Retro Video Game Finds V

by Salvatore Pane

Guys. Guys, guys, guys! I’d like to tell you a story. In 1989, my parents took me to Sugarman’s department store in Enyon, Pennsylvania. This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence. My mother was addicted to shopping, and Sugarman’s–which would later house a flea market where I would find so many of my retro game finds–was conveniently located just down the block from one of her other favorite haunts, the Burlington Coat Factory. The day in question, however, was unlike the rest. While my mom looked at jewelry, I wandered around the watch section and saw under glass something that blew me away: miniature Nintendo games.

You have to remember. This was pre-Game Boy. The sheer notion of playing a video game on the go was inconceivable to me. But there in the Sugarman’s were a handful of official Nintendo Game and Watches. They weren’t really watches. They more closely resembled the Nintendo DS or Game Boy Advance, a tiny LCD screen with a d pad and buttons on either side. These, however, only had one game built in. You couldn’t swap them out. They also had little stands in the back. They all had digital clock features, so you actually stand them up and use them as tiny clocks.

I still so vividly remember the three they had on display: Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., and Legend of Zelda. I knew their full fledged counterparts on the Nintendo Entertainment System well, and even though these Game and Watch versions were pale, watered down imitations, I was still utterly stunned that such magical devices existed. Of course, I wanted one. But the time and price point were off. A single Game and Watch cost almost as much as a new NES game, and although I didn’t know it then, Sugarman’s and Nintendo were about to put all of their Game and Watches on clearance. Then they were gone for good. The Game Boy was released later that year, and the moment I got a hold of that, I forgot all about the comparatively primitive Game and Watch.

Flash forward to 2004, when I began collecting Nintendo games. I had no idea that Game and Watches had become rare, incredibly sought over collectibles in the Nintendo community. I didn’t even see another one until this past year. I saw two at Exchange retail stores for $75 and $50. One was Donkey Kong Jr, the other Submarine, neither of which I particularly wanted. I also found it difficult to justify that much money when I often balk at paying more than $10 on a single NES cartridge. But then, yesterday, while I was sick in bed watching the Dolphins get mutilated by the Texans, I cruised over to Craig’s List and found an ad for a Super Mario Bros. Game and Watch for only $25, a very reasonable asking price considering it was missing the batteries. Reader, I contacted the seller and met him two hours later at a Wendy’s. He threw in a Nintendo 64 lunch pail–now I have something to bring to work–and I went to radio shack and picked up the batteries. Playing this thing… it’s the best feeling you can get from retro gaming. It immediately, if only momentarily, brings me right back to that little kid in Sugarman’s utterly mystified and entertained, no cynicism, no worries. It’s just pure, simple pleasure. What could be better than that?