Like somebody with a birthday towards the end of December, Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. combines two celebrations into one. Not only does it celebrate all things Super Mario to coincide with the moustachioed one’s 35th anniversary, but also the Game & Watch itself, as noted by a ‘Special Thanks to You’ message hidden on the box.
It comes nicely packaged, further enforcing the fact that it’s firmly aimed at collectors. The transparent sleeve summarises that this is indeed a Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch, but once removed, an authentic Game & Watch ‘Ball’ box is revealed. It’s a nice touch.
The build quality of the device itself is equally impressive. The d-pad is surprisingly springy, the rubber buttons are pleasing to touch, and the colour screen is remarkably sharp and clear. Astonishingly bright, too – we even had to turn the contrast down a couple of notches. The unit is powered by a rechargeable battery, with a small USB C cable included. Also of note is how light this device is, making it surprisingly comfortable to hold for long periods.
It’s what’s actually on the handheld that disappoints, especially given the £49.99 price tag. It features the original NES Super Mario Bros. and it’s tougher, once Japan-only, sequel, a rendition of the Game & Watch title Ball (the first-ever G&W), and an animated clock with numerous secrets to find.
Super Mario Bros. remains as quintessential as ever, while Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels still provides a stiff challenge. Here, enemies are placed perilously, the level design is far more devious, and the poisonous mushroom pick-up leads to many early graves. Ball, meanwhile, isn’t exactly the greatest Game & Watch of all-time. You could even say it’s the crudest.
The clock is a curiously entertaining addition, though – if placed on a desk or within a workspace, and you’ll likely find it highly distracting. It’s a shame a kickstand wasn’t included. A case or pouch wouldn’t have gone amiss either – due to fear of scratching the screen, it’s hard to imagine many will take this handheld out and about. A far cry from the G&W’s original purpose.
Ultimately, Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. is a peculiar thing, feeling a little half-hearted. It’s meant for playing games on yet features very few. At the same, it’s clearly aimed at collectors but isn’t the easiest of things to display. Super Mario Bros. will always be a classic, this much is true, but it could have been so much more.
We can understand why Nintendo didn’t want to bulk it up with NES ROMs given the Nintendo NES Classic Edition already exists, but on a system accurately resembling a Game & Watch, including nothing more than Ball feels stingy. Nintendo had the chance here to create a Game & Watch Classic – ideally, it should have dozens of G&W titles. Or at the very least, all those starring Super Mario.
Hopefully, this is a stepping stone for something greater – we’d love to see that wonderful screen re-used for a Game Boy Color Classic. Providing there are more than three bloody games on it, of course.