Inspired by LCD calculators, a toy designer at Nintendo named Gunpei Yokoi devised a new type of handheld electronic game in the late 1970s. Game & Watch Ball was released in April 1980, and over the next decade sixty more LCD games would sell a combined forty million units. Their success put the company on the road to becoming the cultural monolith it is today.
My Game & Watch was a years-old hand-me-down from my brother: 1983’s Mario Bros., one of the “Book” style multi-screen games. Whilst it featured Mario – along with his brother for the first time – the setting of the game was rather mundane: a bottling plant. With each screen devoted to one side of a tiered conveyor belt, the player has to manoeuvre the characters up and down to catch each box and lift them up to the next level as they are gradually filled with bottles.
Once the boxes are full and loaded onto the truck, the brothers get a break where they lie gasping on the floor for precious few seconds. Being too slow to catch a box means it will fall and smash, earning Mario or Luigi a brutal verbal assault from his manager. Three breakages and it’s the breadline for the brothers.
As well as being an effective introduction for children into the depressing realities of working life, this game required not a little skill and clever hand-eye co-ordination. Thankfully it was also tremendous fun and insanely addictive. I wore out a mountain of button batteries playing it, and even decades later I can hear clearly in my mind the grating sound of the bell that marked another box crashing onto the factory floor. For some reason however, I recalled the factory as a Coca-Cola plant, and not the nameless firm that it really is.
The series of LCD games lives on in the character of Mr Game & Watch, a simple little stick-man in the Super Smash Bros. games. He’s a cute little nod to history.
Enjoy your Sunday, everyone!