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History of Game & Watch Super Mario Bros.: An important reminder of Nintendo's small beginnings

Game And Watch Hero
Game And Watch Hero (Image credit: Rebecca Spear/ iMore)

As part of the Super Mario Bros 35th Anniversary celebration, Nintendo recently released the Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. system. I was super eager to acquire it the moment it was announced given the history behind this little device. When I went to pick up my order, the cashier turned it over in his hands and remarked, "What is this?" As if to say that he couldn't understand why I was purchasing something this ridiculous. It had never occured to me that someone might not know what the importance behind this classic remake might be.

Before I could stop myself, I launched into a quick explaination about how it was a replica of the first Nintendo gaming system to ever release in the UK and US. I felt like this was super important information. But, he just shrugged, rang up my order, and I left feeling a little hollow. If you're unaware of the Game & Watch's importance when it comes to bringing Nintendo gaming to the rest of the world, I'm here to help you out.

History of Game & Watch: The lie that started it all

Nintendo Logo

Nintendo Logo (Image credit: Nintendo)

The Game & Watch system was Nintendo's very first handheld gaming system and originally released only in Japan in 1980. If it wasn't for an enormous lie, Nintendo might not have come to the rest of the world.

Last year, Joe Skrebels of IGN wrote an amazing piece about how back in 1981 a young Swedish business man by the name of Owe Bergsten told a lie that allowed him to bring Nintendo's Game & Watch outside of Japan for the first time and marketed it to UK markets. Basically, the short version is that he told Nintendo that he was a largely successful business owner when really he only owned a small radio shop.

After convincing Nintendo to trust him with the Swedish distribution of the Game & Watch, he initially had a hard time selling the product to shops in his home country of Sweden. But he could tell that consumers themselves were interested in the product and knew that if he could just find the right seller, they'd take off.

"When you put it in the hands of a consumer, I mean you really understood how good it was. The problem was the dealers, they were not interested. So they were the middle man who originally stopped the success." - Owe Bergsten

Finally, he found a small watch retailer who also believed that the Game & Watch would be of interest to consumers and that Christmas the devices really became a hot item. In fact Bergsten states that in the first three months of 1982 the company sold 180,000 units a month.

In the years after that, Bergsten found more and more sellers in other countries and was able to broaden his distribution umbrella until Nintendo became a household name around the world. Nintendo earned much more money than it had before and continued to grow as well. So you see, it's thanks to this simple gaming device that we even have the Nintendo Switch today. This also makes it the perfect way to celebrate Mario's 35th anniversay since we might not have known about this popular plumber were it not for the Game & Watch's success, which bolstered Nintendo as a gaming company.

How the Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. compares to the original

Game And Watch Side

Game And Watch Side (Image credit: Rebecca Spear/ iMore)

The original Game & Watch devices only offered one game and also served as a clock. Meanwhile, the newest Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. system features three games: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, and Ball. The last of which, features Mario's head rather than the classic Ball guy's head. Plus, it employs a vibrant full-color LCD screen instead of the original's black on grey display.

When I'm not playing mine, I have it set up on my computer desk and functioning like a clock. Mario runs past the screen dodging Goombas and entering pipes in all of his 8-bit glory. Instead of relying on batteries, this newer version features a USB-C port with a battery that can last for eight hours.

Should you buy Game & Watch as a Christmas present?

Christmas Present

Christmas Present (Image credit: Pixabay)

If you're Christmas shopping for a Nintendo enthusiast, obviously you'll want to take a look at the best Nintendo Switch games that have released so far. But to get them something extra special, you really ought to consider this retro gaming system. It can easily slip in your pocket or purse when you want to take it with you on the go. Plus, those classic Mario games are sure to keep them entertained. Or if they're more of a collector, they can simply set the Game & Watch up on display somewhere in their house. It definitely makes for a great gift.

Just be warned that it is incredibly hard to find in stock right now. So if you see it, you should jump on it.

Rebecca Spear
Gaming Editor

Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.