Does Super Mario Bros Game & Watch really need more games?

super mario bros game & watch

Super Mario Bros Game & Watch, Nintendo’s first new Game & Watch in 29 years is now available — if you were lucky enough to score a pre-order — and already folks are hacking them and complaining that there’s simply not enough games on the unit to make it worthwhile. I think they’re missing the point.

Last week was a big week for console game releases, with Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X/S landing in consumer’s laps. If you’re interested, I’ve talked about that at length in the latest episode of Vertical Hold, which you can subscribe to in your podcasting app of choice, or listen to online over at the Vertical Hold web site.

Nintendo wasn’t being left out of that race, however, also releasing its latest bit of gaming hardware… although “latest” might be stretching the definition somewhat, because this was the Super Mario Bros Game & Watch, a very measured and deliberate retro throwback device intended to loosen the wallets engage the excitement of old-school gaming types who remember the original Game & Watch handhelds fondly.

You know, people like me. I mean, I already own Super Mario Bros AND Super Mario Bros 2 across a bunch of formats, so this wasn’t a story about buying games I had no access to. It’s not as though Nintendo has kept Mario locked inside a vault for 35 years and this is our first chance to play those games again. They’ve more or less been perpetually available across just about every games format Nintendo’s produced for the past 35 years, in fact.

“Who’s the new kid, DK Jr?”
“Dunno. I don’t like the look of him, though. He has COLOUR!”
“WHAT? GET HIM!”

Now, there’s not much I can tell you about the actual Super Mario Bros Game & Watch in a review sense that, presuming you’re even remotely interested in it you don’t already know. It has an LCD screen, old school button design, USB C charging and an integrated clock, although for some reason there’s no alarm function as there was on classic Game & Watch handhelds.

There’s a choice of 3 games — Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 2 (the hard-as-nails Japanese version, not the US reskin of Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic) and Ball, although it’s more akin to the version of Ball found on the GameBoy Gallery G&W collection than actual 1980 Ball, because Mario’s the central character. Which fits I guess for a Mario-themed Game & Watch.

Pictured: A stand that you DON’T GET. Boo.

I have some minor niggles with the design, most particularly that there’s no stand on the back any more. That little metal stand was part of the classic design, and it would allow you to use the Super Mario Bros Game & Watch as an actual clock… but you don’t get one. Sure, phone stands are pretty easy and cheap to source, but if you’re going to tug at my nostalgic heartstrings, Nintendo, do it properly

I read with some interest a piece over on Gizmodo Australia entitled “Nintendo’s Adorable Retro Handheld Would Be Perfect With More Games” this morning. As a disclaimer, I’m a former editor at Gizmodo Australia, and I’ve more recently done a bunch of writing work for the site, although this was a distinctly US-based review, not something produced locally.

The headline grabbed my attention, because I wasn’t sure I agreed. Having read the review — and you should to, I’m not trying to steal their traffic — I’m pretty sure I don’t.

See, Nintendo hasn’t produced the Super Mario Bros Game & Watch as an effective Game & Watch Mini (although I’d line up for that quicksmart, even though I do own a fair few original Game & Watch games and the Gameboy, GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS collections to boot), or for that matter a GameBoy Mini. That’s not what this is about, or who it’s targeting.

Like a butter fetching robot fetches butter, this plays Super Mario Bros. That’s what it does.

Amongst Nintendo’s push to the hardcore retro crowd, if we ignore that shocking lack of a metal stand, it’s perhaps the purest appeal to people my age, who fondly remember those original, single game devices. The whole point there was focus on a single title, and largely on a score rather than a goal or ongoing narrative. You rescued the beautiful girl in Donkey Kong by grabbing the hooks, and then you did it again, and again.

No, she’s not Daisy, or for that matter Peach. She’s just “beautiful girl” according to the game’s manual.

Also, the Donkey Kong manual is seriously charming.
See? It’s almost as if they didn’t care about Mario canon.
(Spoiler: They didn’t)

I can say that, having written what I’m pretty sure is the only FAQ for the Game & Watch version of Donkey Kong, which you can read here. Yes, she should have had a damned name, but we thankfully live in (slightly) better times now.

Folks are already hacking this thing, and I’m in no way surprised, because people are curious creatures, and I do figure once you’ve bought some hardware, it’s yours to do with as you wish.

Still, there’s just no way I’d go down that particular rabbit hole, and I can’t really see the reason in doing so. There’s just so damned many ways to play those games now, either legitimately through devices like the NES Mini or the many, many ways Nintendo’s released Super Mario Bros 1/2 over the years, or even in the legally grey pits of emulation and the thousands of tiny handheld famiclone and wider emulation systems you can buy for less than the asking price of the Super Mario Bros Game & Watch.

Does that make the Super Mario Bros Game & Watch particularly great “value”? No, it doesn’t, but I really don’t think anyone buying one is under any illusion that it’s anything but what it is, which is a nostalgic kick for people of a certain generation. I’m having a lot of fun with mine — there was no way it was going to stay “mint in box”, because I’m not that kind of games collector — so for me, the value is already evident.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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