Game & Watch Super Mario Bros review: Retro double trouble

  • Vintage gaming goodness
  • Game & Watch's small screen looks pretty good
  • A nice collector's item for retro gamers
  • Probably lacks lasting appeal for many modern gamers
  • Small display size takes getting used to
  • Likely to be sold out everywhere because it's a time-limited product

I must admit, the Game & Watch was a little before my time. By the time I was old enough to play games, the NES had already brought the games industry back from the brink and we were at the dawn of the SNES/Sega Genesis era. While the Game & Watch is something that I've never really known, I'm someone who played a lot of Tiger electronic handhelds back in the day, so at least I can appreciate the appeal and novelty of the Game & Watch if nothing else.

If you're in a similar boat – either you were alive when Game & Watch handhelds were everywhere or you played those awful Tiger games – you probably get the concept behind the Game & Watch Super Mario Bros Edition. Even if you lack the bona fides of millennials like me and our fellow Gen X geriatrics, you still probably get it.

Anyway, whether you're a newcomer or a grizzled Game & Watch veteran, Nintendo would like you to buy its new Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. It's like the Game & Watches from the 80s, but new (and also still old).

Instead of the simple games we're used to seeing on Game & Watch handhelds, this one comes packed with full versions of Super Mario Bros and Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels, a game that's otherwise known as Super Mario Bros 2 in Japan and one that didn't make its way to North American shores until the mid-90s because Nintendo thought it would be too difficult for us Americans. Just as you've heard that that little fact about Super Mario Bros 2 hundreds of times in the past, you've likely already played these games hundreds of times in the past as well.

If you want to replicate the classic Game & Watch feel, you've also got a special Mario-themed version of Ball on this device, along with a clock that uses assets from Super Mario Bros and The Lost Levels. That's about it as far as games and bonuses go, but it is worth noting that the Game & Watch has a speaker on its left side that sounds pretty good considering how small it is. The handheld can also be charged via USB-C, which is always nice to see.

It's a charming little device and there's actually some novelty to playing Super Mario Bros or The Lost Levels on a screen this small, despite the fact that we've been playing both games for decades at this point. The display is bright, colorful, and sharp (especially since it's so small), complementing the retro graphics of these games nicely. With that said, the screen's small size can make it difficult to see what's going on sometimes, which means you'll be running Mario into enemies or pits until you adjust to the tiny display.

I also think it can't be understated just how small this Game & Watch is. With dimensions of 112mm long x 67mm tall x 12.5mm deep, the footprint of this Game & Watch is actually surprisingly close to that of the iPhone 4s, and that was not a big phone. The difference, of course, is that the display on the iPhone 4s was 3.5 inches. My quick and dirty measurement of the Game & Watch's display shows a diagonal size of 2.5 inches, so this is a small screen indeed.

Is this Game & Watch device the ideal way to play either of these Super Mario Bros games? No, it isn't. The buttons feel good for the most part, but they're also relics of the past. The games look great and are as good as they've always been, but I think I'd rather sit down in front of a TV to play them.

At the end of the day, Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros is a novelty. It's a collector's item that will appeal to those who remember the heyday of the Game & Watch or just love Nintendo products. I don't think it's meant to be something you play frequently – it's meant to celebrate the history of the Game & Watch and the history of Mario.

Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros does what it sets out to do well enough, but as I said, I think this is more a collector's item than it is something for gamers. Obviously, don't let me stop you if you want to pick up one so you have Super Mario Bros on hand at all times, but I get the feeling that most of these will remain sealed in their boxes as Nintendo collectors hope to resell them for a much higher price in 5, 10, or 20 years.

Whether or not there will be demand for this item complete-in-box at some point in the future is unknown, but I guarantee that people are willing to sit on them because of the simple fact that this is another time-limited item in Nintendo's product lineup for Mario's 35th anniversary. Like Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Super Mario Bros 35, the Game & Watch Super Mario Edition will disappear from store shelves on March 31st, 2021, so consumers interested in buying one of these only have a few months to do so.

The fact that Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a time-limited product was particularly disappointing for me, but here I think it's more okay since this is something that's ultimately going to have a limited appeal. This is, first and foremost, a product for retro gamers who have a soft spot for both the Game & Watch and the first two Super Mario Bros games. While Super Mario Bros is one of the most popular games of all time, there's only a certain segment of the playerbase that's going to see the appeal of playing it on a Game & Watch – I would assume that most people would rather play it on a retro setup they have at home or on a modern platform like the Switch.

Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros verdict

So, is this special edition Game & Watch worth it? If you're a Nintendo or Mario collector or a big Game & Watch fan, then yes, I think it's worth picking up. As a tribute of the past, this is a great little handheld. With that said, at $50, only those who either really like retro gaming or have an appreciation for vintage gaming hardware should buy one of these because for many modern gamers, I think the novelty of this product will wear off quickly.