The Million Selling Nintendo Game & Watch (G&W) Games - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Million Selling Nintendo Game & Watch (G&W) Games

At last. A watch that's fun...

The Game & Watch brand (G&W) was a series of handheld electronic games developed, manufactured, released and marketed by Nintendo from 1980 to 1991. Each Game & Watch featured a single game that could be played on a LCD screen as well as a clock - hence the name - with the models from 1981 onwards also including an alarm - the height of technology!

The game's featured characters like Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, Snoopy, Mickey Mouse and Popeye, plus a whole host of other individual titles with simple to pick up but tricky to master playability. Various different format's of the devices were released throughout the eighties, beginning with the Silver Series up to the later Crystal Screen models, all are named after their case trim colour of aesthetic design, with the Vertical Multi-Screen titles very similar in look to the much later Nintendo DS.

Nintendo released a total of sixty different 4-bit Game & Watch devices, selling a combined total of 43.4 million units worldwide. Exact individual sales figures are hard to come by, and vary from source to source, but we do know for sure that nine of the sixty titles sold more than one million copies each.

Did you have any of these million selling Game & Watch titles in your collection?...

Released July 10th 1980, Vermin (originally released under the title The Exterminator in North America) was the third ever Game & Watch title, fallowing Ball and Flagman, and came as part of the original Silver Series.

A single-screen single-player Game & Watch title, Vermin sees moles pop out of the ground trying to get into the player's garden. The player then has to hit the moles with a hammer to keep them out.

Nintendo certainly capitalised on Vermin, recreating it in later years across a variety of devices including as part of the Game Boy Gallery and Game & Watch Gallery for the Game Boy, Game & Watch Gallery 2 for Game Boy Color, and as a DSiWare game that was released for Nintendo DSi. The game was also re-imagined in WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! in the microgame called "Vermin" in which Wario has to whack a mole with a hammer. Also, in the Super Smash Bros. series, Mr. Game & Watch has several attacks which has him hit opponents on either side with two hammers, referencing Vermin.

Although it's unknown, I like to picture Dominic Cummings giving Boris Johnson a stash of old Game & Watch titles to keep him entertained whilst Cummings runs the country into the ground. Perhaps then Vermin may just be where Boris Johnson came up with his Covid-19 whack-a-mole strategy analogy? 

Manhole was the first Game & Watch game released in the Gold Series of titles, arriving on January 29th 1981, and then re-released in an enhanced format as part of the New Wide Screen Series two years later on August 24th 1983. A million seller across both formats, Manhole sees the player preventing pedestrians from falling into one of four sewers by temporarily bridging the open gaps with a manhole cover.

The New Wide Screen version of Manhole was later recreated in Game Boy Gallery and Game & Watch Gallery for Game Boy, Game & Watch Gallery 4 for Game Boy Advance, included with the purchase of the Nintendo e-Reader, and available as a DSiWare game. In the Super Smash Bros. series, Mr. Game & Watch has an attack which has him hit opponents with a manhole cover, referencing Manhole, and the layout of the game is used as a stage across several of the Super Smash Bros. releases.

Helmet (originally released as Headache in the U.K.) arrived as part of the Gold Series on February 21st 1981. In the single-screen game tools fall from the sky. There is a house on the right side of the screen which the player must guide the character towards whilst dodging the tools until the door opens.

Like most of the other Game & Watch titles, Helmet was recreated for later devices and referenced in the Super Smash Bros series. It could also be suggested that the throwing of tools, specifically the hammer, was influential in the concept of the Hammer Bro in the various Super Mario Bros. games.

Released as a part of the Wide Screen Series on September 8th 1981, Chef sees the player controlling a chef who flips various pieces of food, including sausage and fish, into the air with a pan. Failure to keep the food airborne causes a mouse to steal the food off the floor and the player to use up one miss. Miss three pieces of food and it's game over.

Chef was a bit more complex than some of the previous Game & Watch releases. The difficultly level was made harder as a cat often pokes the left piece of food, holding it in place for a small amount of time and making it tricky for the player to guess when the piece will be flippable. Also, the game speeds up as it progresses and depending on which option selected - Game A or Game B - the player must flip either three of four food items.

In March 2010, Takara Tomy released officially licensed Game & Watch-styled keychains based on three different Wide Screen Game & Watch models, one of which was Chef. Although the keychain does not actually run the game, it does display a demo screen with adjustable speed, and unlike the original device that ate up those little watch batteries, here they are recharged by a little solar panel on the unit.

Turtle Bridge
Another Wide Screen Series release, which was the height of Nintendo's Game & Watch success, Turtle Bridge arrived on February 1st 1982 and saw the player attempt to use a line of five turtles as stepping stones to transfer baggage from one side of a river to the other. Once a package is tossed to a colleague on the other side, the player can return to the home bank to fetch the next package and so on.

Continuing the new addition of increasing difficulty, the turtles are not motionless but will dive to feed on any fish within reach, and they dive more frequently as the game progresses. The player may also need to wait for the colleague on the far bank to appear, and cannot return to the home bank while carrying a package. In Game A, the middle turtle of the five has no fish swimming in reach and never dives unless the explorer waits too long on its back, at which point fish appear and the turtle dives. In Game B, all turtles will dive from the outset, while the colleague appears less frequently.

Unlike any previous release in the Wide Screen Series, the scoreboard for Turtle Bridge can display scores past 1000, but as only two to ten points are awarded for a successful crossing, depending on how quickly the package is delivered, it takes approximately 1 hour of game play to accrue 1000 points!

Fire Attack
A game that shows how far we've come as a society in 40 years - although very clearly not far enough - Fire Attack includes a rather stereotypical antagonist in the form of "Indian Chiefs".

Released as a part of the Wide Screen Series on March 26th 1982, Fire Attack puts the played in the position of defending a fort from attack and burning. You are equipped with a tomahawk-type weapon which can be used to deflect firesticks thrown by the top row of enemies - a group f Native Americans - and to block the bottom row of enemies who have matches. Two points are earned for each fire blocked, three misses are allowed, which occur each time the fort catches fire. All misses are erased at 200 points and again at 500; if there aren't any misses at these times, 5 points are awarded per hit for a period of time.

In the Nintendo Switch game Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Mr. Game & Watch's animations were updated to reflect individual frames from the original release of Fire Attack, including gaining a feathered headband when using his tomahawk blocking move. The controversy following this discovery prompted Nintendo to apologise for the offensive stereotype and announce that the animation would be changed in a post-release patch.

Mario's Cement Factory
Two different Game & Watch formats of Mario's Cement Factory exist. It was the first ever release in the Table Top Series, arriving on April 28th 1983, and was also a part of the New Wide Screen Series released on June 16th 1983.

The Table Top version has a full color illuminated screen, whereas the smaller handheld version is monochrome with a colour overlay. A million seller (approximately 250,000 Table Top/750,000 New Wide Screen series) Marion's Cement Factory arrived the same year that Nintendo's Famicom system debuted in Japan.

In the game you control Mario, who works at a cement factory apparently! He funnels cement into cement trucks whilst navigating two dangerous elevators and avoiding falling or being crushed. In a rather gruesome twist, if Mario does not continually empty cement into the trucks the cement will overflow and crush one of the workers below!

Nice, eh?

A very different looking Game & Watch release, one which opens like a book, Lifeboat was part of the Multi Screen Series, released on October 25th 1983.

The dual-screen single-player Game & Watch game with a light orange case, Lifeboat sees a burning oceanliner depicted across both screens, whilst a man with a bucket of water attempts to douse the flames from the right hand cliff. The player must pull a raft through shark-infested waters to catch the people who fall from the ship. The rafts can hold up to 4 people, and can be emptied no matter how many people are in them with a point awarded for each rescue.

The two different game modes, Game A & B, allow you to control either two rafts, one on each side of the screen, which move together when the left and right buttons are pressed, or just the single raft, which can move from one side of the screen to the other.

It's easy to see the influence in the later Nintendo DS here in the vertical Multi Screen Series of Game & Watch titles. The biggest selling of which, and the only one to top 1 million units, is Safebuster, released late into the format's life on January 12th 1988.

The dual-screen single-player Game & Watch title opens like a compact, with an upper and lower screen. The game itself sees a security guard on the bottom screen using a tube to catch bombs thrown by a bandit on the top screen. The tube is able to hold three bombs, which can be dumped down a chute at either side of the bottom screen for 1 point each. A life is lost for each bomb missed and the game ends when all three lives are lost.

Did you have any of these million selling Nintendo Game & Watch titles? Or perhaps a totally different release was your favourite one? Let us know in the comments below...

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