Who Watches The Watchmen?
Unless you've spent the last several years hiding in caves in or near Afghanistan, or unless you fucking hate video games, you've almost certainly played Super Smash Bros. Melee or its sequel, Super Smash Bros. Brawl. As a result, you're at least partially familiar with Mr. Game & Watch, a nondescript solid black two-dimensional man who beeps, boops, and clicks like a motherfucker whenever he does something. He was damn near unplayable in Melee, but he's a high tier character in Brawl. Well have you ever wondered where he came from? If so, look it up on Wikipedia. ARTICLE OVER.
...fine, maybe not. On April 28, 1980, Nintendo released a handheld LCD game called Ball, which would be the first in a long line of handheld LCD games known as Game & Watch. The idea was simple: each portable device featured a simple game as well as a clock, complete with an alarm setting. This venture would garner worldwide success for Nintendo and along with Shigeru Miyamoto's 1981 classic Donkey Kong, the Game & Watch series would give Nintendo the finances necessary to develop further household gaming systems. If Game & Watch had not succeeded, there might not have been a Nintendo Entertainment System. The Game Boy, its direct successor, most certainly would have never existed. Suffice to say, Game & Watch is an important piece of Nintendo history, and as such, it deserves some sort of recognition. Well, this is it. Today we are going to be looking at the Wide Screen series, a collection of ten Game & Watch games released between June 1981 and April 1982. This was the third series of Game & Watch games released, and these models featured bigger buttons and bigger screens than the previous models, thus making them more accessible to people who lacked tiny Asian hands. Fuck it, that's enough background information. Let's rock.
Released: June 19, 1981
Parachute was the first game released in the Wide Screen series. It is the story of a magical helicopter that can carry a seemingly endless number of passengers. It cannot, however, carry an endless number of cocktails, and when the passengers start to get uppity, the pilot gets pissed and tells everyone to get the fuck out of his chopper. This abrupt evacuation takes places over shark-infested waters, and as the operator of a conveniently placed and equally magical rowboat, you take it upon yourself to save the hapless parachuters from certain death. If a parachuter lands in the water, he is immediately devoured by a hungry shark. Once three parachuters die, you realize the futility not only of your efforts, but of life itself, and give up. In Game A, parachuters fall continuously towards the water. In Game B, the poor bastards sometimes get stuck in the tree on the right and you have to wait for them to shake themselves loose before you can rescue them.
Released: July 16, 1981
The British poet laureate Ringo Starr once lamented that he would "like to be under the sea, in an octopus's garden in the shade". And though I respect his elegant wordplay and the complex meter of his musings, I'm afraid I do not share the great Mr. Starr's sentiments. As someone who has played the Octopus handheld from the Game & Watch series, I can tell you with deadly certainty that an octopus's garden is little more than a treasure hoard and most octopi absolutely do not want to be your friends. Instead, they will choke the fucking life out of you if you even fucking think about touching their shit. But in Octopus, that's exactly what you do. You send a team of divers down to the bottom of the ocean to steal gold from a lethargic octopus. As you descend towards the treasure, you must dodge the octopus's constantly expanding and retracting tentacles. You get one point for each piece of treasure you grab, and bonus points for bringing it back to your boat. You can grab multiple pieces of treasure at once, but be careful not let the octopus fucking grab you. If the octopus grabs your diver, he will fucking murder him right in front of your eyes and you'll have to send another guy down. The game ends when the octopus kills all of your divers. The octopus's tentacles move significantly faster in Game B than they do in Game A.
Fun Fact: The octopus in this game is actually a septopus. Maybe that's why he's such a dick.
Released: August 5, 1981
After the tragic mess of a movie that was Robert Altman's Popeye in 1980, Olive Oyl fell in a deep depression. One day, she decided she had finally had enough, so she withdrew all of her money from the bank and took a trip down to the local grocery store. She spent all of her money on spinach, pineapples, and fine Paul Masson wines, then drove down to the harbor. Her plan? To throw all that food into the ocean, followed by her own lifeless body. But at that very moment, Popeye's spidey sense tingles and he shows up in a boat and begins catching Olive Oyl's groceries. Soon after, Bluto shows up and resumes his long-standing feud with the sailor man. Popeye receives a full miss if he is hit by Bluto and a half miss he fails to catch an item. If Popeye receives three full misses, the game ends and Olive Oyl kills herself. In Game A, Bluto only appears on the the right side of the screen. In Game B, he appears on both sides.
Released: September 8, 1981
Chef is a game about this one guy named Chef who dressed like a chef. He is most decidedly not a chef, however, as he has no idea how to cook. Rather than cooking his food on either of the nearby gas ranges, he simply tosses a few pieces of food up in the air, then runs back and forth trying to catch them in his frying pan. When he does, he throws them back up into the air. Why does he do this? BECAUSE HE'S A FUCKING IDIOT, THAT'S WHY. Every so often a cat will attempt to steal his sausage, temporarily preventing it falling. Unfortunately for the pretty little kitty, he will always fail to procure the sausage, and you will have to frantically move Chef over to flip it again before it falls. If Chef drops a piece of food, a mouse grabs it and runs off. Chef receives a miss for this, then he resumes throwing food up in the air for no reason. If Chef gets three misses, the game is over. In Game A, Chef flips three pieces of food: a sausage, a pair of sausage links, and a fish. In Game B, Chef flips a chicken leg as well. Apparently no one told him that's not how you fry chicken.
Game: Mickey Mouse
Released: October 9, 1981
Mickey Mouse has always completely been fucking lame, and Mickey Mouse's first appearance in the Game & Watch series was no exception. Mickey's self-titled handheld excursion finds him trying to collect eggs from a hen house as they roll down chutes. This is a surprisingly accurate representation of Mickey's typical cartoon exploits: the high-pitched little bastard is entrenched in a scenario so mundane that only the most underdeveloped of minds would find it entertaining. Mickey normally receives one full miss for every egg he drops, but if Minnie is present in the top left corner of the screen, he only gets a half miss. As always, the game ends when you receives three full misses. In Game A, the eggs only fall from three chutes. Which three? It's random, and it changes after each miss. In Game B, the eggs fall from from all four chutes.
Released: October 9, 1981
Remember Mickey Mouse, the game I just fucking talked about? If you don't, you have severe problems with your short term memory; seek medical attention. But if you can recall Mickey Mouse, you may notice that Egg is THE EXACT SAME FUCKING GAME. The only differences are that Mickey and Minnie have been replaced with a wolf and a rooster respectively. Apparently Nintendo had some sort of licensing issue with Disney in Australia, so this exclusive variant was created especially for that market. In many ways, Egg is a better game than Mickey Mouse. The Mickey Mouse license does absolutely nothing for this game, and his removal improves the game considerably in some intangible way. Maybe it's because the Wolf's motives seem more sinister than Mickey's. We know for a fact that Mr. Wolf is going to eat those eggs, because he's a fucking wolf. Mickey, on the other hand, is an obnoxious fucking little goody two-shoes, and he's probably just trying to save the unborn baby chickens from abortion by gravity. Actually, I guess that's only one way that Egg is better than Mickey Mouse. Whatever, fuck you. Game A and Game B are exactly the same as they are in Mickey Mouse.
Hey Wait, I Just Thought Of A Second Reason Why Egg Is A Better Game: Unintentional penis jokes.
Released: December 4, 1981
Fire is a remake of a game by the same name from the original Game & Watch series. It features more detailed sprites than its predecessor, as well as static background elements; the ground was not present in the original game, while the building and ambulance were part of LCD display. In this game, you control a pair a firemen with a trampoline who attempt to catch people as they leap from a burning building. Your goal is to prevent them from hitting the pavement and bounce them into a nearby ambulance where they will be treated for smoke inhalation. If you fail to catch a guy, he will land ass first on the pavement, thereby causing his spinal column to shoot upward into his brain and kill him; you will receive a miss for this. After three misses, the firemen skulk away in shame and leave everyone else to die. In Game A, the evacuees all jump from the fourth floor. In Game B, evacuees jump from the third floor as well, giving you less time to react.
Game: Turtle Bridge
Released: February 1, 1982
Unless you're a fucking idiot who's extremely gullible, you've probably figured out that my plot summaries of these games are pretty much bullshit. The reason I haven't given you the official explanations of these games is because they're pretty much bullshit too. These games are all very basic and very straightforward to the point where the storyline is completely irrelevant. Still, that didn't stop Nintendo from writing half-assed plot outlines for these games. Here's what the instruction manual for Turtle Bridge says:
"Tourists attempt to cross a lake, from left bank to right bank, with their baggage by stepping on the backs of turtles."
That description is dumb, and it doesn't even accurately describe the gameplay. The story is more like this: you and your buddy are delivery boys for a local grocery store. One day, you get a call from Smelly Tyrese, a man so named because he lives down in the swamp, asking you to deliver $500 worth of groceries to his house. Smelly Tyrese promises you a $200 tip if you can deliver the supplies quickly, so you and your buddy rush down to the swamp with his grocery order just as quick as you can. When you get there, you discover that Smelly Tyrese has gone batshit crazy. He has destroyed the bridge leading to his house and replaced it with turtles. You and your friend decide that one of you will carry the groceries back and forth and the other person will guard the remaining groceries. After a quick janken match, which you lose, it is decided that you must ferry the groceries across the swamp to Smelly Tyrese. So you grab a parcel of groceries, hold them over your head to keep them dry, and jump across the turtles and deliver Smelly Tyrese's supplies. While you are doing this, the turtles will occasionally dive to catch nearby fish, thus impeding your advancement. If you are standing on a turtle when he dives under, or if you attempt to jump onto a spot without a turtle, the supplies fall into the water and you get a miss; three misses and you lose. Once you have delivered a parcel, you must jump back to the other side of the swamp and get another parcel; Nintendo's description fails to mention this. Nintendo also insists that you play as a group of tourists, which is a goddam fucking lie. There's no animation to suggest that you change characters in between trips, so any rational individual would believe that they're playing as the same damn guy over and over. And if you *are* playing as different guys, Nintendo's story doesn't add up. Why in the fuck would a group of people take turns bringing their baggage to the opposite side of a pond, only to return to the original side? IT DOESN'T MAKE ANY FUCKING SENSE WHATSOEVER! Oh well. In Game A, fish appear on the left and right side of the screen and swim towards the hungry turtles. In Game B, they appear from the center as well; they're also faster.
This amazing simulation of Turtle Bridge is courtesy of Game & Watch Gallery 3 for the Game Boy Color.
Game: Fire Attack
Released: March 26, 1982
They don't make games like this anymore... mostly because someone would complain. Seven months before Custer's Revenge made it uncool to rape and/or kill less civilized cultures, Nintendo released Fire Attack, a fun little game where you take on the role of a lone frontiersman defending his fort from savage Indians with torches. Yes, before political correctness reared its ugly head, the demonization of
damn dirty Injuns Native Americans was wholesome fun for the entire family! Like most of the early pioneers who pushed forth into untamed wilds of the American West, our intrepid hero carries no firearms, only a novelty-sized mallet. This is a 100% accurate depiction of history: the naïve and well-meaning White Man set out one day to explore the American continent with nothing but food and poorly designed carpentry tools, but he was brutally and repeatedly attacked by the violent and evil Red Man; the White Man had no choice but to use guns after that. Unfortunately for you, the gamer, this game takes place in the pre-gun phase of Anglo-Savage relations, so all you get is the mallet. The Indians attack your fortress in two different ways. The lower-ranking Injuns rush at you from the ground, and you must crack open their delicious egg-shaped heads before they light your fort on fire. Meanwhile, Injun chieftains appear on nearby plateaus and toss torches at the roof of your highly flammable base; these too must be deflected before they get too close. If the frontiersman fails to prevent either a torch or an Indian from touching his fort, it will catch fire and he will receive a miss. When three misses have accumulated, the game ends. In Game A, those dirty Injuns only attack you from three directions. Those three directions are random, however, and the game changes it up after each miss. In Game B, the Indians attack from all four directions.
Fun Fact: Nintendo is legendary in the video game industry for their complete lack of balls. When Fire Attack resurfaced in 2002 as part of Game & Watch Gallery 4 on the Game Boy Advance, the Indians were changed into generic attackers. Either release a game unedited, or not at all.
Game: Snoopy Tennis
Released: April 28, 1982
You know, Snoopy kinda sucks. Tennis, on the other hand, completely sucks. Surprisingly though, when you combine Snoopy with tennis, the end result is a rather fun game. That's because Snoopy Tennis isn't so much "tennis" as it is "two assholes with rackets lob balls at you for no good reason". Those two assholes are Charlie Brown and Lucy No-One-Fucking-Cares-What-Her-Last-Name-Is, and you are Snoopy, America's favorite Kraut-killing dog. Charlie Brown is the primary antagonist in this game, and as such, he constantly hits tennis balls towards his canine friend. Snoopy must carefully watch the arc of the balls and adjust his position to one of three tiers and knock the balls away. Normally, the returned balls will fly over Charlie's head, never to be seen again, but every so often Lucy will appear over Charlie and swat the ball back at you again. If she does, you better react quickly; Lucy's returns are twice as fast as Charlie Brown's serves. If Snoopy misses a ball, he throws a fit, quits the game, and briefly goes to sleep; he also gets a miss. If Snoopy gets three misses, Charlie Brown has him put to sleep. In Game B is faster than Game A, and more tennis balls can be onscreen at once.
Fun Fact: A completely unrelated Game Boy Color game was released by Mermaid Studios and Infogrames in 2001. It sucked.
What have we learned today? We've learned that by today's standards, the games in the Game & Watch Wide Screen series are incredibly simple and repetitive. At the time of their release, however, they were not. They were well-crafted handheld devices that offered responsive controls, detailed sprites, and fluid animation, features that were all missing from the awful Tiger and Konami LCD games that followed in later years. Oh yeah, and it was a clock, too. But more importantly, we've learned that Mr. Game & Watch, the so-called mascot of the Game & Watch series who appears in Super Smash Bros. Melee, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and several other games, is a decidely 21st century creation. If you look at the ten games featured above, three of them star licensed characters, one of them stars a half-retarded wolf, and none of them have a protagonist who looks anything like Mr. Game & Watch. In fact, Mr. Game & Watch's design is somewhat of an affront to the spirit of the Game & Watch series. Whereas Mr. Game & Watch is exceedingly generic and nondescript in his design, most Game & Watch protagonists were anything but. Series creator Gunpei Yokoi and his team worked very hard to give each title unique graphics and make each character as distinct as possible despite the limitations of the hardware. The characters in Game & Watch games have distinguishing eyes, mouths, noses, even ears sometimes. The only characters that look anything like Mr. Game & Watch are the NPCs you rescue in Parachute and Fire. It is no small tragedy that Nintendo has paid tribute to its successful handheld franchise by turning the series' most generic sprite into its public face. Nintendo should be ashamed of themselves for doing this. I know I am.
Posted by: Syd Lexia