Hardware Classics: Game & Watch JR-55 - Donkey Kong II
Posted by Damien McFerran
A multi-screen masterpiece
Before the Nintendo DS, Game Boy Advance and even the Game Boy, portable gaming was all about Nintendo's Game & Watch series. The brainchild of Nintendo engineer Gunpei Yokoi - who apparently came up with the idea after seeing a Japanese businessman playing around with his pocket calculator during his journey to work - this line of LCD handhelds ran from 1980 to 1991 and sold over 40 million units globally. Simply put, Game & Watch marked the beginning of Nintendo's dominance in the portable arena.
The Donkey Kong II unit we're looking at in this Hardware Classics feature is part of the Multi Screen range, which made its debut in 1982 and would run until the end of the decade. The forerunner of the Nintendo DS, the Multi Screen concept allowed play to flow between two separate LCD displays, broadening the scope of the game.
Another innovative element of the Game & Watch range is the iconic cross D-pad. Although D-pads existed prior to the launch of these portable titles, it was here where Nintendo truly refined the idea and created a template which endures to this very day. Compare the D-pad shown here with the one on your Nintendo 3DS and Wii U GamePad - it's practically identical, yet this unit is thirty years old (and yes, it has seen better days, we know).
The Game & Watch range is probably more vibrant than many people assume; as well as handheld editions, there were Table Top versions and "Panorama" variants, which added colour to the games. Collecting Game & Watch titles today is an thoroughly enjoyable pursuit; examples like Donkey Kong II won't cost you the earth, and the reasonably resilient nature of the hardware means you're unlikely to face too many problems getting things working. That's quite impressive when you consider the age of some of these games.