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Nintendo’s latest object designed to celebrate Mario’s 35th anniversary turns out to be a time machine that can transport you back to the 1980s as surely as a De Lorean equipped with a flux capacitor.
The Super Mario Bros Game & Watch cleverly honours both Mario’s first outings and Nintendo’s first forays into handheld gaming with the Game & Watch series, which ran from 1980 to 1991.
Physically, the Super Mario Bros Game & Watch is super-authentic: collectors will note that its magenta-and-gold livery and overall form-factor precisely matches that of 1981’s Manhole. It looks and feels the part, although it’s slightly lighter than the first Game & Watches were.
That’s one of the consequences of Nintendo’s updating of the original Game & Watch blueprint with subtle but welcome examples of 21st-century technology. For a start, it eschews the original watch-style battery in favour of a rechargeable one that can be replenished via a (supplied) USB-C cable (which also renders the machine hackable – Doom has already been persuaded to run on it).
Instead of a primitive mono LCD screen (with the original Game & Watches, you could always see ghostly outlines of screen elements that weren’t supposed to be visible), the Super Mario Bros Game & Watch comes with a startlingly bright colour affair.
A button entitled Pause/Set lets you adjust the only two things that aren’t hard-wired: screen brightness and the volume coming from the built-in speaker. You can also tell it to operate as a clock, with various Mario-themed animations playing on the screen.
Another commendable way in which the Super Mario Bros Game & Watch avails itself of modern technology is by including three games: the original Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels (confusingly billed as Super Mario Bros 2) and Ball, which was the game that featured on the first Game & Watch of the same name.
Cutely, when you play the latter – a juggling game involving the correct positioning of Mario’s hands – the screen goes into grey-and-black LCD emulation mode (albeit without the original ghosting).
The two original Super Mario Bros games are every bit as hardcore as they were when they first came out: you get three lives, and if you haven’t made it to the end of whichever multi-stage World you’re in, you’ll have to start from the beginning when those lives run out. You can, at least, pause your game at any time.
The original Super Mario Bros has a two-player option, in which you take turns, with one player controlling Mario and the other Luigi, and Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels lets you choose between solo play as Mario or Luigi (the latter has a slightly more floaty jump).
“The Super Mario Bros Game & Watch is surely the most desirable stocking-filler on the market this Christmas (and so it should be, you might argue, with a slightly steep £49.99 RRP).”
No new-fangled concessions to cushy modern gaming ideas like saving your progress, in other words, and that’s exactly how it should be: the original Game & Watches adhered to the arcade-machine core-concept of seeing how far you could get with a limited number of lives.
The Super Mario Bros Game & Watch is so tiny that it will fit into the smallest of pockets, and it’s the perfect object to suddenly remember you have in your possession when, say, getting comfortable at the start of a long train or car journey.
Appropriately enough its designer, Gunpei Yokoi, reputedly came up with the concept after seeing a salaryman playing with a calculator on a train. Its battery life is prodigious, too: we haven’t managed to scratch the surface of it, and it should comfortably exceed ten hours.
The Super Mario Bros Game & Watch is surely the most desirable stocking-filler on the market this Christmas (and so it should be, you might argue, with a slightly steep £49.99 RRP).
Nintendo, as ever, has mined its back catalogue cleverly to create a piece of hardware that will induce intense feelings of nostalgia in anyone who was brought up in the 1980s, yet takes advantage of modern technology. No self-respecting Nintendo fan-person should go without one.
A reminder of the origins of handheld gaming, with subtle nods to modern technology.
- Subtly updated using modern technology, great screen, three games to choose between
- No saves allowed, modern gamers might find it offputtingly hardcore