Classic Game Boy Review: Game & Watch Gallery

Game & Watch Gallery for GBBefore Nintendo was famous with their mustachioed plumber known as Mario, they released little handheld systems called Game & Watch that were hugely successful in Japan as well as the U.S. Each had a single game built into them (you couldn’t change the game that was on it) that used rudimentary graphics on it’s LCD screen, initially black and white, and simple animation (only a very limited number of frames. You could often see the ‘shadow’ where the characters would appear next) to create a simple little game that you could play on the go. The systems also had a clock and alarm, thus the name “Game & Watch”. The games also kept score so you could have fun trying to top your previous point total.

Many different games were released in the Game & Watch series, from original titles like “Fire”, “Octopus”, “Helmet” and “Ball” to versions of popular Nintendo games like Mario Bros., Donkey Kong and The Legend of Zelda. Initially the systems were black and white and single-screen and contained a directional pad or large button that you could press in left, right, up or down to move the character that way, and one or two buttons. And most games contained an A or B mode for easy or harder difficulty (typically it would simply make the game play faster). Later systems though would use wider screen displays or even a two-screened display and clamshell design.

Mr. Game & WatchThe Game & Watch systems were created by Gunpei Yokoi, who would later go on to create Nintendo’s beloved Metroid series (Kid Icarus as well) and design the hugely successful Game Boy handheld as well as the Nintendo Virtual Boy game system (which he was made to resign after it’s failure. Sadly he died in a car accident on October 4th, 1997). The two-screened Game & Watch systems would also become Nintendo’s inspiration for the design of the Nintendo DS, which basically looks like a modern version of the two-screened Game & Watch systems. And the left-handed design of the systems (d-pad on left, buttons on right) would be Nintendo’s inspiration for the NES controller, and would be copied by practically every other successful game system.

But enough history, let’s get into the game! Game & Watch Gallery was released in 1997 in the U.S. and it is a compilation of several original Game & Watch games, as well as modern updates that use characters from the Mario universe, all contained on one Game Boy cartridge. The game also contains a battery back-up so that it will save all your high scores, and features several different unlockables and various modes.

Game & Watch Gallery logo

System: Game Boy
Also On: None
Released: 1997 in the U.S. and Europe. February 1st 1997 in Japan.
Genre: Mini-Game Compilation
Players: Single Player
Save: Automatically saves high scores and unlockables to battery back-up
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Origin: Japan

From the main menu when you fire the game up, you’ll have two options, “Game” and “Gallery”. Gallery takes you to the “Gallery Corner” and it is here that you will be able to unlock goodies with the points you earn in the various Game & Watch Gallery games. You don’t purchase them or anything, they will simply unlock when you have reached a certain point total.

There are 16 unlockable slots (that will originally be Question Marks, but turn to Stars when you’ve unlocked one), 8 for Modern and 8 for Classic Modes. The unlockables are simply information on games in the Game & Watch series, including a brief description and video of the game playing and the date it was released.

Obviously you will select “Game” to take you to the different Game & Watch games that you are available to play in Game & Watch Gallery. Next to each game are number of Stars on the left and right sides. You will gain more Stars depending on how many points you score in a session of that game, and those go towards the Gallery Corner unlockables. There are four games total, with both a Classic and Modern version of each game. The Classic version is the original Game & Watch version of the game, accurately recreated. These feature no music and only the original Game & Watch sound effects and feature the same stilt-like simple animation of the original titles. This means that the animation is done in a certain number of frames . . . so if a character is falling, they will say appear at the top in a certain pose, then vanish and appear in the middle in a certain pose, and then appear at the bottom. But obviously the faster the game is going the more it will actually feel like they are falling. But this rudimentary animation makes the games a lot more challenging than their Modern counterparts in most cases.

In all the games, you will gain points during gameplay. For example, in Fire, you will gain a point everytime one of the people falling touches your trampoline, and everytime they reach the truck at the end. Some games can be more complex though, such as in Octopus, where you will gain more points when you go back to your boat, with the modern version making the amount of points you get at the point dependent on how many coins you collected from the treasure at the bottom. Your initial goal in each game should be to reach at least 100 points. Typically the games will get harder as you get closer to 100, but then slow down as you count upward again towards another 100. Most unlockables will come once you’ve reached 500 points, and you’ll gain a Very Hard version of both Classic and Modern once you reach 1000 points on that game. NOT an easy feat!

In all games you are only allowed three misses before the game is over. Thankfully though, you will usually get a “1-Up” in the form of one miss taken away once you’ve reached a couple hundred points. In the Classic versions the game will just freeze for a second and you’ll see the marker displaying your miss disappear away (only one of them though).

As far as the Modern versions are concerned, they give a complete overhaul graphically and musically while featuring the same basic gameplay as in the classic versions, although these ones can also contain some basic gameplay enhancements. The coolest feature of the modern versions is the fact that they replace the basic “Mr. Game & Watch” faceless character with fully animated (no more stilt animation and simple frames, although this is Game Boy so the animation and graphics are obviously still simple) characters from the Mario universe, including the likes of Mario, Luigi, Toad, Princess Peach, Bowser, Donkey Kong and Yoshi.

Here are the games available to you and a description of both the modern and classic versions as well as my comments on that game in particular:

MANHOLE – Cover up the gaps in the street/bridges with a manhole cover, making sure the people don’t fall through! Do this by moving Mr. Game & Watch or Yoshi using the D-Pad. Pressing up will move you to the top street, pressing down to the bottom. Then you must press left or right to cover the left or right gap as the people cross over. This game can get very hectic on the higher difficulties as people will continuously move across the top and bottom gaps!

* Classic: In Classic Manhole you must move Mr. Game & Watch to either the top or bottom bridge and then to the left or right to cover the gap as the person walks across it. Since the bridge obviously is a one-way street, you will have to be quick because people will walk across the other bridge in the opposite direction. And if you’ve covered the gap on one side as a person walks across, you will surely have to cover the other gap on the side when he reaches it. You can play this with only the D-Pad, but pressing a button will automatically move you to the gap diagonally of where you are.

Manhole Modern Version

* Modern: The Modern version of Manhole is much more complex than the Classic version. In Modern Manhole, you control Yoshi who holds up part of the bridge with his hands on the top, and with his tongue on the bottom. The biggest change is the fact that, instead of simply holding the manhole cover and moving with the manhole cover as you move, the cover actually stays where it is, and will fall once someone steps on it, requiring you to raise it (which is slower than holding it if the cover is already in place) if it has fallen, which takes more time. Which can cause disaster if the gap isn’t already there and a person is about to walk over it and you have to raise it. If you’re not quick enough, the person will fall through!

Comments: Manhole is my least favorite and one of the few where I actually prefer Classic to the more difficult Modern version. The cool thing about Modern Manhole though is how much more complexity is added simply having Yoshi hold them up individually instead of move around with them, and by allowing them to stay there once he’s lifted it and fall once they are stepped on. It really completely changes the dynamic of the gameplay between Classic and Modern.

FIRE – Save people from a burning building as they jump out by bouncing them to safety on the other side to a waiting ambulance. The Modern version features a sort of “Princess in the castle” theme with the castle on fire and the “safety” at the end being a carriage instead of an ambulance.

*Classic: The Classic version of Fire is as simple as you can be. People will leap out of the building on fire and you you have to bounce them to the safety of the ambulance on the other side. You have to move Mr. Game & Watch three spaces and the higher difficulties get much harder when you have to quickly move from one side to the other as you juggle multiple people who are all falling at the same time. Fire is one of my favorites but I love the modern version much better.

Fire Modern Version

*Modern: The Modern version of Fire features Mario & Luigi holding the trampoline (one on each end) and has Toad, Yoshi and Donkey Kong (as well as Starmen and Bob-Ombs) leaping out of Mushroom Castle (who’s top is in flames) and they must be bounced to a waiting carriage at the end. This version is much more complex than the Classic version because each character/object that jumps out of the Castle falls at a different speed! This means that you are CONSTANTLY having to quickly move left and right and often from one end to the other within a split second of the next falling object.

Comments: Fire is easily one of my favorite games simply because the concept of just bouncing people across the screen works so well for this type of simple twitch game. The modern version in particular is insane at the higher levels and speeds, where you’ll be moving your fingers at lightning speed as you juggle multiple people/objects all falling at different speeds in the air at once! It’s extremely nuts and a whole lot of fun. And when you reach that extremely high score (1,000+ points) you’ll feel like the most accomplished person in the world! But it’s also extremely tense, because one small fraction of a second of a mistake and you could be looking at defeat!

OCTOPUS – This is one of the most complex games in Game & Watch Gallery. The concept sees you going from a boat on the surface of the water to the depths of the ocean below to grab treasure from a chest. When in the ocean you need to be careful of the giant Octopus, who will extend it’s four arms out at you, segment by segment. Since each arm is broken up into a certain number of segments, this means you need to keep an eye on each arm as it extends and plan ahead to see where safe spots will be, as each arm comes out at it’s own speed and place. The goal is to collect treasure from the bottom and then go back up to the boat, where you will be rewarded with more points. The Modern version adds lots of modifications to this formula to make it an even deeper game.

Octopus Classic Version

*Classic: The classic mode has you controlling Mr. Game & Watch and moving from the boat above the ocean to the chest below, which takes six moves. On your way you encounter, as described above, four Octopus arms whose segments come and go one by one as the arms extend towards you. You’ve gotta avoid the arms by making sure you don’t move to the space where an arm is when the last segment has appeared, if you do the Octopus will grab you. To grab treasure you must keep pressing the button towards it. Although you could always stay in between arms and move back and force to avoid them, it’s typically more reassuring to rise to the boat the top which is (and the space below it) a safe point where you can’t get attacked. If you surface to the boat you’ll also gain additional points.

*Modern: The Modern update of Octopus has been updated significantly from the Classic version. You control Mario who’s outfitted like a scuba diver, while Peach sits in the boat. One major difference right out the gate is that there is no space between the boat and where the Octopus can grab you with his top arm, so the boat is truly the only safe place in this version. You’ll also notice that the graphics have improved significantly from the Classic version. And it’s not just the graphics, new things have been added. Although the octopus only has four arms just like in the classic version, he can now move his upper arm to one of two spots, right below the boat or one space below that. In addition, collecting treasure has been greatly improved. Pressing the right button when you reach the treasure chest will make Mario start grabbing coins just like before, but now there is more of a risk/reward system as, the more treasure you collect, the more extra points you’ll earn when you take it back to the boat. But the more coins you grab, the heavier Mario will get which will cause him to move much slower, putting you at much greater risk of being grabbed by the octopus than before. However you now have the ability to throw your coins (which will waste all that you’ve collected) at the Octopus to save yourself by pressing the button just as he is about to grab you. This will knock his arm back and give you a chance to either move to a safe spot or back down for more treasure. It also should be noted that you get one point for every coin you grab from the chest, as well as a grip more of points when you reach the boat. Although in another different from the Classic version, the amount of points you get by taking the treasure back up to Peach depends on how many coins you collected from the chest. You can tell if you’ll earn more or less by how slow or fast Mario walks. The slower he is after collecting treasure, the more points you’ll earn.

Comments: Octopus is great because it’s a lot more complex than the other games and takes more skill because you are constantly moving back and forth between the octopus arms trying to find a safe space; thus having to think ahead. And in the modern version the risk/reward aspect greatly enhances the fun and strategy of the game. Do you want to collect only a small amount of coins from the chest and then go to the boat to collect a small reward? Which means you’ll have to make more trips back down to the chest. Or do you want to stay and collect more coins for a ton more points when you reach the boat, but at the risk of dying because you’re moving too slowly? It’s a great dynamic and it makes Octopus a really fun game.

OIL PANIC – In this game the screen is split into two parts and takes place in a two story gas station. The top screen shows Mr. Game & Watch inside the station where oil is dripping from the roof! You are holding a can and must collecting the dripping oil drops (which will fill the can three drops high, you can see the lines form in the can when a drop falls in). If the oil goes over three high then it will spill and you’ll lose a life. The bottom screen has a guy who walks back and forth from one side to the other. The goal of the game is to collect as much oil as you can and then you move to either side of the top screen where you will peek out the side and drop the oil to the guy below. There are three spaces you can move on the top floor where oil drips, then more more space to the right or left side where Mr. Game & Watch will hang out the side window. You must then press the button once more for him to drop the oil below. Be careful however, not only will you lose if the oil spills over, but you’ll also lose if you dump the oil out the window when the guy below isn’t directly under you. Which makes this game more complex than the others.

*Classic: The Classic version of Oil Panic is exactly as described above. The graphics are very simple as per usual, but they are a bit more complex due to the dual screen nature of this game and the fact that you see two cars parked out front of the gas station with two other people standing there.

Oil Panic Modern Version

*Modern: The Modern version of Oil Panic has been upgraded very nice. You control Mario who now holds a can in both his left and right hands, allowing you to catch oil on either side of you and hold twice as much. Pressing a button will even make Mario flip, allowing you to further control which can you want to fill. Instead of the place simply dripping oil, you know have Bowser on top doing the dirty work, as he pours oil into the “castle”, and Yoshi is the one below you catching the oil when you drop it out the side. One of the cool new features of this version is the fact that Yoshi will actually use his tongue to catch the oil if you drop it when he hasn’t quite reached the end. You should still be careful though and only drop it when he has reached the end if you can. Nice graphical touches include the fact that after dropping the oil into Yoshi’s mouth, he’ll blow it out as fire. As well as the fact that if you drop the oil when Yoshi isn’t below you, it’ll land on-top of either Luigi or Donkey Kong Jr., who will both see red if done so (quite literally, wouldn’t YOU if someone dropped hot burning oil on top of you?).

Comments: Oil Panic is one of my favorites. It amazes me how complex yet simple some of these games can be, and Oil Panic is a prime example. The game also gets quite difficult on harder difficulties when up to three drops of oil can be dripping from the ceiling at the same time. I actually really enjoy both the Classic and Modern versions of Oil Panic.

All in all, Game & Watch Gallery is a really fun game if you are into simple mini-game style games where the goal is simply to beat your high score, although it’s definitely a plus that the game does contain unlockables (even if it’s just a simple history) as well as the unlockable “Very Hard” difficulty setting if you get over 1,000 points in any one game, as it really gives you a goal and motivates you to try again and again for those higher scores.

Game & Watch Gallery is also a perfect game to play in short bursts (or even for longer periods which you WILL find yourself doing, it’s definitely as addicting as any puzzle game) since you can simply whip it out and play for a bit to try and increase your score, then turn it off. The reason you can turn it off is because the game even has an “Interrupt Save” feature which means that you can pause it while playing a game, and turn the system off, and when you turn it back on it’ll let you resume the game you were playing. Very nice indeed.

It’s really the perfect Game Boy game, whose only issue is the fact that the game only contains four games for you to play. The sequels to Game & Watch Gallery (2 and 3 on Game Boy and Game Boy Color, and part 4 on Game Boy Advance) contain a lot more than four games, so if you come across one of them you may want to pick them up over the first one (I also plan on reviewing the sequels). But either way, you can’t go wrong with Game & Watch Gallery on the Game Boy, it’s an excellent and fun game and will suit your gaming needs wherever you may be.

Now let’s hope that Nintendo makes a DS version of Game & Watch Gallery, which would only make sense due to Mr. Game & Watch’s appearances in Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Brawl which has made him a well known and liked character. Plus the dual-screened nature of the DS fits this series perfectly. Especially given the fact that it was Game & Watch that inspired the design of the DS!

Game & Watch Gallery is fun, fun, fun. The games are all excellently designed, especially the Modern versions, and even though there are only four games to keep you occupied, you’ll definitely find one game that really catches your interest and one that you can’t stop playing. A game that is perfectly suited to the Game Boy.

Graphics: 8.0
The Classic versions look like exact carbon copies of the real deal, while the Modern versions are upgraded very nicely.

Sound & Music: 8.0
The Classic versions sound exactly as they should, with only noise and no background music, while each of the Modern versions has their own soundtrack, in addition to unique music for the menu screens. It’s too bad this version doesn’t have a Music Box like the other versions.

Ingenuity: 7.5
Although it doesn’t take much thinking to create a compilation of older games, this is done about as well as you could want. Particularly when you factor in the Modern versions which Nintendo really took some thought in upgrading very nicely and not only graphically but by even adding extra functionality to make them truly unique. It’s a surprise that this wasn’t done sooner, and that Nintendo has kept this series confined to handheld, where it certainly fits perfectly, but it’d be interesting to see a Wii version or even to have the individual Classic and Modern versions released on the Virtual Console or WiiWare. There’s also a ton of Game & Watch games that have yet to receive the modern treatment, and that’s a shame.

Replay Value: 9.5
High scores, high scores, high scores! As long as the game grabs your attention, then it’ll definitely keep you playing and playing. You’ll never want to stop. Believe me. And you’ll definitely be compelled to try and hit those higher scores due to the fact that it’ll unlock stuff in the Gallery Corner as well as the Very Hard difficulty setting. A setting which is INSANE and only the best will be able to get high scores in that.