my last post recounted my first forays into the world of smartphone gaming and in it i sided with nintendo CEO satoru iwata in his claim that such games were really not affecting nintendo’s business in any significant way due to the huge difference in quality between these, what i call, “disposable” games and ones that are much more considered and worthwhile. it so happened that around this same time i’ve also been playing game & watch gallery, an original game boy game that collects four of the original game & watch games, each paired with a more-modern remake featuring mario and co. i’ve been interested in the G&W games ever since i saw mr. G&W in the smash bros. series, and i was interested in seeing how these primitive games, a significant number of which were developed and released even before nintendo’s first big arcade success, donkey kong, was created.
i have to admit that at first i was a bit unimpressed. i enjoy arcade-type games (great favorites being galaga and the pac-man games), but although i thoroughly enjoyed the minimalist LCD visuals and basic beep ‘n boops, i couldn’t see myself being interested enough in the gameplay itself to even bother trying for the 1,000 points required to completely earn all the game’s stars, i.e. in-game achievements, one given for each 200 points earned.
my initial lukewarm reaction was quickly superseded by appreciation and enjoyment, which were followed soon by levels of enjoyment i only feel when playing some of the greatest games of all time. individually each of the games have their own, distinct appeal (even when comparing the classic and modern versions of the same game, the latter featuring variations that are incredibly well-designed riffs of the originals that at the same time keep the core gameplay intact), and no doubt picking favorites can be a matter of preference. but as a collection the game is a great, very well-balanced package and has an excellent amount of variety. when considering the games in comparison to the throwaway smartphone games i tried out, the differences are tremendous. in particular, despite their age the game & watch games have a sophisticated level of pacing. the action gets progressively more and more frantic as you near every additional 100-point mark and then eases up once you pass it so that it can start ramping up the difficulty again, and most of the games also feature a certain level of decision-making and having to constantly choose between pursuing a larger, riskier bonus or sticking to the slower, safer route.
although octopus and oil panic weren’t my favorites, i became fairly addicted to the modern version of fire (although the classic version is enjoyable as well), and the classic version of manhole. the modern version of fire, in which you have to catch falling toads, yoshis, and DK jrs with a trampoline, is pure twitch-action bliss. the classic version of manhole features a steep learning curve that perhaps could have been alleviated by slightly clearer design (being able to see the shadows of the figures as on the original LCD screens and in the post-game boy rereleases may help) but once the patterns are learned, recognizing them and keeping cool under the onslaught of pedestrians is wholly hypnotizing and satisfying.
which brings me back again to the question of the value of games. many of these G&W games have been rereleased on DSiware as standalone versions for $2, and although i can’t yet speak for the others, manhole is clearly worth the price. that release has become a bit obsolete, though, with the very recent release of game & watch gallery on 3DS’s virtual console for just a dollar more, but even as a standalone release manhole is miles away in quality from any of the smartphone games i’ve played thus far. at best the smartphone games feel like they’re about on the level of microgames (not even minigames!) from the warioware series, with very little of the accompanying charm, wit, or polish. the comparison isn’t quite fair, however, as the game & watch games were originally released for far more than their current price (i haven’t been able to find the exact original retail prices, but they seem to have been around $15-$20), but it’s always been clear to me, anyway, that as long as nintendo-level quality games remain exclusive to nintendo hardware i’ll stay loyal to them. even aside from that, until smartphones can support games at the level of sophistication of the best handheld console games (of which i’ve seen very little evidence thus far), there’s absolutely no reason that i can see why any even mildly serious gamer would replace a handheld console with a smartphone as his/her gaming platform of choice. this is all based on the current state of the gaming world which could easily change in the near future. i’m not making any bets, but i’m sure that nintendo is doing their research and will survive this period of uncertainty and will continue their long history of doing what they do best, even since their game & watch days: providing outstanding video game experiences. i’m looking forward to working my way through additional G&W games, and i continue to wear my nintendo fanboyism with pride. 😉
game & watch these links!
– there’s a lot of info about G&W games scattered around the web. wikipedia has a nice listing of all the games and a handy chart showing which games have been rereleased on which compilations.
– text from the instruction manual at world-of-nintendo.com and PDFs of the manuals of many of the G&W games at replacementdocs.com
– club nintendo recently made a version of the original ball G&W device available, and there was an accompanying iwata asks interview with the original G&W developers. awesome. i’m amazed at how limited the technology was at the time and how great the games still are today. incidentally, i hadn’t realized that there’s an iwata asks hub site, at iwataasks.nintendo.com; these interviews are often essential reading and are full of fascinating behind-the-scenes info.
– retroconsolegames.net has a listing of all the games with their release dates and rough estimates of current values as of 2009
– there’s some good info and photographs on nindb.net, gameandwatch.com, intheattic.co.uk, and game & watch information archive