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Feature: Becoming a Nintendo Game & Watch Collector

Posted by Damien McFerran

We ask the experts about collecting this vintage format

Given the durable nature of the Game & Watch range, the appealing design of the casing and the desirable Nintendo branding, it’s little surprise that a truly hardcore collecting scene has risen up over the past few years. The reasons for this differ depending on which collector you happen to speak with. “For most of today’s collectors, it’s simply nostalgia,” comments British Game & Watch fanatic Andy Cole. “People now find themselves with the resources to buy the games they lusted after in their childhood, which their meagre pocket money couldn’t buy them.”

Others do it more for the love of the brand, such as Dutch collector Martin Van Spanje: “I have always loved Nintendo games and the Game & Watch series are basically where it all started for that company. I want to see them all, and find out how Nintendo made progress.”

Whatever the reason, amassing all 60 of these unique devices isn’t an easy (or cheap) task. “Even though many of the games can be found for a fiver, you need lots of cash if you want all 60 of them,” explains Van Spanje. “My collection has already cost me around 3,600€, and I'm still missing four of the more expensive games. Also, I don't collect mint condition games and I don't care about the packaging and user manuals. If you want all of that as well, you need to at least double your piggy bank.”

Indeed, boxed specimens in pristine condition can fetch prices well into triple-figures and the elusive ‘60th’ game – a special edition of Super Mario Bros produced in 1987 - is incredibly hard to locate. “This is the holy grail of Game & Watches and remained almost completely unknown in collector’s circles for over a decade,” explains Cole. “It was produced as a prize for a competition for owners of a NES F1 racing game. 10,000 were given away in Japan only, making this by far the rarest Game & Watch title. Only in the early 21st century, when collectors in Japan spread the word, did this game become widely recognised. Because of its rarity, its value is higher than that of any other game in the range - expect to pay about £300 pounds just for an unboxed specimen.”

Another aspect that makes the range so appealing today is the durability of the games themselves. “As can be seen by the number appearing in auctions and in collections, they are still going strong, thanks mostly to their extremely simple electronics,” comments Cole. “They are probably more reliable than a games console of today; I expect that they’ll still be around long after the last PS3 is in landfill.” Van Spanje expands on this: “The games were intended for kids and fit inside your pocket. If you keep them safe, they will last for ever even if you play them regularly.”

Has our intrepid gang of Game & Watch experts got any advice for prospective collectors? “A potential collector should first set a target,” advises G&W expert Mike Panayiotakis. “There are many things to collect and buying everything isn’t an option unless you have unlimited money. Do you wish to collect boxed games? Do you wish to get special versions of the games? Do you wish to get all 60 games? You need to focus on specific items and create a list of things you wish to collect.”

Cole gives similar guidance: “The answer I always give to this question is to go slowly, as it’s possible to get a complete collection of every title can be done in as little as a month or two if you have the money, but where’s the fun in that? Decide on a goal before you start; for example, decide if you want loose or boxed games, special or regular editions, then stick to your goal and be patient to wait for the right games to come along. My collection took me about five years to complete but I got some extremely good bargains and that is more satisfying than blowing a few grand all in one go.”

As is the case when any product becomes valuable, the Game & Watch market is highly susceptible to fakes. “In the last few months, we’ve seen a lot of counterfeit items appearing,” reveals Cole. “It’s mostly boxes and instructions - having a box, especially one in good condition, adds greatly to a games value.” These high-quality reproductions of original packaging have caused a series headache for dedicated collectors.

“Most collectors look for mint items and have paid great amounts of money to acquire them,” explains Panayiotakis. “Finding original Game & Watch boxes intact isn’t an easy task, but if someone starting selling perfect counterfeit boxes or games, your collection would be instantly worth one twentieth of what you had paid for it because the market would be flooded with perfect items.” However, at this stage the problem is isolated to boxes and instructions. “To my knowledge, nobody has been able to produce a fake game successfully – yet,” says Cole. If fake machines were to appear, Panayiotakis is in no doubt as to what effect it would have on the collecting community. “Perfect counterfeit items would make the task of collecting authentic games very difficult,” he says. “I don’t think there would be any point in collecting the games after that, if such an event ever occurs.”

This feature originally appeared in its entirety in Imagine Publishing’s Retro Gamer magazine, and is reproduced here with kind permission.

Special thanks to Andy Cole for providing exclusive hardware photography.

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User Comments (17)

WanderFan91

#1

WanderFan91 said:

Wow, that's a lotta games in the collection.
I loved Spitball Sparky on Game & Watch Gallery 3. :)

WanderFan91

#3

WanderFan91 said:

I once had a Donkey Kong Jr. Game & Watch game, but not shaped like it is, more shaped like a mini-Game Boy Pocket. It was back when I lived in Italy. Shortly after moving here in Texas, I lost it. It's still in my house, but I'm not sure where.

Cheezy

#4

Cheezy said:

I have Mario's Cement Factory and Donkey Kong II (which I've never played because I was too lazy to get batteries) but they're fine collectable items :)

ETLN

#5

ETLN said:

My mother has Oil Panic, still works 100%. You can tell Nintendo based the DS off the dual screen design of the multi screen models, the resemblance is quite striking.

Token_Girl

#6

Token_Girl said:

I think i'll just stick to the Game and Watch collection, and hopefully the eventual G&W DSiWare releases. I'm a little too young to remember these, but they sort of remind me of the little cheapo Tiger LCD games I got as a kid. They were pretty fun.

Other_DaveStaff

#7

Other_Dave said:

@StarBoy91: It sounds like you had one of the "Mini-Classics" range. A few G&W's were reissued like that along with some new titles.

saturnkid

#8

saturnkid said:

I currently own Marios Cement Factory (unboxed), Popeye and Mario Bros (both boxed) and.... the special prize edition of Super Mario Bros in its Mr Diskun box, which is nice.

Gavin_Rozee

#9

Gavin_Rozee said:

I was just looking on Pocket Gamer, and noticed a news post by Damien McFerran. Are these the same two people?

StarDust4Ever

#10

StarDust4Ever said:

The inclusion of Mr Game-N-Watch in the Smash Bros series may have something to do with the sudge in popularity with collectors.

I had Super Mario Bros, Cement Factory, Left-Right split screen Bottle Factory, and Top-Bottom split screen Donkey Kong. I wanted more, but Mommy said, "No." :'( Way funner than the myriad of Tiger games, they all got play time and I enjoyed dumping Donkey Kong and saving Pauline when I got all 4 keysin DK, but I played Super Mario Bros (with 8 worlds, plus Bills and Likatus in the higher loops) way more than any of the others, and I saved Princess Toadstool (they didn't call her "Peach" back then) so many times it was unreal. I always held the jump button whenever I hit Start, to warp strait to Loop 3 World 1, which added Bills and Likatus in the mix. The "jump" warp trick only works on the original release, not the newer "mini" version, as they combined the buttons in the re-release.

motang

#11

motang said:

I just placed an order on Club Nintendo for the Game & Watch Collection volume 1 before they take it out (if they do), since Nintendo has announced that the US will be getting Volume 2 soon.

WanderFan91

#13

WanderFan91 said:

I also remember playing the Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. handheld when I was little in Italy over at a cousin's house. I only played it that one day, but from what I remember of it I had fun. :) Again, not shaped like it was, more shaped like a mini-Game Boy Pocket (this one was silver, and Donkey Kong Jr. was green). :)

Token_Girl

#14

Token_Girl said:

@Motang

Where did you hear Ninty was releasing volume 2? That'd be great, finally a reason to save up Nintendo points again besides the unknown "gold/platinum gift." In all honesty though, I'd rather they'd add some other exclusive game or accessory to the Club Nintendo catalog, and just release the Game and Watch games on DSiWare like in Japan.

Simon_Deku

#16

Simon_Deku said:

I really like Game & Watch but I could never afford a real unit. I'll just wait for them to be re-released.

xj0462

#17

xj0462 said:

the only unit i have is a mickey mouse game(the one wher you collect the eggs)im trying to get a game and watch ball club nintendo edition

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