May 13, 2014

The History of Nintendo - Vol. 2

1980 - 1991: The Game & Watch games, an amazing invention

[Note: If you're thinking of purchasing this book, read this post first.]

This book picks up right where Volume 1 left off, and is just as in-depth and well-researched. The main focus, obviously, is on the Game & Watch series. It covers all ten series (Silver, Gold, Wide Screen, etc.), as well as selected collectable models. Scattered throughout, you'll also find small bits of trivia and homages from over the years.

However, the highlight has to be the first fifty pages, which cover the inception of the Game & Watch and a look inside the mind of Gunpei Yokoi. For those who aren't aware, Yokoi is one of the major reasons Nintendo exists in its present form. His philosophy is one that Nintendo follows to this day, and he is basically revered as a god by many in the industry. Sadly, he died in 1997. Apart from his inventiveness and ingenuity on the toy and hardware front, he was also involved in a lot of software too. If you like Metroid, Kid Icarus, Dr. Mario, Super Mario Land, or the Game Boy, you can thank him. Oh, and he invented the D-Pad, too. Just a small addition to the industry of video games. Hopefully, if Pix'n Love Publishing gets its act together, we might actually get a dedicated book on his life. But I'm not holding my breath.

This opening section pulls excerpts from Yokoi's actual published book (sadly only available in Japanese), but even reading a Japanese to French to English translation is fascinating. He details the origins of the Game & Watch idea, as well as the seemingly luck-based decisions that led to its eventual creation and unexpected explosion of success. The man was incredible. In order to transform the Game & Watch from an idea to an actual product, he literally had to invent things along the way in order to reach the final result. If someone told him some aspect wasn't possible, he'd invent something that made it possible. There are also interviews with Hirokazu Tanaka discussing the team, mindset, and process of the Game & Watch period, as well as why it triumphed over so many copycats. It is an unbelievably candid look inside Nintendo at one of its most important eras.

On a side note, I am insanely impressed with Hirokazu Tanaka. I knew he was a big name in the industry, and very good at what he did, I just didn't realize how much he was involved throughout gaming history.

The ten series of Game & Watch are:

  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Wide Screen
  • New Wide Screen
  • Multi Screen
  • Color Screen/Table Top
  • Panorama Screen
  • Super Color
  • Micro vs. System
  • Crystal Screen

Each series has its own section in the book, where each Game & Watch in that series is presented. There is a main chunk of text, product, packaging, variant photos, original price, release date, rarity, and several trivia facts about each one.

Scattered throughout the book are pages covering things such as Game & Watch myths, appearances in popular media, TV spots, online Game & Watch simulators, and whether or not the Game & Watch was truly the first game of its kind. The Mini Classics series is also briefly explored.

The next major section is focused on collecting the Game & Watch. It provides answers to general questions (e.g. Where do I find Game & Watch games? Which models are rarest?), as well as a list of serial numbers. It's also a nice touch that the serial numbers are explained. For example, the Silver series game "Vermin" has the serial number MT-03, because Mogura Tataki roughly translates to "whack moles." Finding these things out really shows just how much Gorges and Yamazaki care about their topic.

Gorges provides around twenty of the most sought after games by collectors, with descriptions of each and why they're so collectable. He also showcases some "fake" games made by Game & Watch enthusiasts. This includes fake boxes, actual models, and things like a DS modded to look like a Game & Watch.

There's also a pretty detailed localization section, in which the author lists several countries and their variants of Game & Watch games. He also covers more TV spots, physical advertisements, and merchandise (including those insanely awesome Banpresto figures that came out about ten years ago). Bootleg and competition LCD games (e.g. Bandai, Epoch, Casio) are briefly investigated as well.

The final section covers Game & Watch tributes. Things like the Game & Watch Gallery series for Game Boy, Club Nintendo rewards, e-Reader cards, WarioWare mini-games, Ball appearing in the Game Boy Camera, and of course Mr. Game & Watch in the Super Smash Bros. series.

Overall a brilliant read. Like the first volume, it has lots of full-color photos, high quality pages, superb layout/design, and the plastic wraparound sleeve. And in case you hadn't caught it, the cover is not a picture of an actual Game & Watch model, but rather a clever "G&W Factory" game, complete with box, manual, inserts, and batteries. Too cool!

I purchased this book as soon as it was released. But upon searching online now, I find that it is shockingly expensive (≈$100 minimum!). Unfortunately, Gorges has stated that the English translations have not been selling as well as they'd hoped. Volume 3 (focusing on the NES/Famicom) is already translated, but it's unlikely it will ever be printed and released. Low sales are possibly the reason why none of the other Pix'n Love books have been released in English. There's no way to know for sure, because Pix'n Love has already proven that they evade communication with paying customers. Gorges himself was actually an employee of Pix'n Love originally, in the trenches with the rest of them, but he has since left. I would probably leave too if my co-workers/founders were wholly incompetent and consistently dodged responsibility. What a shame.

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