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 Judge has already been ported to the Game Boy Color as a part of Game & Watch Gallery 3; if you already own or have played that, you won't find much new in this version. You control the character on the right, the CPU controls the one on the left, and each of you stand holding a mallet in the air. The game will count down until each of you suddenly raises a sign with a number on it; if your number is higher than that of the CPU, quickly tap Left or Y to bring your mallet crashing down on its head. If your number is lower, tap Right or A to dodge the CPU's incoming strike. You'll earn points for successfully hitting or dodging your opponent, and they'll earn the same by hitting or dodging your strikes. If you dodge when you should've struck or strike when you should've dodged, your opponent will earn extra points. The game ends when either player has earned 99 points.
Judge is all about fast reflexes and nerves of steel. Should you have trouble getting past a certain point in the game, as the speed of the CPU opponent gradually increases as you progress, there is a Score Select option where you may set the starting score in increments of 10, up to the highest score earned. However, both players start off at the same score, and with such a low score to attain (99 really isn't much when you earn points in twos and threes), the "practice" aspect is negated by the fact that you won't be playing for long if you choose to start at 80 or 90.
As with other Game & Watch titles, there are two different Game options. In the case of Judge, Game A pits you against the CPU, and Game B allows you to play against a friend. Again, quick reflexes are the name of the game, and whomever makes it to 99 points first wins.
Game & Watch games are repetitive by their very nature, but Judge is perhaps more-so than other titles in the series as it relies solely on split-second decisions and your own reflexes instead of activating switches, catching items, or whacking vermin. Playing to beat a cumulative high score is one thing, but playing to keep your opponent from scoring at all doesn't provide quite the same addictive experience, especially when the amount of points you may earn is so severely limited. You'll get your 200 points' worth out of this game, but only barely, and whether or not you come back to it after playing a perfect round is debatable.
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 raise your sign or dodge an oncoming blow 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. 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.
Judge was only the fifth Game & Watch to be released, and it shows – it just isn't as addictive as other titles in the series. While likely groundbreaking for 1981, it holds more value now as a curiosity than an actual game to seriously play. Nintendo has gone out of their way to provide an authentic LCD handheld experience, but Judge is an example of why they're not popular anymore – the gameplay is too repetitive, and Judge in particular is hindered by the 99-point limit. However, if you completely missed out on this game in its GBC incarnation and have never played the original, this is a great opportunity to experience for yourself the humble beginnings of Nintendo's handheld gaming empire.