A quick look at my bio and you’ll immediately notice that I’m a big Mario fan. The original Super Mario Bros., in particular, holds a special place in my heart – and really introduced my love for video games. I am one of those people that doesn’t really remember much from my young childhood but I somehow have distinct memories of playing that game with my Dad, my brother and my best friend even though I was very young at the time. And since then, in one way or another, I’ve grown up ‘with’ Mario.
I was very excited about all the festivities this year around Mario’s 35th anniversary and because of how special the original game still is to me and the collector’s bug I’m often bitten by, I was especially excited about the Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. edition. Now, after playing with it for about a week I’m happy to report that it’s excellent! And while the game(s) are still just how you remember them, and so won’t be for everyone, for fans like me, this is just about the perfect little nostalgia device.
These little additions coupled with the great controls means this may be the best way to play these games, possibly since playing on the NES itself.
Smaller than I remember
Nintendo clearly realises this particular piece of (retro) tech is all about the collector. While usually the box wouldn’t be mentioned as part of the review, this time it’s worth mentioning right off the bat. It’s great. The box is very reminiscent of the early Game & Watch boxes. However, this time, the rather simple Ball game box is covered by a see-through plastic sleeve which adds the pixelated forms of the original Super Mario Bros. game giving it a sort-of 3D effect that immediately catches the eye. I was rather excited while opening up and you can check out why below.
Once I actually got the device into my hands – the first thing I noticed was the size. It’s really small! Coming in at around 67mm x 112mm x 12.5mm, I assumed Nintendo had actually shrunk the original G&W form slightly. However, after having checked online – it seems I’ve just gotten bigger. I played some of the original Game & Watch handhelds as a child and no doubt because of my age back then – in my mind, I was expecting something the size of an open wallet. Instead, you actually have something just about the size of the screen on an iPhone 6. However, despite its diminutive size – you immediately notice the attention to detail and the amazing build quality.
Nintendo has historically made good D-pads, and while recently this hasn’t always been the case – the Game & Watch D-pad is them back to their best.
The burgundy hard plastic cover feels sturdy and the metallic copper-like faceplate not only shouts high quality but also means your fingerprints don’t show up. The protruding LCD screen is fantastically bright and colours pop way more than they probably ever did on your old CRT TV back in the day you played the original games. However, I do wish the screen came with some kind of protector or perhaps a little carry case because I do worry about scratches. The button-layout is simple – three small buttons near the top right-hand side allowing you to select between (1) games, (2) the clock mode or (3) simple settings (screen brightness/volume)/pause button. Lower on the right-hand side there are the two old-school traditional round A and B buttons. However, what steals the show button-wise – is the great D-Pad. Nintendo has historically made good D-Pads, and while recently this hasn’t always been the case – the Game & Watch D-pad is them back to their best.
Games and extras
While visually you know what you’re getting in this collection – the versions of the games are really good. Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. II (The Lost Levels) look really special. The screen obviously helps – but the colours pop and the look livelier than in most other versions of the games I’ve played over the years. The very edges of the screens do occasionally have a little character pop-out (enemies suddenly disappear). But this happens so rarely that it’s not an issue. On the other hand the old Ball game – looks as simple as you’d expect but the new Mario face adds a little something special.
There are some quality-of-life tweaks that have been included to make the platforming a little more welcoming than the original.
When it comes to gameplay – again Super Mario Bros. is probably one of the most famous games ever. Almost everyone has tried it at some point. And due to when it was made and how games have become more ‘user-friendly’ over the years – it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Then, you must consider that Lost Levels is substantially tougher too. However, there are some quality-of-life tweaks that have been included to make the platforming a little more welcoming than the original. For example, pausing a game mid-level and returning later is possible and when on the player select screen, holding down the A-button gets you infinite lives. They may seem small – but for most of us, they might be the kind of additions that actually mean we get to save the princess. These little additions coupled with the great controls means this may be the best way to play these games, possibly since playing on the NES itself.
On the ‘Watch’ side of things – the included clock is just a joy. While plugged in – the clock will stay on indefinitely. This means you’ll see Mario (and occasionally Luigi) endlessly running through the screen – while animating the passing minutes and hours by taking on Goombas and Koopa Troopas and breaking blocks. Just before the screen goes to sleep (when not plugged in) you’ll also be treated to wonderful pictures from the Mushroom Kingdom that again just hit all the right nostalgic notes. The music is also great but the speaker is only on one side so you can inadvertently block it while playing and there’s no headphone jack. On the plus side, though, there’s a nice music-related surprise if you hold down the A Button while on the clock screen. However, the second-ticking beeps and hourly coin-collecting chime can get a little annoying but thankfully you can adjust each of these to your liking.
Mario Collector’s Item
These days, of course, price is something you have to consider and the Game & Watch is quite costly – R1,300 for us locals. At that price, I do wish it would have a proper charger (only a short USB cable is included. However, I charged it by connecting it to my Switch dock and it lasted forever. Also, I would’ve loved either some kind of stand to put it in a display case (or bedside table) or alternatively, some sort of protective cover/carrying case to ensure that travelling around with it wouldn’t result in a million scratches.
All told, the Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. device is a nostalgia-induced dream. Not only is it fun to play on, but it’s also wonderful to look at and is exactly the type of thing a collector would like to put on display. So other than a few small complaints this is a perfect gift for a fan, especially one with a particular fancy for all things red-plumber related.