The 8 best Game & Watch games

Before Game Boy, there was the little LCD clock that could

Octopus

Perhaps one of the most complex of the early G&W games, Octopus (or Mysteries of the Sea as it was known in the UK) took players to the most exotic locale yet: under the sea. A set of deep sea divers wearing ancient, BioShock-esque headgear set out to find sunken treasure that was once possibly possessed by pirates who are now long dead. But they won’t get rich so easy, as from Poseidon’s depths looms an eight-legged monstrosity out to take their very lives!


Above: Octopus was also Mr. Game & Watch’s Final Smash in Smash Bros Brawl

Unlike many other G&W’s, Octopus’s gameplay was a much more freeform. You could spend as much time under the water as you wanted, grab as much treasure as you could get away with, and dodge the angry sea beast as much as you could. The risk/reward to grabbing treasure for points while making it more likely to be captured brought a real depth to G&W that matched its subterranean location. (Fun fact: The octopus' face is drawn in the style of classic mangaTakono Hatchan.)


Oil Panic

After a couple years of single screen development, the Game & Watch developers decided to experiment. With the Wide Screen games like Cement Factory and Octopus, they soon learned they needed more real estate and created the dual-screen design. With the second screen folding on top of the first similar to a compact for make-up, the design was an instant success and one Nintendo wouldn’t forget.

Oil Panic was the first game released with two screens, and it continued the G&W tradition of setting the action in a relatively mundane, but incredibly intense, blue-collar working environment. Similar to Cement Factory, you had to fill up a container of three drops of industrial liquid, this time oil, and then dump at your co-worker, only now the co-worker kept running from side to side, making it even tougher. It was another great example of enthralling gameplay made from very few parts.


Donkey Kong

Developed at the same time as Oil Panic but hitting stores a few weeks later, Donkey Kong was a port of Nintendo’s first mega-hit, something the G&W devs took seriously. Even with two screens, they knew they couldn’t perfectly recreate the arcade experience, so instead they ground it down to its simplest parts (dodging barrels, climbing ladders) and made it work in the G&W formula.

G&W Donkey Kong was also the advent of the cross-section D-pad we all know and love today. It was created for the pragmatic need for Mario to move in four directions, unlike the all the previous G&W’s that worked fine with moving in two. Gunpei Yokoi and his team made the D-pad with the impression in the center to make it easier for players to tell the direction and keep them from getting distracted by looking at their hands. When you look at the last three decades of controller technology, it seems the team’s solution was pretty good.


Green House

Another early one in the Multi Screen series, Green House’s plain setting was more naturalistic than previous places, but no less stressful or fun. Players sent Stanley the Bugman running up and down the ladder of his green house, protecting his plants from spiders on the bottom and worms on the top. The worms and spiders behaved differently, the analids being more plentiful and the arachnids were more resilient.

Taking advantage of the newly invented D-pad, Green House has a special place in Nintendo history, as it marks the first appearance of Stanley the Bugman, who took a starring role in the very different Donkey Kong 3 before basically disappearing forever. Also Green House is referenced in one of Mr. Game & Watch’s Smash Bros attacks, where he blasts opponents with a cloud of bug poison from Stanley’s trademark pump.


The Legend of Zelda

One of the final Game & Watch titles, Zelda hit stores in 1989, just as the Game Boy was taking the world by storm. The G&W design was showing its age to be sure, but the designers gave it one last push as they took the system to the limit. You would think that such a huge adventure as the first Legend of Zelda wouldn’t lend itself to a two screen quest, but the creators did an admirable job.

Much like the NES original’s plot, Link must explore dungeons to collect the eight pieces of the Triforce in order to save Princess Zelda, though this time the bosses are eight vaguely similar dragons instead of Ganon and his minions. As Link travels a labyrinth in the bottom screen, fighting Stalfos and Goblins, he eventually makes it to the top and battles a dragon using a tomahawk while deftly dodging a barrage of fire balls. Beat all eight dragons and you’re treated to a sweet reunion of Link and Zelda in the top-left corner of the higher screen. Though a few other Game & Watch titles followed Zelda, this game should really be considered the pinnacle of G&W development and a is grand farewell to the series before the Game Boy took its place.

Did we forget your favorite Game & Watch title? Let us know how great the ones we missed are in the comments (unless it’s Vermin, because GR doesn’t endorse games about smashing rats with hammers).

Mar 19, 2011

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Henry moved from the suburbs of northern Florida to work at GR+, and hasn't looked back once in seven years. When not collecting Mario toys, you can find him constantly checking his Twitter.
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