The Game & Watch series was Nintendo's first real foray into the world of portable video gaming. Designed by Gunpei Yokoi, who would later mastermind the grey-brick Game Boy we all know and love, these handheld electronic games featured an LCD display, a tinny speaker, and just enough buttons to complete the main objective, which differed from game to game. Nintendo has re-released most of the original Game & Watch titles over the years via the Game & Watch Gallery and Collection series, but with the popularity (not to mention profitability) of short, quick-play games on the DSi Shop, these classic titles are now seeing new life as DSiWare.
Note that Manhole has already seen ports to the GB and GBA as a part of Game & Watch Gallery 1 and 4; if you already own or have played this game as a part of either collection, there's nothing new here in terms of gameplay. During the game, the top screen is set up to show a cross-section of two streets, each featuring two gaping holes where manhole covers would normally be. Apparently the city you work for is dirt poor, with only one manhole cover to go around, and it's your job to make sure it's beneath the feet of any hapless pedestrians walking over the gaps. Use the D-Pad, A, and B to move yourself around between the four gaps to keep people from falling through to the sewers below. Should one fall, the game will halt as the poor guy wrings out his shirt and throws it up to the top of the screen, where it will act as a strike against you. Three shirts, and it's game over.
As with other Game & Watch titles, there are two different Game options. In the case of Manhole, Game A progresses at the same speed no matter how far into the game you get, though the number of pedestrians will vary, while Game B's speed will gradually increase the farther along you go. It gets hectic enough with multiple pedestrians to juggle at the original speed, but with things getting faster as you go along, you'll soon be hard-pressed to keep up with the never-ending stream of dimwits who can't seem to pay attention to where they're going. Should you have trouble getting past a certain point in the game, there is a Score Select option where you may set the starting score in increments of 100, up to the highest score earned. Any high scores you attain will not be recorded while playing in Score Select mode, but it's great to be able to practise playing with the varied patterns of pedestrians and higher speeds that accompany higher scores in both game modes.
Like the other Game & Watch titles, Manhole is repetitive by nature of the limited hardware unto which it was first born. The game starts off very slowly, and of course if you'd like to have your high scores recorded, you'll have to start all the way back at the beginning instead of using the Score Select option to skip it. It's tiresome to have to constantly repeat the most boring portion of the game, so long sessions featuring multiple playthroughs will probably turn you off. However, as something to pick up and play every so often, it's fun to have at hand.
If you never had the chance to play any of the original Game & Watch handhelds, this is an excellent way to experience them without hunting them down at garage sales or on eBay. Nintendo took care to reproduce the look and feel of an LCD screen, even going so far as to provide the familiar shadows of each different image lurking in the background as you play. The transitions between images as you move are absolutely flawless. The LCD handheld experience doesn't stop at the visuals, however – the sounds as you play are the familiar boops and bleeps of old, and the metronome tick droning in the background is as compelling now as it ever was back in the day. These are no mere remakes; those who grew up with these kinds of games will get a kick out of the level of authenticity Nintendo has packed into the DSiWare versions.
Manhole is another old-school experience straight out of the dark ages of handheld gaming. Each playthrough starts off very slowly, but the fast-moving nature of later stages of the game is what will keep you coming back for more. Multiple playthroughs in one session will likely bore you, so this is a game best played off and on instead of powered through all at once – even if you only play it a couple times a week, you'll get your 200 Points out of it over time. LCD handhelds aren't terribly popular anymore for a reason, but the nature of DSiWare – the ability to have multiple small games on one machine at your beck and call instead of having to carry around separate devices for each game – makes this the perfect opportunity to give this classic time-waster a try if you haven't already had the chance.