Mario Game & Watch (Review)

A Blast From The Past

Announced during Mario’s 35th Anniversary Nintendo Direct, the Mario Game & Watch is certainly an odd release. Following in the tradition of the classic Game & Watch handhelds, this new release provides yet another way for Nintendo gamers to play not only the classic NES game Super Mario Bros., but also its Japanese-exclusive sequel and the game of Ball, itself a classic Game & Watch title. At a sketchy $50 price tag, you might be wondering: is it even worth it? Or is this just another one of Nintendo’s releases designed to cash-in on your nostalgia, offering little else except broken dreams and unfulfilled expectations?

For those unaware, the Game & Watch is a classic handheld gaming system that Nintendo released throughout the 1980s, even before the GameBoy was created. Each system featured its own unique LCD game similar to the Tiger Electronics handhelds of the 80s and 90s. These handhelds were also the origin of the popular Super Smash Bros. character, Mr. Game & Watch. There were dozens of these produced throughout this time period with many fun and addicting games that you could play portably. Not only that, but there was even a clock with an alarm feature included in many of these releases! In a time before smartphones and smartwatches, this was certainly a welcome addition for your on-the-go business people and serious students.

The Mario Game & Watch features three games and a clock. While Nintendo has certainly made both of the NES games playable in a variety of formats, I have to admit: there is something nice about having a dedicated handheld specifically for two of my favorite Mario games. If you, like me, enjoy replaying the original Super Mario Bros. at the drop of a hat, this little handheld is very convenient. I cannot count how many thousands of hours I have lost to this game over time, plotting routes and practicing my own personal speedruns for finishing the game as fast as I possibly can.

During my time playing this device, I found myself highly impressed at the digital display of the screen. Being slightly larger than a GameBoy Micro, I can see how it would be difficult for many gamers with vision problems to focus on the tiny pixels. The brightness seems to offset this somewhat, thankfully, but I can see why it would be a hard sell for some people. The visuals on the NES games mirror what you would expect to see from the NES Classic that was released a few years back, and seeing the scenarios play out on the Time function as the numbers changed is enjoyable to watch. I do not have as much nostalgia for Ball, so adjusting to how different it felt took some time. I seemed to have a problem with lining up the juggling balls with the claw hands you have on-screen, which I have to imagine is due to the small screen size in comparison to what is happening in the game.

Unfortunately, their button choice has been really throwing me for a loop. The placement of the buttons on the front is slightly off when compared to a NES controller, but the general feel of the buttons is really the root of the issue. The A and B buttons have a rubbery texture that don’t click in like regular controller buttons, so it is a learning process to figure out how far you push in. The D-Pad is slightly smaller than you would expect, which makes it way too easy to move too far in a direction that you aren’t intending to move. If you have muscle memory for what Super Mario Bros. felt like on the NES, then you are going to need to take some time to reorient your hands to the new feel of the controls.

For a gamer like me, this is a fun device that allows me to hone my skills wherever I am at. For the normal gamer with only passing nostalgia for the NES generation, though? It is honestly hard to find any good reason for anybody else to own this other than the sheer novelty of it all. If you grew up as an avid Game & Watch player, then you will certainly find the form factor to be highly nostalgic. If you enjoy the original Super Mario Bros., then yes, you will certainly have fun playing for a few minutes; however, given the sheer difficulty of Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, it is hard to believe that anybody will want to spend the time learning the ins and outs of that game on a small screen, even if it is well-lit and beautiful to look at.

At $50, this is a very hard item to recommend unless you are a hardcore Nintendo fan. Even then, though, you are spending a good chunk of money on games that you probably already have in some form or another. The only truly unique function is the clock; who in their right minds would spend that much on just a clock, though? There is also a bonus music video you can watch about how to draw Mario, but… that is certainly not worth $50, even if it is kind of catchy.

My only hope is that the Mario Game & Watch is the prototype to the portable system that all Nintendo fans truly want: a GameBoy Classic. And seeing how beautiful the form and function is on this device, I am holding out some excitement that Nintendo will be able to deliver on that dream for a good and affordable price. But until then, this is what we are stuck with. Not the worst birthday present for Mario, but a disappointment nonetheless. Sorry, Mario, but maybe your 40th birthday will be better?