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The 8 best Game & Watch games

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 manga Takono 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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29 comments

  • io-nonlosapevo - September 8, 2012 1:27 p.m.

    The 2nd best Game & Watch EVER is Donkey Kong Jr (Panorama or Tabletop) VIDEO: http://youtu.be/nWOgU49JHr0
  • io-nonlosapevo - September 8, 2012 1:24 p.m.

    The best Game & Watch EVER is Climber: VIDEO: http://youtu.be/_QeUsqDeclA
  • io-nonlosapevo - September 8, 2012 1:20 p.m.

    I do not agree. In the best 8 G & W there must be: Climber, Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong Jr. Panorama Screen or Tabletop (the game is different from New Wide Screen one). Are ok: Fire, Mario’s Cement Factory, Oil Panic and Donkey Kong Multi Screen.
  • kelly-raines-was-brown - November 14, 2011 4:30 a.m.

    i have 3 games for sale if anyone is interested ? all boxed in mint condition ! i have Donkey Kong and Mario Bros which are double screens and snoopy tennis
  • samad75 - October 1, 2013 8:06 a.m.

    Hi I'm interested in these games. How much you are selling them ? Email me at prochem.two@gmail.com Thanks
  • ZeeshanKhn - May 24, 2014 7:25 a.m.

    Hi , I am interested in donkey kong. Contact me on my email Email:zeeshan_case@hotmail.com
  • chiz - March 21, 2011 9:42 p.m.

    why did u make a top 8?
  • Darkhawk - March 21, 2011 3:09 p.m.

    I remember having one where you sent bricks from one side of the screen to the other. You controlled two characters, one on each side, and had to get them in place to grab the brick when it arrived. Anyone know what this was?
  • kelly-raines-was-brown - November 14, 2011 4:26 a.m.

    It was Mario Bros and it was cakes, they started looking like a brick then each time it went to the next level it turned into a cake, i have one in mint condition ! for sale
  • yonderTheGreat - March 20, 2011 11:32 p.m.

    I'd honestly never heard of the term "Game & Watch" before. Is it British or Japanese or something? I just heard of them as dedicated/pocket videogames. I was born in 76 so I sure as heck played these types of games before.
  • philipshaw - March 20, 2011 9:53 p.m.

    Great feature,shows how far we have come
  • waitingforCharlietosnap - March 20, 2011 4:51 p.m.

    AH! Where the hell is Egg?!
  • JLThatshilarious - March 20, 2011 1:06 p.m.

    This reminds me, there's a Mr. Game and Watch cameo in Donkey Kong Country Retuns. He's in the first factory level where you're only a shadow. Anybody else seen him?
  • Nomino - March 20, 2011 11:50 a.m.

    My only experience with G&W games are the ones that were packaged with the Game Boy Camera. Vermin and Juggle were by far my favourites; I played them each for at least an hour every time.
  • apeman - March 20, 2011 11:09 a.m.

    These were huge when I was at junior high school. I had a few single screen ones and was so jealous of the kids that got the 2 screen games. We all traded and played everyones game eventually though.
  • jackthemenace - March 20, 2011 10:01 a.m.

    Gaym Wotch! (8)
  • WobagUK - March 20, 2011 9:56 a.m.

    I had one of the last models, they were called Crystal Screens, and had screens you could see all the way through. They were super collectable, and I sold mine which paid for a 360 and a PSP at the time. I still have Mario's Bottle Factory, which might be the only one of the two screens that was used in 'book' form?
  • AuthorityFigure - March 20, 2011 8:23 a.m.

    I have the original Donkey Kong Jr. II (not mentioned in the article but better than most of them) and the Greenhouse game.
  • Scoob - March 20, 2011 5:23 a.m.

    I used to have the Zelda one. The one thing I remember is that in each dungeon, if you stick left, you always get the tomahawk (which was twice as strong as the sword). Never figured out what happened to it. Come to think of it, my oldest brothers probably sold it for weed.
  • Japanaman - March 20, 2011 4:25 a.m.

    Who is lady on the news? She has one big smile!

Showing 1-20 of 29 comments

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