Review: Game & Watch Gallery (3DS eShop / GB)

More than a fresh coat of paint

Most fans of the Game & Watch series likely enjoy it for its simplicity. The nature of the original devices meant that certain allowances had to be made for the primitive visuals, sounds and rigid controls. All three of these things are charming in their own right, but what really made people fall in love was the simple addictiveness of the gameplay itself. You could play for a minute, or you could play for an hour. Sometimes you just played until the battery went dead. The games were that much fun.

One could be forgiven, therefore, for approaching flashy remakes of these with a little trepidation. After all, they didn't need any glitz to get our attention in the first place; they just needed to be good, solid, and simple. The timeless appeal of the originals can become lost so easily in a contemporary update that they frequently look more dated than their source material.

Breathe easy though, dear reader, because Game & Watch Gallery is one of those rare remakes that is truly better.

It consists of two things: straight, faithful recreations of four original Game & Watch games, and new, updated, Mario-heavy versions. And believe us when we say that the developers have done more than slap on some new sprites; these are easily eight distinct experiences.

The titles included are Manhole, Fire, Octopus, and Oil Panic. In their original versions (available in two difficulties, as are the remakes) they feature the same classic minimalist art style you'll remember from the Game & Watch era. The sounds, likewise, are recreated, limited to simplistic blips and bleeps. There is no music and no real animation to speak of – everything snaps from one position to the next, but that's okay. These games were primarily simple score-attacks, not artistic showcases.

Manhole will see you manipulating four manhole covers to keep hapless pedestrians from falling into the sewer. In Fire you control two firemen who bounce evacuees from a burning building into an ambulance. Octopus stars a deep-sea diver who must manoeuvre past the arms of a hungry cephalopod to steal some treasure. Finally, Oil Panic has you collect oil drops in a container and then dump them out the window to your waiting assistant.

Anybody who has played the original games will know what to expect from these versions. Not much has changed, though the backgrounds are obviously no longer in colour. Also, the dual screen nature of Oil Panic is approximated here in a way that might be confusing at first but ultimately comes to make sense as you familiarise yourself with the requisite strategy. Mainly, though, these versions are quite faithful, and a simple collection of these versions would probably have appealed to nearly any Game & Watch fan.

This is why the remade versions, featured side by side with the originals, are such surprising and welcome inclusions. As mentioned above, these star Mario characters instead of nondescript silhouettes. They also showcase excellent visuals, fluid animation, brilliant background music, and offer, overall, completely unique gameplay experiences.

Enumerating every difference here would take longer than a review has any right to be, suffice to say that they feel almost entirely new. Manhole, for example, originally had you simply replace manhole covers by moving the character over to them. In the remake you control Yoshi, who indeed does manipulate manhole covers in the same way, but they also stay in place without him until somebody walks over them. Yoshi can also replace a manhole cover when somebody is hovering in the air and about to fall Wile E. Coyote style, whereas in the original that would have been considered a miss. Because of these things, the game plays quite differently. Your priorities can change depending upon who is walking over the manholes at any given time, and you can never feel safe ignoring any area of the screen.

Another significant change comes in Octopus. In the remake Mario collects treasure for Peach – so far, so similar. But once you add in the fact that the amount of treasure you steal can weigh you down, the evasion of the octopus takes on an entirely different feel. It's also worth noting that in this version, you aren't totally helpless: when the fiend attacks, you can fight back!

The changes to Fire are a little more subtle but still easy to notice. The different bounce heights of evacuees make for an interesting game of continuous object management, whereas the original was more about bouncing people into the sky in the same order in which they appeared. Bombs to avoid also drop in, adding the new element of evasion to the experience.

Oil Panic probably feels the most like its original, but it still contains its share of differences, particularly the fact that Mario juggles two containers instead of just one. He can also spin around to swap their positions, leading to even more strategy.

The change in how these games feel cannot be overstated. When described they can sound quite similar, but playing them side by side, you will find yourself acutely aware of just how much time and energy Nintendo put into crafting remakes that would feel as timeless as the originals, yet play in very different ways.

Conclusion

If you liked the original Game & Watch titles, this collection is a must-have. Both the originals and remakes, which combine simple gameplay and subtle strategy, are here to enjoy, and the updates are so well done that we'd recommend this game even to those who don't like the Game & Watch series. The newer versions play differently enough that you're quite likely to consider them new experiences in and of themselves. The musical and visual presentation is just fantastic as well, and the entire package serves as a relic of a truly magical time in gaming. Or, perhaps, two truly magical times.