Indie Gamer Chick versus Game Boy: Game & Watch Gallery

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Game & Watch Gallery
Developed & Published by Nintendo
Also developed by TOSE
1997 Game Boy

Certainly an interesting concept for a 1997 game. Nintendo had this wonderful library of LCD handhelds that predated even the Famicom/NES. Simple games that lent themselves to portable gameplay. Meanwhile, the Game Boy was still going strong, and Nintendo had this massive collection of games that could be collected. Nintendo did a trial run with the concept in 1994-95 with a release that never happened outside of Europe and Australia.

Game Boy Gallery, released in 1995, tasked developer TOSE with recreating five of their vintage LCDs.

This is basically the prototype for the Game & Watch Gallery series, as all five games have updated graphics that aren’t intended to look exactly like their LCD counterparts, but rather modern interpretations of them. However, the gameplay is directly-lifted from the originals, with no “modern” minigame counterpart.

I can’t find sales data on Game Boy Gallery, but I imagine it must have done well-enough to keep the concept alive. The solution was self-evident: include both the classic games in all their animation-devoid glory, but also include updated versions of the games. And use popular Mario characters. Genius! The series was successful enough (or cheap and easy enough to produce) to run four-games deep. Today, I’m checking the games of Game & Watch Gallery 1. Do they hold up?

MANHOLE
Series: Gold, New Wide Screen
Release: January 29, 1981 (Gold), August 24, 1983 (New Wide Screen)
Gameplay: Spinning-Plate
Cathy’s High Score 848 (Classic) 1,081 (Modern)

CLASSIC VERSION: Manhole is, for me, the definitive Game & Watch release. The gameplay couldn’t be more simple: you have a single manhole cover and four gaps. Cover the gap for each runner. It’s just a matter of judging which runner is going to be the next to step over a gap. You have to memorize how many steps each runner will need before he’s over a manhole. Once you’ve registered a “cover” over a gap, you can move and the runner will hang over the gap in defiance of gravity without following. It’s not exactly “fun” in the traditional sense, but I really found myself unwilling to quit when I reached 500 points and had lost my one miss at some point. The key to Manhole is remembering to press A to automatically switch to the opposite diagonal corner. I’m almost certain the 848 points I had on my second attempt of Manhole beat even my childhood score, but I was *never* having fun.
Verdict: NO Pile

MODERN VERSION: The basic layout remains, only now there’s three different types of beings crossing: endless Toad clones, endless Donkey Kong Jr. clones, and rarely, Mario clones. Each runs at a different speed, which further complicates the spinning-plate element. But, this time, there’s four manhole covers that you can replace and leave alone. When something crossing runs across a cover, it displaces it. Yoshi can stop this from happening on one cover at a time, and then when free, replace the covers that have been knocked loose. As far as updating the Manhole formula goes, this is probably the very best you could do. I hate how the free-lives work, as every 200 (400?) saves, a heart will be tossed onto the playfield, but it wasn’t always tossed at an opportune time, which forced me to miss one. But, this is a *lot* more engaging than the 1981 LCD while also feeling exactly like a proper remake of it. One of the better remakes. I did only play one game of it and scored 1,081. As a kid, I scored almost 2,000 once.
Verdict: YES Pile.

FIRE
Alternate Title: Fireman Fireman (North America original title)
Series: Silver, Wide-Screen
Release Date: July 31, 1980 (Silver), December 4, 1981 (Wide Screen)
Gameplay: Juggler
Cathy’s High Score: 447 (Classic) 642 (Modern)

CLASSIC VERSION: A “classic” that I can’t believe people don’t consider an abject failure. The concept of having to juggle people jumping from a burning building sounds fine, but this is one of those games where the lack of animation completely ruins the gameplay. Once the game gets moving and there’s four or more jumpers at once, it’s damn near impossible to judge which ones are next to land, or even if you correctly “saved” the next jumper. This is a formula that *needed* a taller screen with more animation cells
Verdict: NO Pile.

MODERN VERSION: Having animation made me realize another problem with Fire: there’s no quick passage from the left side to the right. Every single one of my deaths was the result of split-second gap between making a save on the right side not leaving enough time to save the jumper on the left side. But what can you do? Fire shows up again during Game & Watch Gallery series. Here’s hoping it improves.
Verdict: NO Pile

OCTOPUS
Alternate Titles: Mysteries of the Sea (UK) and Mysteries of the Deep
Series: Wide Screen
Release Date: July 16, 1981
Gameplay: Cross the Road
Cathy’s High Score: 1,138 (Classic) 1,371 (Modern)

CLASSIC VERSION: Octopus is probably my favorite classic Game & Watch game. Having played a ton of LCD games last summer (go here, here, and here), I’ve come to the conclusion that cross-the-road format games are inherently the best use of LCD’s technology. Octopus’s mechanic of having you go from the ship to the treasure chest to load-up on plunder while avoiding tentacles is fairly straight forward. IN THEORY you should be capped at how much you can load up from the chest. But I scored my first 400 or so points while barely surfacing at all. IN THEORY your hand should get a lot slower when loading the treasure, but it’s never insanely slow. Without animation, movement from spot to spot can’t be slower. Also, you’re capped at 3 bonus points per surfacing. It’s super easy to time the tentacles too. Octopus is still one of the better Game & Watch games. Which tells you how badly these games aged that I still can’t recommend it.
Verdict: NO Pile

MODERN VERSION: Much, much better. Here, loading up on treasure slows your movement down, but you also bank extra points for every grab you make. Also, the tentacles can go into different lanes, but you seem to have the ability to bait them into going down specific ones. It turns Octopus Remake into the game that tests your greed. You have no limit on how much treasure you can get, but you can become so slow that it’s impossible to get back to the boat no matter how perfect your reflexes are. The game dares you to grab a ton of gold, but as long as you remember that there’s no time limit, it’s just a matter of how patient you are in grinding up a score. As a remake of an LCD game, Octopus gets incredibly repetitive. It’s also the fastest-scoring and genuinely best video game in Game & Watch Gallery 1.
Verdict: YES Pile

OIL PANIC
Series: Multi Screen
Release: May 28, 1982
Gameplay: Catch-and-Release
Cathy’s High Score: 2,775 (Classic) 1,022 (Modern)

CLASSIC MODE: My god. MY GOD! I have never in my entire, miserable life played a game that is this competently made that is also so boring that it’s genuinely torturous. Here, you collect drops of oil that fall from the ceiling and then dump them out the windows. Below you is a man walking back and forth with a bucket that is apparently limitless. Instead of doing the logical thing, saying “HEY ASSHOLE, CAN I USE *THAT* BUCKET?!” you have to deal with a three-drop limit for your own. You lose a life if you miss the oil, catch a drop when your bucket is full, or if you throw the oil out the window when the big bucket guy isn’t on that side. Mind you, if the oil hits the floor, it catches fire. In theory you should be napalming the two pedestrians below. To death. They certainly should be just shouting at you with as much anger is generally displayed when one is cut-off on the freeway. Anyway, the formula seems like a decent-enough take on the Catch-and-Release genre. But, it’s actually too easy. On the A mode, I rolled the scoreboard twice, and would have a third time if I hadn’t got bored to the point that I asked my family to walk in front of the TV screen to add challenge. Which they got bored with after a couple minutes, so I held the controller upside-down and I think I made it two whole points after that. One of the problems is you have, in theory, as many as five lives in Oil Panic, because screwing up the oil-side of the screen and screwing up the roaming oil collector and two fire-proof pedestrian side of the screen are counted separately. For no reason. Also, all your misses are erased every time you reach X300 points. That’s just too generous. But the real biggest problem is that the difficulty, and speed of the oil drips, resets when you roll the scoreboard after X999 points. Which you will, because this is insultingly easy. I suppose I could have quit and reviewed the B part, but who actually plays Mode B?
Verdict: NO Pile

MODERN VERSION: Easily the best remake in Game & Watch Gallery 1, as Octopus already had a more-than-solid foundation and was on the cusp of being good, while this time, it turns a boring game into a decent one. Oil Panic retains the basic “catch the oil” formula, only there’s now multiple twists. As Mario instead of Mr. Game & Watch, you hold two buckets instead of one. And instead of a bottomless bucket holder to throw to, it’s Yoshi. You have the ability to rotate your buckets, which makes this feel like a follow-up the NES/Game Boy classic Yoshi. There’s also a few bonuses tied to Yoshi if you feed him two full buckets back-to-back within nano-seconds IN THE RIGHT POSITION. You see, Yoshi walks back and forth too, and he has to be as far to one side as possible to get the bonus. On the plus side, Yoshi’s tongue can catch the oil even if he’s not exactly to the edge. On the negative side, I never benefited from this from a meaningful range away from the ledge. It only screwed me out of the bonuses. Anyway, on the right side, doing back-to-back full buckets creates a block which has coins (and, when you reach milestones in points, also provides a free life). On the left side, Yoshi creates a block, and making four of them allows Yoshi to fireball/egg/melon-seed-spit Bowser for extra bonus points. You’ll be tempted to fill up the the buckets to the max every time, but like many Game & Watch titles, it’s often your own greed and impatience that will cost you lives. In fact, with both Octopus and Oil Panic, it’s absolutely possible to slowly grind up world-record points (the best you can do is tie former Donkey Kong world champion Wes Copeland’s 9,999 max score). It would take forever and be considered a form of self-harm, but it can be done.
Verdict: YES Pile

VERDICT

I actually owned Game & Watch Gallery as a kid, and I’m almost certain it’s a game I fished out of a clearance bin. To be frank, Game & Watch Gallery going four-deep as a franchise (five if you count the pilot-run with Game Boy Gallery.. seven if you count the lazy DS games that were given as part of Nintendo’s reward program) is astonishing, because there’s Mario Party minigames with more depth.

Game & Watch Gallery is a odd cat. When you get right down to it, it’s just a mini-game collection where the only true significance is these are based on early 80s Nintendo LCD games. All eight games presented here are incredibly repetitive and often you’ll welcome a game over. That’s usually a sign of being a bad game. I literally gave none of the “classic” Game & Watch games a YES, and to be frank, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about any of the YES pile games. It was more like I conceded their decency. Octopus Remake feels the most balanced. Oil Panic Remake is probably the most compelling formula that seems like it could lead to a solid full-fledged game. Manhole Remake is fine, just like the other two YES pile occupants. But none of these are worth actively seeking out. The most telling thing: Game & Watch Gallery is a slog, even when it’s at its best. It’s NEVER exciting.
Overall Verdict: NO Pile

LCD Games of the 80s: Part Three (Game & Watch DSiWare)

Well, I don’t want to be accused of creating cost-free content OR pirating games. So I bought all nine DSiWare Game & Watch titles. All of which have a nifty feature where, if you lack the patience to build up to a certain speed of the game, you can set the starting score to a certain point and begin the gameplay from there. Cool idea but it would sort of undermine the point of getting high scores I would think. Of the nine available games, I had only covered one previously: Donkey Kong Jr. The DSiWare version plays smoother than the simulated version I played. Well, duh. Official releases are like that. These each cost me $1.99 each, and between the time I bought them on Sunday and doing the write-up today, I suddenly can’t look them up on the official Nintendo website anymore. There’s a chance they might get pulled from the market soon, so if these boring pieces of shit are something you genuinely want, act now. Finally, I have no means to get pictures off my 3DS so I had to use pics of the UK versions.

Poor guy has monkey wrenches for hands.

BALL (1980 Game & Watch)

Ball was the first Game & Watch game. And, if you were a platinum Nintendo Club member, you might have gotten a replica of the original LCD handheld of one. It’s a simple juggling game where you shift your hands left and right to keep the balls in motion. In Game A, there’s two balls, while Game B adds a third. Weirdly, Game A scores in increments of one point while B scores by the 10. That makes no sense. It also occurred to me that some games that I’ve labeled “spinning plate games” could be called “jugglers” or “ball-likes” instead. I’ll try to note that in the future. Anyway, Ball was probably incredible in 1980. I mean, look, it’s a game that looks sort of like a video game. Take that, Electronic Football! Today? Pretty dull.

FLAGMAN (1980 Game & Watch)

Fun story related to Simon: Nolan Bushnell and Ralph Baer got caught up in a lawsuit over Pong, because Magnavox (producers of Baer’s Odyssey console) could prove that Nolan attended a conference that showed off Baer’s version of video table tennis right before he came out with Pong. Baer’s tennis didn’t resemble Pong at all. You have to use a second knob to control the angles of the ball, whereas Pong used a segmented paddle that angled the ball based on where on the paddle it hit. Atari settled anyway. They ended up taking a license on the technology becaues they were in start-up while Baer’s backers had the means to trounce them in court, even though the suit really wouldn’t have held up in court today. Years later, Baer played Bushnell’s Touch Me game and copied it to make Simon, justifying it by saying Nolan didn’t have a patent and Simon’s buttons made distinct noises. We owe Baer a lot, but he wasn’t the kindly grandfather type we picture him to be. He worked for a defense contractor, was quite litigious, would pursue lawsuits on people who he perceived to have ripped him off while simultaneously copying ideas from others.

It’s Simon. Dude holds up a set of flags. You memorize the order. Keep going until you miss three times. This shit has been done a million times. Next.

VERMIN (1980 Game & Watch)

If a lot of these animations look familiar to you, that’s because I think Nintendo selected the DSiWare releases based on graphics adapted to Mr. Game & Watch for Smash Bros.

Of every game that I’ve covered in the LCD features, this is the one I was most familiar with by virtue of it being a microgame in WarioWare for Game Boy Advance that I, one day when I was younger, got caught up playing for hours unable to die while I was trying to unlock all the extras. Then again, a lot of Game & Watch titles are part of the WarioWare franchise, the original of which everyone knows is my favorite game of all-time. I don’t know if that’s why I found the actual Game & Watch to be so easy, but I scored over 500 points before dying in Mode A and 400 in Mode B. Frankly, Vermin’s take on whack-a-mole is too easy. There’s too much leeway in how long a mole can be out of a hole before you lose a life. This would have probably been a great game for really young kids because it’s incredibly easy, so much so that I couldn’t get into it.

JUDGE (1980 Game & Watch)

See what I mean? This is probably the most famous Mr. Game & Watch attack. As a game though, Judge is awful.

Well, at least this one tries something completely different. Here, you and the AI (or a second player in mode B) hold up a random number between 1 and 9. If your opponent is holding up a higher number than you, you dodge. If they’re holding up a lower number, you attack. The first player to press the correct action scores. First to 99 wins. I beat the AI 99 to 27 and then beat my father 99 to 27. So I’m consistent. Three cheers to me, or actually make it 27 just because that’s what I apparently deserve. They were really stretching for game ideas here. It’s weird that it took them so long to figure out the right way to make compelling, addictive games using the limited technology. It doesn’t seem like rocket science, but then again, this is before they had a hit in Donkey Kong.

HELMET (1981 Game & Watch)

Maybe this was the end result of a Decepticon being blown up by Bumblebee.

This is more like it. A cross-the-road game where you dodge falling tools as you make your way from one shed to the other, which visually for some reason reminded me of The Prestige teleporting man trick. The shed doors open and close in random intervals and you might get stuck in the playfield, where I’m almost certain there’s scenarios that are unsurvivable. And, once again, it’s too hard to judge the speed of the falling objects without motion. They were on the right track here, though. I still hated Helmet, mostly because this was the game that fucked me over playing 9-Volt’s stage in WarioWare the most.

CHEF (1981 Game & Watch)

I don’t think this would be considered sanitary.

A juggler/spinning plate game, with the twist being that a cat will occasionally show up to stop the momentum of one of the food pieces you’re having to juggle. It’s yet another game where motion is almost essential for what they were aiming for, though they were getting a little closer to getting the idea right without it. Fire, which is not included in this set but is part of a few of the Game & Watch Gallery releases, was the first to get it right without needing to actually see the objects move. Chef has tons of issues with figuring out which food item is the next you need to save and I’m not really willing to put the time in needed to figure it out, because it’s not fun either way.

Manhole (1981 Game & Watch)

A spinning-plate game where you have to replace manholes so that runners don’t fall into sewers. It’s one of the simplest Game & Watch concepts and it’s actually probably the best of the early lineup. It’s easier to get a feel for the timing of the runners, negating the need to see actual motion. This so far is the only one of the games that I tried the Game & Watch Gallery remake of, where the manholes stay in place and only collapse if Toad, Donkey Kong Jr, or Mario run over there without Yoshi having its tongue attached to them. The remake works, but the original was (mostly) not that bad. It’s boring, don’t get me wrong, but if there had been online leaderboards I might have been more invested. Come to think of it, why wouldn’t they include leaderboards? With so many cheap options on 3DS, who would want these unless there were online leaderboards or if you were an indie critic on a journey into gaming’s past that wanted to spend actual money so as to avoid feeling like a pirate?

In 2019, gamers would expect this to be the opposite: removing the manhole covers in order to kill bystanders. YOU KNOW I’M RIGHT!

The most notable thing I have to say about Manhole is I was quickly able to deduce that Game & Watch Gallery, while not being an emulated game but rather a recreation, actually retails the same sluggish response time that the DSiWare version (that looks like a near-perfect recreation of the handheld) sports. The issue is sometimes the game would straight-up not respond to me pressing the button to go from one corner to the other. In order to be able to cover ground more quickly, you can press a button to take you from the upper left to the bottom right, or the upper right to the bottom left, and so forth. But, sometimes I’d press the button and Mr. Game & Watch would stay in place for no reason. It’s a laginess/response issue that is bizarrely universe no matter which version of the LCD-based game you play. This doesn’t happen in the modern remake version in Gallery. Which made me wonder if these really were recreations or if some form of emulation was used. Either way, Manhole is so much more frustrating than it needed to be. Game & Watch’s modern version was fun though. Stay tuned for the full reviews of those.

Mario’s Cement Factory (1983 Game & Watch)

If you let the cement overflow, there’s a hilarious death animation of Luigi (I think it’s Luigi) being crushed to death by cement. Okay, maybe only I found it funny. I have issues.

By far the game people wanted me to play the most (besides the Tiger Electronics Full House game, seriously you sadistic fucks?), Mario’s Cement Factory is a legendary Game & Watch on the grounds that it’s an original Mario game designed specifically for the LCD line. And it’s certainly an ambitious title. It combines plate-spinning mechanics, road-crossing/platforming, and a bit of “transport object from point A to point B” gameplay into one giant smorgasbord of an LCD. A lot of my fans insisted this is the only “really good Game & Watch” but I honestly though it was too complex. There’s two cement mixers that you have to travel up and down a pair of moving platforms to release to the accumulated cement from. The layers cement fall down to the next level, eventually reaching the truck that you score points from. If the cement overflows, you die. If you fall off a platform, you die. If you get squashed while riding the platforms, you die. When the action speeds up, there’s just too much shit to keep track of.

I imagine someone at Nintendo had seen the famous I Love Lucy chocolate factory episode and decided to make a Mario game based on it. Because, like the show, things get out of hand too quickly and the speed of which you can move and release the cement is too limited. If this weren’t a Mario game, nobody would give a shit about it today. Being part of the Mario mythos shouldn’t override the fact that Cement Factory is boring at best, while an aggravating exercise in futility at worse.

Vermin (pictured), Helmet, Ball, Octopus, Manhole, and Oil Panic (not featured yet) were parts of the WarioWare series. Ball and Oil Panic were part of Touched! while Helmet and Vermin were in the original. Octopus was in Smooth Moves. Manhole is part of 5-Volt’s stage in Gold on 3DS. WarioWare actually did the impossible: making Game & Watch part of something fun. Of course, it did this by limiting the gameplay to two-second chunks. Hey, whatever works!

None of the DSiWare titles are worth $2 on their own, especially considering that I bought Game & Watch Gallery 1 for $2.99 on 3DS along with Game & Watch Gallery 2 & 3 for $3.99 each. Combined, the trilogy ran me $10.47. Throw in another $6.99 if you want Game & Watch Gallery 4 for the Game Boy Advance and still own a Wii U. Those titles all have multiple recreations of the original LCD screens with very accurate-to-the-original gameplay PLUS superior minigame remakes. Comparatively, the nine DSiWare Game & Watch titles ran me $17.91, had NO features besides local-only leaderboards and the ability to start a game at any score, and skipped the modern remakes. Besides the infamous Mario’s Cement Factory, it’s not like the nine games chosen were exactly all-stars in the Game & Watch lineup to begin with. Ball, Judge, and Flag are so primitive that they have no reason to be re-released on their own ever again. This re-release series had to be among the most soulless cash-grabs Nintendo ever did. You know what I could get behind? Making these free to Switch Online subscribers, with online leaderboards. What I can’t get behind is charging $2 a pop for old games that have no gameplay value today. So I’m now 0 for 24 in looking for an LCD that I can say without qualification is worth checking out.

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