From Game & Watch to Game Watches [How Nintendo Put Zelda, Mario Bros. & Tetris on Your Wrist]

Game & Watch Designer Gunpei Yokoi Envisions Video Game Wrist Watches

Back in the 70’s and 80’s computers were getting smaller—and quick. Technology was shrinking thanks to the miniaturization afforded by transistors and reductions in the manufacturing costs for integrated circuits. By 1980, technology was ripe for Gunpei Yokoi, a young employee at Nintendo, to take advantage of it. At the time, Nintendo was still fresh to the video game market, having only entered it in 1977 with the company’s first console, Color TV-Game.  Inspired by the sight of someone playing with a handheld calculator, Yokoi got the inspiration for Nintendo’s first line of handheld video games, the Game & Watch. 

The Game & Watch is Released

The first game in the Game & Watch series was Ball, released on April 28, 1980. The Game & Watch was aptly named due to it being both an LCD game and timekeeping device. Yokoi and Satoru Okada, the former general manager of Nintendo Research & Engineering, worked together to develop the handheld system. From the very beginning, they imagined the possibility of incorporating the technology in the form of a wristwatch. 

According to the patent application filed by Yokoi and Okada on April 28th 1980,  they proposed the Game & Watch to be “a timepiece apparatus having a digital display for displaying the current time information in a digital manner” that “may be incorporated in a clock, a wristwatch and so on”. 

The Competition Beats Nintendo to the Punch

A year later, Jay Smith of Smith Engineering/Western Technologies cited Nintendo’s patent in their own patent application for a video game wristwatch. Smith, Gerry Karr, and Tom Sloper all worked to bring LCD technology to wristwatches in the way that Nintendo had originally envisioned. According to Sloper, he had the assignment of creating a “game display that was capable of multiple games (this being our line’s main selling point over the competition, Nintendo’s Time Out line — later called Game & Watch)”.

Nintendo Develops Watches Inspired by Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and More

(Photo credit: Imgur user Joeyblaze)

It wasn’t until 1989 that Yokoi’s vision for a Nintendo video game wrist watch would become a reality. Thanks to a licencing deal with watch manufacturer Nelsonic, a Super Mario Bros. inspired watch with a Game & Watch style LCD game was brought to the market. From then on, further watches inspired by popular Nintendo titles continued to be produced into the 90:

Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario World

Star Fox

The Legend of Zelda

Donkey Kong


Game & Watch Makes a Comeback

As of 2020, Nintendo has begun releasing updated versions of their classic Game Watch series. The first two to be released have feature The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros.

Note: Originally posted on Retro Informer

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