanced Game & Watch Gallery 3. Also tossed in some Gameboy Advance Game & Watch Gallery 4 action, too. I have a lot of random Game & Watch Galleries scattered about the place.
- Number of players: You can link cable all of these games, right? If you can’t, I’m still going to claim they are two players, because you can at least do some boxing in Game & Watch Gallery 4. It counts!
- Can’t you just be happy with the fact that there are four Gameboy games that preserve Game & Watch titles? Well, yes, that is good, but the last Game & Watch Gameboy title was released in 2002, with the more digital versions only seeing release as recently as 2008. While Game & Watch games are technically available in some ways (you can grab the GBA version on WiiU as of 2016), it sure seems the birth of Nintendo gaming is going to stay locked away in a vault.
- So you’re saying a new Game & Watch line will be released seven seconds after publishing this article? Yes, that seems to be how it works.
- Favorite Game & Watch game (collection based): Octopus is part of Game & Watch Gallery 1, and I appreciate how that game has always been as “simple” as other G&W games, but contains an awful lot of strategy. Or maybe I just like matching wits with an octopus. Whatever! You want the spiritual ancestor to practically every videogame I have ever enjoyed, though, just check out Octopus.
- Favorite Game & Watch game (modern revision): Game & Watch Gallery 4 went harder than it had to with its remixed graphics, and I appreciate that Donkey Kong Jr. got one final showcase before he was retired seemingly forever. That little dude always needed a few more starring roles, and Gogglebob.com does not officially recognize Donkey Kong (of Donkey Kong Country) as Junior’s grownup incarnation. And further proof Mario once had a mean streak!
- Favorite Game & Watch game (that we will never see again): Mickey Mouse had his own Game & Watch game. Like another children’s star, it was a game involving our hero grabbing eggs from chickens. Minnie was responsible for watch/alarm duties. And we will never see it again, because I cannot imagine the legal quagmire that would result from both companies even addressing the issue. This never happened, guys!
- Goggle Bob Fact: Game & Watch Mario Bros. is one of the first videogames I ever played, as my cousin had that Game & Watch, and I successfully begged my parents to let me try it. I am moderately certain Toddler Goggle Bob did not immediately break the thing… but my memory from that time may be a little hazy.
- Did you know? The Nintendo DS title Personal Trainer: Cooking, which is little more than a dedicated cookbook that is somehow not Cooking Mama, included Game & Watch Chef as a hidden feature. Chef… is not a game that is going to make you a better cook.
- Would I play again: I like revisiting the infant stages of the Mario we know today. I would totally be down with all of these titles being ported to the Switch, as they work very well for dealing with random boredom. Other than that, though? Well, sometimes it is nice to know something is being preserved, but maybe I could play something else…
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord? 2 for the Sony PSP! Oh, what I have done to deserve this, my ROB? Nothing? It’s actually a good game? Okay, great. Then please look forward to it!