Nintendo programmer Gunpei Yokoi first concieved of the idea of a handheld gaming device in 1979 when he saw a fellow train commuter using a calculator. The Game & Watch would be programmed the same way as a calculator, using liquid crystal display for the imagery in all of its games.
First released in 1980, a year before Donkey Kong was released, the Game & Watch series had over 50 different games, and since they didn’t have interchangeable cartridges, each Game & Watch device was unique.
The first Game & Watch was called Ball, a juggling game in which you tried to keep several balls in the air without dropping them (a fitting debut because “juggling” is a common theme in the Game & Watch series, such as in Fire, in which you must catch all the fire victims jumping out of a burning building, and in Chef, in which you must avoid dropping food).
Ball employed a single screen and two buttons to play, but other Game & Watch models would evolve into more complex designs, including one with a plus-shaped control pad, a Yokoi touch that has become the standard on all video game controllers since.
There were widescreen versions, multi-screen versions, panorama, tabletop, silver editions, gold editions, and others.
Games in the series included Flagman (a memory game), Helmet (avoid the falling objects), Octopus (collect underwater treasure while avoiding tentacles), and many starring Mario, Donkey Kong and other Nintendo characters, not to mention Popeye, Snoopy and Mickey Mouse.
As the name suggests, the Game & Watch also substituted as a clock, and it could even be set as an alarm. Before everyone’s Playstation doubled as DVD players, the Game & Watch was the original double-threat gaming device.
Game & Watch was discontinued in 1991 due to the popularity of Gameboy, but its legacy has lived on through a series of Gameboy games titled the Game & Watch Gallery series, which features a collection of Game & Watch games reenacted by Mario characters, as well as the original versions.
I have never held a Game & Watch before, but thanks to Game & Watch Gallery I have played many of those games. Although the unique way I first learned of the existence of this series can be attributed to Mr. Game & Watch, an original character from the Nintendo fighting game Super Smash Bros. Melee. I think I spoke for a lot of kids in 2001 when I first saw him as a playable character in that game: “Who?”