Game & Watch |OT| lateral thinking with withered technology

Let’s talk about Game & Watch, Nintendo’s first major international hit, which launched in 1980. That same year, the company released a mechanical puzzle called Ten Billion Barrel. It was a symbol of Nintendo’s past, while G&W, a small electronic device containing a single game and a clock, hinted at the future. These products were both designed by Gunpei Yokoi.

In the sixties, the legendary inventor had been the catalyst as Nintendo pivoted from playing cards to toys. Ultra Hand, an extending arm, was followed by an array of whacky creations. How was G&W born? You may know the story of Yokoi, travelling by train, observing a salaryman killing time with a pocket calculator. This was the inspiration for a discreet device that could entertain someone with nothing to do. But did you know that Yokoi pitched the idea to Hiroshi Yamauchi, then President of Nintendo, while driving him across town in a cadillac? I’ll let the man himself take it from here:

As for how the Game & Watch actually came to be, that’s a funny story. I’ve always loved cars, and at that time, I owned a used import car, one with the steering wheel on the left side. Back then, the President of Nintendo used a cadillac as the company vehicle. One day his chauffeur got sick with a cold and couldn’t come in. The President had a meeting at the Osaka Plaza Hotel that day, but there wasn’t anyone who knew how to drive a car with a left-side steering wheel… except me. So the personnel department head came over to me and said, “I’m very sorry to ask this, Yokoi, but would you mind being the President’s driver just for today?”

Yokoi recalls that Yamauchi was not especially enthusiastic about his idea. Despite this, it was discussed with the President of Sharp at the meeting. Sharp had a huge supply of LCD screens and the rest is history. If you would like to read more from Yokoi on G&W, please see the excellent translated essay at shmuplations.

Could you turn down this man? Yokoi was put to work and designed the minimalist masterpiece Ball (1980). As someone who enjoys juggling, I find this game captivating. Game A features two balls and is, in effect, a tutorial. Game B is the complete experience, featuring three balls, and is fun to this day. I have the reissue (2010), which is faithful to the original:

Differences include the ability to mute the device and the use of another battery model. Also, the dark border at the screen’s edge no longer conceals wiring.

Ball was followed by Flagman, Vermin, Fire and Judge, which made up the Silver series of 1980. The Gold series of 1981 concluded with Lion. This looks like a UK advertisement based on three clues — can you spot all three?

Several titles moved over a million units so Yamauchi demanded more. In June 1981, the Wide Screen series launched with Parachute. The new screens would be 30% larger, accommodating more detailed visuals and enabling new possibilities for game design. Here is Parachute:

Learning about the process that Yokoi and his team embarked upon when making these games is fascinating. I will hand over to Satoru Iwata for this part:

Iwata I heard that the test models were bigger than the actual systems and had lights. What was one like?

Yamamoto First, we took the materials that Kano-san had drawn up and put them on film in a darkroom.

Iwata In a darkroom? (laughs)

Yamamoto Yes. We made a reverse image of the original.

Izushi Then we used a jigsaw to cut acrylic plastic that was about five millimeters thick to match the pattern on the film and placed it onto a circuit board perfectly matching it in size.

Yamamoto Then we lined up grain of wheat bulbs at holes we had cut out.

Iwata Grain of wheat bulbs like used for plastic models? It truly is like craftwork!

Yamamoto It really was. And we had to be careful the light didn’t bleed where it shouldn’t.

Kano We applied smoked acrylic so you could only see the graphics where the lamps were.

If you are interested in reading more about the design of G&W, please see the full Iwata Asks interview.

Octopus, drawn by Makoto Kano, is an iconic design, its sense of dread offset by a touch of humour. Where could these games go from here? To Yamauchi, the answer was obvious — two screens are better than one, for business and fun.

Yokoi was not so sure. He racked his brains to justify a second screen. Oil Panic (1982), the first Multi Screen G&W, was the result. I had not played this game across two screens until recently, when I cracked open Game & Watch Collection for DS. It’s tricky. There’s something about performing different actions on each screen (collecting oil/passing it to a coworker) that makes this a challenge. The DS port is brilliant and really looks the part.

The collection also has Green House (1982), which is more straightforward. I think that’s because you are doing the same thing on both screens (spraying insecticide), which you can spam. Oil Panic is more precise and the asymmetrical gameplay makes it engrossing, even now. Finally, there is Donkey Kong, which, in my opinion, isn’t as good as the other games. Still, it introduced the cross-shaped D-pad and sold millions, so its significance is indisputable.

In 1983, the Table Top series debuted, followed by the Panorama series later that year. In 1984, the Micro Vs. System launched. For a complete chronology, check out this Game & Watch list. If you have a G&W, old or new, photos are welcome!

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Game & Watch Gallery (Game Boy Gallery in Japan and Australia). Back in the nineties I had the first installment, released only in Europe and Australia. It was fun but I’ve long since given away the cart, as there are better entries to play nowadays. That early attempt feels like a prototype. There is only one version of each G&W title and the gameplay is not as slick as it could be. Even the presentation is a little awkward.

The sequels are very well executed. The ‘classic’ titles are ported as accurately as the hardware allows. Then, there are the ‘modern’ versions, which are among the best remakes in gaming history. I play 1 and 2 on Game Boy Pocket or Super Game Boy. The third game is the pinnacle, with responsive controls, hypnotic music, and an art style perfectly suited to the limited colour palette of the Game Boy Color. The remake of Egg deserves a special mention. Once you rack up a thousand points on hard mode, it is pure twitch gameplay at its finest.

There is a Game Boy Advance entry too. Here is everything you need to know about Game & Watch ports and remakes. I leave you with Manhole starring Yoshi.


Lovely thread!! Do you have a favorite G&W game?

Thank you!

Along with Ball and Egg mentioned above, one of my favourites is Turtle Bridge.

The remake in Gallery 3 is great!

I ordered a Gallery 3 cart after your post the other day, excited for Egg!! Gallery 2 was the first game I played on GBC all those years ago, having no clue what a Game & Watch even was! I was extremely excited because of all the Nintendo characters on the cover, and the initially disappointed by the simplicity and similarity of the games… and then it turns out I love high score twitch stuff and someday I want a collection of G&Ws!!


The games are definitely simple, but once you discover one or two that click for you, they are such a good palate cleanser when you don’t feel like playing anything else. G&W has a way of reigniting my passion for gaming as a whole.

When it comes to buying actual G&W models… There’s something special about how each one has its own design. They feel like works of art. Collecting them is a bad habit though XD

I picked up and restored a nice table top Mario’s cement factory in 2022.

It’s interesting how far they pushed the limited LCD tech they were using. Some reversed polariser film layers, a mirror, piece of plastic that lets light through from the back, and some colored overlays, and you’ve got yourself a color game.


Played these to death as a kid before the Game Boy was around. Donkey Kong II is my favourite.

I’ve bought and sold so many over the years. Had a really nice set about five years ago but sold quite a few (putting together a house deposit)

Interestingly they have fluctuated in price with ups and downs, I try to buy in the downs!

Now I have Donkey Kong 1/2, Zelda and Tabletop Donkey Kong Junior. All complete in box in nice condition.

I’ll get back to owning some other favourites eventually:

  • Donkey Kong Junior Panorama (same as Tabletop but the form factor is cool and this one has a really nice look with the white plastic).
  • Original Silver Fire
  • Wide Screen Fire
  • Donkey Kong Hockey
  • Donkey Kong 3
  • Gold Cliff
  • Snoopy Tennis
  • Super Mario Bros
  • Pinball
  • Balloon Fight

And maybe one day will get a crystal screen…

That would probably do me.

It was strange that Nintendo didn’t develop a Game & Watch Gallery 5 on the DS or 3DS. Granted we did have the two collections and the DSiware but that is not the same as how a fifth installment could have been, especially on the 3DS in 3D.

Brilliant thread, love seeing Game & Watch being revisited here as like Game Boy and DS, Nintendo’s portables tend to be overlooked relative to the big consoles, despite the massive significant role they play in their history.

I’m also guilty of this, having not really revisited Game & Watch since my childhood. Which is crazy to think given how much more I’d appreciate the games today. So this thread has certainly piqued my interest again!

I think Game & Watch might have been my first encounter with Nintendo growing up. My mother had a Parachute Game & Watch which I would borrow to play on. Then I remember one of the Game & Watch Gallery collections on GB/C - I think my favourite game was Chef! Used to love the food sprites in it, haha.

Before I get into picking up actual systems I was wondering what game collections are worth trying? Had forgotten about the pictured Club Nintendo DS one, but what would RGB say is the “ultimate” Game & Watch Gallery title? Game Boy Advance?

Or should I just get them all and slowly unwind with them over the course of months and years?

Their portables have always been more popular than the home consoles. If you overlook that lineage, you’re missing the essence of Nintendo.

Famicom at its peak is the exception…

Exactly. Never really understood why consoles dominate the retro gaming discussion…with the exception of Pokémon which found popularity outside of the games themselves even portable entries of first party games rarely get a mention despite their sales and acclaim, and the situation is even worse when it comes to third party software that was not ported to console like, say, Ace Attorney was.

It’s a bit more than that. Game Boy was a smaller side business for its first decade 1989-1998.

Every year from 1989 to 1998 (except 1995, narrowly) Nintendo sold more consoles than handhelds, and far more console software than handheld software.

It changed in 1999 with Pokemon plus the Game Boy Color, while at the same time Nintendo’s console fortunes faltered, and only then did handhelds take over as their higher seller. And even then consoles still made more revenue and sold more software several years, particularly in the Wii/DS era.

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Yes, I was glib.

Of course it depends how you slice the stats. Obviously the Super Famicom was hugely popular.

I just feel that Nintendo’s home consoles were on a downward trajectory from the start. The market expanded with each generation, yet market share declined. Even in an absolute sense, hardware sales declined every time. Wii was the exception. There’s always an exception…

I hear you, though!

Only other point I would raise is that Pokémon came out in early 1996 and it was an instant hit. The franchise did snowball worldwide in the late nineties.

It does depend how you slice the stats, and I contend the ‘generations’ are not as straightforward as final hardware sales numbers. The thing to remember is that the Famicom/NES was still a current product well after the SNES was out.

Nintendo’s pre-Wii revenue peaked in (fiscal year) 1993, because they were selling lots of SNES consoles and games, but also still heaps of NES, and the two combined were their ‘home console business’. Game Boy had its early peak in 1992, but was easily outsold by the home console business of NES+SNES combined.

And for trajectory between the two, SNES sales in (fiscal year) 1993 and 1994 were higher than any single year sales for the NES/Famicom.

So SNES had far higher sales velocity than the NES/Famicom, and the NES actually peaked after the SNES was already out. Ultimately the only reason really the NES/Famicom outsold the SNES was longevity, it was released in Japan six years before its peak (FY89, though FY91 was also close), and had a longer tail as a budget system. The SNES couldn’t do this as well at the end because 2D was old hat by 1996.

There was more competition, but the SNES was truly not a decline on a year by year basis, it just didn’t have as much of a tail as a budget system after the N64 was out. Nintendo’s true sales decline really started with the N64/Gamecube.

And Game Boy has two weird advantages when looking at total sales, first, it was kept on the market a very long time and had a huge second life because of an unexpected new game phenomenon. And also Nintendo combines in Game Boy Color sales, despite by every objective measure it being a successor console, not just an update (over 500 non-BC GBC exclusive software releases, more exclusive games than the N64 has total games).

They were a hit but not an instant big hit, they were slow selling to start with but became a sleeper hit over 1996 and 1997 in Japan. They were only released in the west in late 1998 and took off in 1999 worldwide.

I take your point about SNES.

But Pokémon sold over a million units in 1996… that’s an instant hit in my book. It was a sleeper hit relative to its subsequent extraordinary success.

It was a small hit out of the gate. Launch week was 100k, number 3 on the charts. Week 2 21k, week 3 1k. Pretty good sales for a dinky little RPG on an almost dead system, but not a big hit to start with.

Then it sat on a couple of thousand sales a week… but for months. And it started building back up toward the end of the year.

Check out the data here

Even selling a million in 1996… Red/Green/Blue ended up selling over ten million total in Japan, so that’s only 10% of its total in the first year.

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Anyway on topic… :wink:

I just repaired a Donkey Kong Game & Watch I grabbed. It had a weak polariser and slight burn on the reflector on the bottom screen.

After doing so much work on them over the years I have a few polarisers and reflector parts spare…

One quick scare as I was putting it back together, only some characters showing. Did all the usual cleaning connectors and taking everything apart and putting it back together… no dice.

Turns out the ACL metal button had been flipped without me noticing and was being held in :face_with_spiral_eyes:

Anyway, beautiful condition unit. I’ll keep this one and sell my other I think.


This is so cool. I’ve never seen this one before.

sadly is currently down. It served as complete guide for all game & watch info from when I started using it in the late 90’s.

For those who can read japanese, there is a great compendium book with lots of high res imagery and information on each released unit.

In my life time I’ve owned loads of LCD games. Mostly Sunwing branded ones and I did at one point own a Crazy Climber one but I’ve only ever owned one official Nintendo game & watch which was Squish. It was a dual screen game with a baby blue shell.
I remember getting it for my Birthday. Possibly my 10th or 11th birthday.
I do remember the game being quite tough but don’t really remember how it was played.