Does this look familiar to anyone? If it does, we can totally be palsies and claim that we really aren’t that old over shots of tequila . (If it doesn’t we can still be friends and I won’t hold your youth against you.)
This Donkey Kong Jr. Game & Watch might just be my first true gaming memory, like from grade school. Like from my TRS-80 days before we got our cobbled-together Atari 7800. It arrived in one of those magical Christmas packages from my uncle, the ones that contained any number of unusual tech toys along with things like hairbrushes, socks, and bins of caramel popcorn. So when I saw that shrink-wrapped, teal blue Game & Watch fall out of that package Christmas morning, I knew it was meant for me! (And my siblings were pretty young at the time so, definitely, it was for me!)
Game & Watch’s were early portable games made by Nintendo throughout the 1980s. (Up until they came up with something called the Game…Child? Little Kid? Something like that.) Game & Watch’s featured black and white LCD screens with static, colored overlays. And they each played a single game; though some had two variations of that game (“Game A” and “Game B”). They were kind of a big deal in my school, and I remember seeing plenty of other kids with them. Some had single screens. Others had two screens and looked much like the DS (history repeating). Still others were configured like tabletop “arcade” games. But no matter the size or type, Donkey Kong Jr. Game & Watch was my Game & Watch.
From YouTube user FuzzyMemoriesTV.
Donkey Kong Jr., the arcade game, told the simple and heartfelt story of an imprisoned ape and his son who was determined to set him free. And who was the dastardly villain responsible for the capture of Donkey Kong? Why none other than that supposedly loveable scamp of a plumber — Mario! (Hmm. I guess we all have a few skeletons in the closet, no?) And mean ol’ Mario did not make it easy for Donkey Kong Jr. to save his father. Between DK Jr. and the keys that opened DK Sr.’s cage lied a series stages that involved vines. DK Jr. had to maneuver up and down a series of vines in different configurations. While on and around the vines were power-ups and such, they also contained Snapjaws — awful trap-like creatures with deadly bites. While some simply traversed down vines and fell into oblivion, others viciously guarded their vines. There were other enemies also, like an erratic bird that made DK Jr.’s life perfectly miserable.
The Game & Watch version of DK Jr. essentially told the same story except, obviously, without all the bells and whistles of a full-scale arcade game. There were still vines and Snapjaws and stupid birds and powers-up, none of which were terribly dynamic on the little LCD screen. As you moved DK Jr. across the screen, he appeared in any set number of configurations. The enemies sped up with each new level, making the game more difficult as it went on.
I didn’t go into Game & Watch DK Jr. with any grand ambitions of defeating all (how many?) levels, but I did play the game…a lot. Like my phone and iPod are now, this little game was my tether to mobile entertainment. I played it at home when I should have been doing homework. I begged my Mom to carry it to our dentist’s office so I could play it while waiting. I snuck it over to family dinners and quietly crept away during dessert to play. I even brought it to church…once…and then had the thing taken away for for a week. (That was a sucky week.) And of course I took it to school and played it on the bus and during recess. Even had a kid offer to trade me his Snoopy Tennis Game & Watch for DK Jr., and I was like “aw, hells no!” but probably more like “ew, go away you stupid, gross boy!”
My love of the Game & Watch quickly faded once I really got into computers and the Atari, but I kept the little device nonetheless. Years later, I dug it out of my closet during a house-wide spring cleaning/yard sale event. Safely stashed away in a little box, it was still bright teal with its static colors when I found it, though its batteries were long dead. I didn’t really want it, but I couldn’t help scrounging up some new batteries (or rather, pilfering them from my school calculator) to see if the thing still worked. Sure enough, with fresh batteries, it bleeped to life. A few of the pixels had died, so DK Jr. was a tad incomplete, but he still scampered across the screen. I managed to make it through a couple levels before calling it quits. It was a fun if brief moment of nostalgia. And maybe, I thought, it’d make some (little) kid (with no knowledge of Nintendo) really happy. It ended up in the yard sale, with the batteries that I had forgotten to take out. Made the next day’s algebra class pretty difficult.