Feature: Becoming a Nintendo Game & Watch Collector

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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