Nintendo Game & Watch
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've been chewing over. Today, Nile is pining for something a little smaller and simpler on his commute...

Not too long ago, my niece taught me something heartening about the staying power of old tech.

I could see a slightly miffed look on her face when I pulled out a Game Boy Pocket at our weekly family dinner. Ordinarily, she would be excitedly watching me play through a nifty indie or a miracle port on Switch in handheld mode. This time, though, she sighed and rolled her eyes at her insistent gamer uncle, seemingly irked to be a captive audience to pea-green games of yesteryear.

But then, something unexpected happened. When I fired up my copy of Game & Watch Gallery 3 and let her have a go, she suddenly couldn’t put down the humble 26-year-old device. It was the modern rendition of Turtle Bridge that had her hooked. From practically scoffing at my Gen-Y nerdiness, my then-nine-year-old niece became adamant about besting my high score.

It was a good half-hour before she handed back my beloved handheld. She was clearly delighted with what was on offer, but when I asked her whether she was having fun, she smirked and replied: “I’m making the best of it.” What sass. It was quite the scene, ardent gamers from two different eras taking in bygone Nintendo gems that pre-dated us both.

It may sound redundant or even provocative to want more Game & Watch in the smartphone and hybrid console era, with the Switch reigning as handheld gaming’s arguably greatest of all time. But for some peculiar reason, I keep coming back to the Game & Watch series. And when I start, my intended short bursts of play have a way of becoming marathon faux-LCD gaming fests.

Faux, you say? Full disclosure: my experience with the Game & Watch has only ever been through the Game & Watch Gallery series on Game Boy, as well the elegant current-gen Game & Watch handhelds released to mark the 35th anniversaries of the Brooklynite goomba-stomper and a scrappy sword-wielder clad in green leggings, with whom we will all soon be skydiving.

I argue that the Game & Watch Gallery series (the third entry of which is available on Switch for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers) still stands as the best way to revisit Nintendo’s seminal maiden foray into handheld gaming. I also maintain that the Gallery approach – offering the classics both in original faux-LCD form and smooth-playing modern renditions starring denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom – should be at the heart of Nintendo’s next handheld.

Of course, I’m not referring to the Switch’s inevitable successor. What I’m pining for as Nintendo’s next handheld is a one-off 'Game & Watch Collection'.

Picture an elegant, tactile rectangle in the vein of the single-screen 35th Anniversary models, bursting at the seams with charming digital watch templates and both classic and modern versions of the Game & Watch library’s creme de la crème.

Nintendo Game & Watch
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

If you’ve only played the simplistic 35th Anniversary cuts of “Ball” or “Vermin”, you may be scratching your head as to what all the fuss is about. But do trust me, later Game & Watch titles have much more depth. And the modern Gallery renditions dramatically elevate the experience so as to fully realize the addictive score-chasing gameplay mechanics of their 1980s LCD forebearers.

One of the striking things you’ll notice with the classic-styled Game and Watch titles is just how charming they are despite technical constraints, epitomizing Gunpei Yokoi’s – the pioneering engineer who created the Game & Watch and Game Boy (and the unloved Virtual Boy) – development tenet of “lateral thinking with withered technology”, which the Big N still adheres to.

At its simplest, it means harnessing cheap readily available technology in novel and delightful ways. The Game & Watch utterly succeeded at this, and I believe it’s the reason its titles can still strike an addictive chord in the modern day, even with up-and-coming gamers like my cheeky niece. I also personally see the Game & Watch as some of the best 'commute gaming' out there.

Nintendo Game & Watch
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

You may be familiar with the old anecdote of Yokoi observing a bored Japanese salaryman pecking away at a calculator during a subway ride sometime in the 1970s. Office dwellers clearly needed something more fun to do while going to and fro. At that moment, Yokoi spotted a gap in the gaming market that he would go on to fill with the Game & Watch.

These days, there is no shortage of electronic distractions to fill your commute. While the Switch brilliantly takes home console games on the go, I admittedly dislike playing large-scale, mechanically dense games out in the wild, especially in crowded surroundings. Doing so is dizzying and gives me the feeling that I’m squandering gameplay that should rightfully be on my gleaming 55-inch.

When out and about, I look to arcade-style, score-chasing games; charming and simple short-burst fun while moving from A to B. You could opt for a Switch Lite (I do) or punish yourself with ad-infested mobile games. But what I really want during my commutes is a 'best of' Game & Watch Collection, with the button-feel and gorgeous design of the 35th Anniversary models.

It’s an itch the Switch can’t fix.

Nintendo Game & Watch
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

This product line is an integral part of Nintendo’s history, giving rise to innovations such as the four-way directional pad and the clam-shell dual-screen design. With its 45th anniversary due in two years, Nintendo could drop some (more) Game & Watch titles on Switch. We’ve had relatively sparse compilations before. But it’s now high time for a dedicated device to commemorate these iconic games.

While I am delighted with the 35th Anniversary models, what I was left wanting from them was, ironically, more Game & Watch content – not necessarily NES games that can be optimally played on the Switch with an old-school Switch Online NES controller. The truth is that those commemorative devices were created more to be displayed than played, which is fine.

But if a proper Game & Watch Collection existed with at least a dozen or more games in their classic and modern iterations à la Game & Watch Gallery, I would double-dip. One for the shelf display and another to be perpetually played while on the subway. Wherever the late Yokoi is now, his legacy would be best honoured by one less bored salaryman making their way home.