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Game & Watch ‘Super Mario Bros.’ Review: Classic Nintendo Time-Machine Magic

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Game & Watch ‘Super Mario Bros.’ Review: Classic Nintendo Time-Machine Magic

Before Game Boy, and all of Nintendo's handheld consoles to release in its wake, there was Game & Watch. Nintendo's pocket-sized series of LCD systems launched in 1980 with Ball, a juggling game that also served as a clock. With 1982's Donkey Kong Game & Watch unit, Nintendo introduced both its four-way d-pad and set the game's action over two screens, sowing the seeds for the NES and Game Boy, and the DS and 3DS. More designs would follow, some adding alarm functions, and with over 43 million units sold Game & Watch was a hit for its makers in the era before handheld console gaming took off.

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To mark both the 40th anniversary of the Game & Watch range - which was retired in 1991, with Mario the Juggler - and the 35th anniversary of the NES classic Super Mario Bros., Nintendo has now released a new, full-colour Game & Watch. This perfectly proportioned unit features a Mario-themed Ball, 1985's Super Mario Bros., and its sequel/expansion, The Lost Levels - three games in one, stored within a compact case that matches the Game & Watch releases of old, decked out in old-school red and gold Japanese Famicom colours. Looks wise, it's a bit of a stunner, frankly.

Nintendo Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. / Credit: Nintendo
Nintendo Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. / Credit: Nintendo

No longer using a basic monochrome LCD screen, this all-new twist on the Game & Watch design has a full-colour pixel screen, can save your progress in any of its games, and has a rechargeable battery installed which is topped up using an included USB C adaptor - your standard Switch power lead will work, too. Pause a game to flip back to the clock and the Game & Watch will remember where you were; and there are options for volume and brightness, too. The built-in mono speaker goes up loud enough to annoy anyone in an adjacent room - though its position on the left side means your hand can obscure it - but a headphone socket wouldn't have been nice.

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What it also lacks, weirdly, is a stand of any kind, so you can't easily prop it up beside your bed or on your desk, to use as a clock - which is a shame, because the time mode is a delight. Mario runs from left to right, bopping, avoiding or dying to enemies that can spawn at the touch of a button. If you're looking at the clock screen in the late PM, its background will be at dusk; at midday, bright blues and white fluffy clouds. Pressing the 'Time' button while on the clock screen cycles through three different environments: classic Super Mario Bros. ground, green grass, or mushrooms.

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Press the A and B buttons together on the clock screen and the brick numbers flash. Hold A for five seconds, and you're treated to a little easter egg: The Mario Drawing Song. This is every bit as literal as it sounds: instructions on how to draw Mario's face, set to a song. (You can see how it looks on the Game & Watch in the video above.) Originally released in Flipnote Studio on the DS, back in 2008, it's one of a supposed 35 secrets hidden on this Game & Watch. Another is that you can unlock infinite lives on The Lost Levels by simply holding A on the title screen, and several appear in clock mode - for example, if you look at the time when it's 5.55 (AM or PM), you'll see the numbers switch from bricks to coins.

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There's no alarm on this Game & Watch - at least, I've not managed to find it, and the function isn't noted in the instructions - so it's mainly a device for playing the games on (as nice as the clock is, unless you keep the unit plugged in, it'll go to sleep after three minutes left untouched).

Nintendo Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. / Credit: Nintendo
Nintendo Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. / Credit: Nintendo

And one of those titles is, as you'll be well aware of already, an undisputed classic of platform gaming. Even on a screen as tiny as this, Super Mario Bros. is an exceptional, evergreen adventure through a side-on Mushroom Kingdom - and putting aside its importance as a foundational release in gaming history for a second, it remains a lot of fun 35 years on. Lost Levels is less consistent, certainly, but still a very worthwhile, additionally challenging extension of its predecessor.

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Ball is... Well, it's Ball. A simple game of cycling hands through six positions in order to catch and toss airborne balls. It gets faster, and slower, and the balls - two in Game A, three in Game B - can move at different speeds at different times so you never completely lock into a comfortable pattern. Set a high score and there you go: your own target to beat. There's a way to play as Luigi instead of Mario, but I'm not here to spoil all of this thing's secrets.

Nintendo Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. / Credit: Nintendo
Nintendo Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. / Credit: Nintendo

With an RRP of £44.99 ($50 in the US), the Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch is certainly a premium slice of Nintendo nostalgia - but having it in hand, its quality is undeniable. This thing feels great, its buttons are just right - neither overly spongy nor too stiff - and the games all look tremendous on the small but superbly crisp screen. And even Ball can get its hooks in you, if you're of the score-chasing persuasion.

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The baffling lack of stand aside, this is a luxurious little time machine that pays fine tribute to a pair of Nintendo legends - the Game & Watch range and Super Mario Bros., obviously. And while it is expensive, I shouldn't have to remind you that, in gaming just like anything else, you get what you pay for.

Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. is out now. Our review unit was supplied by Nintendo.

Featured Image Credit: Nintendo

Topics: super mario bros, Retro Gaming

Mike Diver
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