Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. Review – Nostalgia, Repackaged
Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros.September 2nd, 2020
Whenever I review a piece of hardware, the thought that's in my mind first and foremost is how useful it is and how cost-effective it is. Take, for example, my recent Xbox Series S review. Plays loads of games well, very useful, and is very cost-effective. An easy decision to make. The same goes for reviews of headsets, keyboards, or mice. I ask how good they feel to use in comparison to competitors, and how competitive the price is for the quality at hand. It's a simple balancing act really, the only difficult part of these reviews is documenting the mental process that leads you to your conclusion in approximately 1,000 words. This time, however, I must admit I'm a little flummoxed. I'm reviewing a piece of hardware which, to be quite frank, has very little practical use to me, and given that, it doesn't exactly seem in-expensive, either. But despite both of those incredibly strong points, I have to admit, I'm taken. The Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. is quite possibly the least "useful" piece of tech to ever cross my desk for a review, and yet, I really, really like it.
You have to understand, this isn't a tool, and I don't even think it's really intended to be used for more than perhaps an hour or two at a time, at the most. Instead, this is a collector's item. Everything about this pretty little device is made to make us nostalgic for a device many of us have probably never actually seen in the flesh. It's designed to poke and prod at your love for Nintendo's legacy and impact on the world of gaming, celebrate where they entered the market originally. And it's strange because at once it falls flat, as I wasn't even alive during the era of the Game & Watch, but it also feels incredibly striking to me. I am now officially nostalgic for a time period I have never experienced, and the Game & Watch has taken me there.
The Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. comes in an attractive gold box with a plastic sleeve. The gold box is very stylish. It feels like a product from decades before, and on the face it isn't immediately obvious that this isn't, in fact, a genuine Game & Watch, with the only indicator being the Mario head atop the Ball character. Slide the plastic sleeve over the box though and it slides the Super Mario Bros. logo into place, the title screen on the device, and adorns the box with 8-bit Super Mario sprite art. The box is made to feel like a small gift and celebration at once, even the tab which you pull out to open the box has little Mario and Luigi Ball characters, and a note which reads "Special thanks to you."
Once you pull the tiny device out of the box, it's hard not to feel at least a little bit enamored. It's essentially a flat rectangle, a little thicker than most smartphones, with a pretty screen in the center. Around the screen is a brushed metal plate tinted gold, with the plastic housing around the sides of the device and the back is tinged a dark red. On the right side of the device you find a small power button next to a USB-C charge port, and on the left side of the device is a divot that lets out mono audio. On the face, we have a tiny D-pad and our A and B buttons, in addition to Game, Time, and Pause/Set buttons. The D-pad feels a little squishy, but solid, and the two rubber A and B buttons have a satisfying little "thud" as you press them in.
But one thing that most certainly sets it apart from the retro Game & Watch systems that Nintendo is aping with this new device is the screen. The screen here is a pin-sharp liquid crystal display, it is bright, it is vivid, and it looks lovely. There is a small caveat, being that the display does shimmer a bit when running through stages as Mario, but in any still shot it looks fantastic, giving that classic game new life. Yes, this device plays only three games and you've likely played them all before, but in this form factor, they are reinvigorated with charm.
Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2: The Lost Levels are both here, with a new version of Ball, the Game & Watch classic. Let's be honest, no-one is really rushing back to the Game & Watch to play these games. Super Mario Bros. is a masterpiece, no doubt about it, and the ability to play the true sequel and a game of Ball is fun too, but this isn't exactly how I'd recommend playing either of these games to anyone - unless you want infinite lives, which you can attain by holding the A button at the title screen. This gaming device really isn't about the games.
Of course, games were only half of what classic Game & Watch systems offered - the other half was, of course, the watch. Yes, you can use the Game & Watch to tell the time, and there are three separate Mario-themed levels where the time is told with blocks, with Mario hitting the blocks down every minute. I love that they went the extra mile and turned the clock part of the device into something charming and unique, but again, you're probably never going to genuinely use your Game & Watch as a way to tell the time. Though I have to admit, when the clock turned to 2 pm today, I watched the clock on the device intently as a gang of Yoshi broke down the blocks to change the time, and Mario collected two coins from another block - collecting coins is a bit like a bell tolling, I suppose. Regardless, not very useful, but very cute and charming.
A nice feature of the device is swapping between these tiny applications. If at any time you want to swap between the two Mario games, Ball, or the clock feature, the game will pause and when you jump back in you'll resume exactly where you left off - a perfect opportunity for me to finally get a massive Ball high score because I probably won't be finishing Super Mario Bros. 2: The Lost Levels any time soon, even with infinite lives.
So, we've assessed that the Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros is adorable, it's cute, it's charming, but it's also pretty much useless. We all have smartphones that can do everything this device can, so it's hardly a necessary item you need in your life. This is a collector's item, first and foremost, it is an item for Nintendo fans like me to get excited about. It provides nothing of value to me, but I will definitely be putting it up on a shelf and showing my friends whenever they ask about it. Because even though that's all it can be, that's all I want from it.
Review unit provided by the manufacturer.
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There is absolutely no reason for anyone to buy a Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. This has zero practical use and costs as much as a retail AAA game. Despite that though, it's adorable, it's charming, and I love it more than I would care to admit. This device's worth is based entirely on your nostalgia and love for Mario and Nintendo. If you're a collector of Nintendo memorabilia, you already know you want this, but if you're just a casual fan of Mario and the Nintendo Switch, I see no reason why you would buy this. A nice curio for the Christmas stockings, but by no means an essential item for anyone.
- Utterly charming and nostalgic
- Pin-sharp liquid crystal display
- Infinite lives in Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2 are available
- Games have save-states so you can rack up the ultimate high score in Ball
- Objectively not useful or particularly interesting to anyone