Nintendo Game & Watch collecting for the beginner

So addictive. Just need one more hit. Just one. We’ll give you the $200, just give us some. Now. We’re talking of course, about Game & Watch handhelds. James Matson gives some tips to the beginner wanting to collect these crazy fun and often crazy expensive pieces of Nintendo history

If ever a brave soul decided to put together a definitive list of the most highly collectible retro gaming gear ever made, Nintendo Game & Watches would have to feature at least in the top 5, if not at the very top.   With 60 unique handheld game units released since 1980, these critters mix brand recognition, evocation of childhood memory and simple addictive fun with absolute perfection.

It comes as absolutely no surprise that the growing market for ‘retro’ gaming stuff has seen Nintendo Game & Watch handhelds  increase in demand and as a result, cost.  That means for the person who wants to start a collection, (or simply wants to own a Game & Watch to play and enjoy) it can be borderline intimidating trying to a handle on the prices, availability and key things to consider.

Fortunately, that’s what you pay us for. Well, you don’t really pay us. Not in money anyway. We prefer to subsist on your fervent loyalty and adoration and yes, the occasional gift of a Goat.

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Anyway, the first question you have to ask yourself, is why are you collecting Game & Watches? Understand whether you just want to track down that elusive Oil Panic from your childhood so you can thrash out a few rounds, collect a handful for fun, or whether you’re looking to own every last one of them. Understanding your own motives will dictate what kind of Game & Watch you’re looking for and more importantly, what condition it needs to be in.  We’re going to wager that if you’re reading this guide, you’re not  hardcore collector (who would already know all of this) so we’ve tailored our help to find you a Game & Watch cheaply.

Game & Watch units are very price sensitive to damage.  If there are scratches, scuffs or other since of damage on the unit, it will likely drop the price substantially, even though the game is completely playable.  If you’re just looking for a unit to play with this puts you in a pretty good position to hunt down a functional – if a little battle weary – Game & Watch and save yourself 20% – 50% of the cost.  In particular, try to find a unit that has a missing or replacement (not original) battery cover. Game & Watches are notorious for not remaining paired to their battery covers over the years, and as units without an original cover (or cover at all) are considered less desirable for a collector, you can steal them away at a bargain price.

You can usually tell a mile away if the Game & Watch doesn’t have the original battery cover, as the cover color is either white, or simply not well matched to the rest of the unit. Remember if you spot any of these battery cover irregularities, bargain, bargain bargain! If the battery cover is missing completely, no biggie – a bit of sticky tape or similar will hold those batteries in place (yes, we can hear all the purist collectors groaning in unison. Settle down kids).

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When hunting down  a Game & Watch you should also try wherever possible to avoid eBay.  Yes, eBay is a constant and reliable source of all things retro, but prices on the worlds biggest auction site can sit anywhere from ‘inflated’ to ‘designed by crack addicts fond of injecting methylated spirits into their belly buttons’.  Try to check out local garage sales, trash & treasure markets etc before going down the eBay road.  It’s fine if you find one for the right price, but try not to let eBay dictate what you expect to pay.  For the sake of having a benchmark available, at the time of writing this article, these are what we’d consider reasonable prices for some types of Game & Watch

  • Multi-Screen, poor condition, unit only – working. $50 – $70
  • Multi-Screen, poor condition, unit only, popular game (Zelda, Mario Bros) – working $70 – $80
  • Multi-Screen, excellent condition, unit + box – working $100 – $120
  • Multi-Screen, excellent condition, unit + box, popular game (Zelda, Mario Bros) – working $100 – $150
  • Single screen, poor condition, unit only – working $40
  • Single screen, excellent condition, unit only – working $50 – $70
  • Single screen, excellent condition, unit + box – working $70 – $90
The above prices are in AUD, and are subject to all kinds of case-by-case exceptions, but it’s a nice rule of thumb to have.  If you’re not fussed about the kind of Game & Watch you have (you just want to own one to play) try to avoid games like Zelda, the Donkey Kong series etc.  These are highly popular, highly sought after and therefore have a price to match.  Same goes for the exotic models like ‘Crystal Screen’ or ‘Super Color’ which go for insane prices. Grab a standard common single screen game like Fire, or a less popular Multi-screen like Blackjack (which in our humble opinion is actually one of the most fun and attractive looking units in the series).
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If you like the idea of keeping your Game & Watches in boxes, but can’t afford the coin to buy the real deal, it’s worth noting there have been ‘repo’ (reproduction) boxes pop up cheaply on places like eBay from time to time. Now, we’re not going to get into a moral argument about how reproduction boxes can be used to fool people or scam the ardent collector, it’s simply worth noting that the option is out there for the G&W collector on a tight budget.  We know you’d never use a repo box for evil. Because we’re watching, and if you did, we’d tell Daz where you live.
Speaking of reproductions and the like, it’s also important that you study any online sale of a Game & Watch carefully to make sure the game itself is the real deal. While we haven’t heard any reports of reproduction units, there have been plenty of G&W clones or similarly designed handhelds released from the 80s onwards to cash in on Nintendo’s fame, and no shortage of people willing to advertise them as Nintendo.  You don’t want to buy what you think is the Nintendo Game & Watch ‘Tropical Fish’, only for it to arrive and you realise it’s the Russian knock-off ‘Chernobyl Three Headed Fish”.
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Lastly, once you’ve broken the seal and scored your first Game & Watch, as a protective measure make sure you leave the batteries in the unit only when required. If it’s just going to sit in the box or on the shelf for an extended period of time, pop the batteries out – if you don’t, you risk them leaking into the unit and damaging it or rendering it useless.  You have been warned.

Happy hunting!