Highly collectible, beautifully designed retro handhelds.
First featured on the Eye Magazine site and as a limited edition Creative Review Monograph. Thanks to Jason Tozer for the vibrant, retro inspired photography.
Remember these? A lot of people that I know seem to have had one, or remember being envious of a school kid who had one, writes Aporva Baxi. Typically, it would be Donkey Kong or Mario Bros. (the most popular). Made by Nintendo, the video-game company currently best known for the Wii and DS (notice the similarities), they are collectively known as Game & Watch.
Nostalgia becomes obsession
I had one, which gathered dust for twenty years until a few years ago when I looked at it again and realised that they were really well crafted devices – each a self-contained game with lovely detailing. I wondered if there were any more, little knowing I was about to enter an expensive obsession.
There are 60 in total, divided into eleven different styles, each being classified in a certain series – Silver, Gold, Wide Screen, New Wide Screen, Multi Screen, Table Top, Panorama Screen, Super Colour, Micro vs. System, Crystal Screen and Special – a collector’s dream.
Compared to other games, then and now, the quality, detail and craft with which the Game & Watch was made is unusually high. The game units feature brushed metal surfaces in vibrant colours, in packaging with graphics distinct to each series. Details such as metallic inks, uncluttered design and line-work illustrations make them eminently collectable.
The games themselves are fairly easy to find, but mint examples with complete packaging are quite rare, as their young owners typically trashed them. Many of them never made it to the UK, and a few limited editions were never made available to the public. My collection has grown from one to 46 through furious bidding on eBay, patience, geeky forums and one eye-opening trip to a fellow collector’s home to do a trade. The missing fourteen are so rare that they cost a fortune, or are safely stored in other collections.
Over the last few years, this obsession has subsided in favour of other things, but every now and then I’m lured onto Ebay or into a retro gaming store in London or Hong Kong or Tokyo to see if I can find one of the rarest of them. The search continues. And as is the way, the journey is sometimes all the fun.
Lifeboat ‘TC-58’ released in 1983 is an example of a multi-screen game. The clam-shell opens up to reveal two screens for twice the fun.
Super Mario Bros. ‘YM-901’ Limited to only 10,000, the only way to get your hands on one was to be a winner in a competition that Nintendo ran to promote the Famicom in 1987.
Left. The Panorama Screen has a mirror which reflects the LCD giving an almost holographic effect to the vibrant visuals. Right. One of the oldest games, Vermin and its accompanying special edition gold effect pouch. Not sure what kind of cred this brings to the playground, but there you go.
Without the boxes, many of the games are not worth that much. It is only with a mint original box, instructions, polysterene insert and batteries does the game increase in value. And 30 years old, perfect boxes are very hard to find.
Let us know what you think and if you ever had one. The most popular was Donkey Kong. If you do, find it and relive some of those memories and while you are at it you’ll appreaciate the beauty behind the design.