Watara Supervision

Seemingly unable to count up to 50 shades of grey, James Matson seems content to settle for 4 shades instead.

The Nintendo Game Boy might seem like a bit of an unwieldy brick nowadays, but back in its prime it was THE handheld device.  Say what you like about the traditional handheld being all but dead in modern times thanks to the dominance of mobile phones as gaming platforms, the fact was that back in the 90s the Game Boy ruled them all.

For a while anyway.

Of course, the monochrome wonder wasn’t exactly cheap, nor were the accompanying games. So what were the poorer folk – the street urchins and chimney sweepers of the 1990s – to do if they wanted a handheld gaming fix?  For a brief time, they had a budget alternative to the Game Boy in the Watara Supervision.  Unleashed unto the world out of Asia, the name alone commands at least a little interest.  ‘Game Boy’ sounds like a companion, a friend. Game Boy is the kid living a few doors down from you who you play hacky sack with on seemingly endless summer afternoons.

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Watara SUPERVISION is the steroid infused half Dinosaur half Robot from the Planet Watara that will consume whole buildings in a single bite and create commuter chaos as it tears up the city streets.  Too far? Maybe, but the point is the Watara Supervision has a promising title, and the specifications – on the surface – appear well suited to compete against Nintendo’s original handheld.  Let’s stack them up, side by side:

Specification: Nintendo Gameboy Watara Supervision
CPU Custom 8-bit Sharp LR35902[28] core at 4.19 MHz 8-bit 65C02 processor, running at 4 MHz
RAM 8KB 8KB
Display Reflective STN LCD[34] 160 × 144 pixels 61 mm × 61 mm (2.37 inches × 2.37 inches), 160 × 160 pixels
Colours 4 shades of grey 4 shades of grey
Audio 2 square wave generators, 1 noise generator 2 Tonal and 1 Noise Channel plus additional audio DMA stereo output channel

So on paper at least, the Supervision is a comparable competitor to the Game Boy. Hell, it even has a slightly larger screen and seemingly more advanced audio (thanks to a DMA stereo output channel).  Why then, do we not all have Supervision’s sitting in our cupboards, the space instead occupied by the Nintendo Game Boy? For the same underlying reasons that most consoles and contraptions of the era that weren’t made by Sega or Nintendo failed.

Lack of game support.

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The Supervision suffered some technical setbacks too (not least of which was some sickening blur on the LCD screen during action games) but it was lack of games – really kickarse games – that hurt it in the end. Games like ‘Dancing Block’ and ‘Crystal Ball’ simply didn’t have the strength of game play or franchise to have a real shot against the likes of Zelda or Mario.  The unit itself was so similar in physical design to the Game Boy that This has resulted in the Supervision becoming an obscurity of sorts. It’s not mega rare, but you’re going to have a decent hunt on your hands to find one and an even bigger hunt to find the games to go with it.

But it’s all about the hunt, isn’t it?

The real question is – with all of the above in mind – is it actually worth owning one? To that we say yes. Obscurity makes something inherently more interesting, and the Watara Supervision is a great talking point in a retro game collection, and as much as we rattle on about  the lack of killer game titles, there were still over 60 games made for the machine so you’re bound to find a few gems in there. So if you’ve decided it’s time to quit playing hacky sack with that gentle kid down the end of your street and try something a little more exotic, you might want to check out the Super vision, for a fresh take on the age old concept of a monochrome handheld.

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