Hall of Fame: Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong

Ever wondered where Nintendo got the idea for the DS?

If that looks like a limited edition retro-themed Nintendo DS above, then you're not far off.

If you're too young to remember the vibrant year of 1982, then we envy your youth. But we digress - what you're looking at, is one of Nintendo's Game & Watch handheld gaming devices - the Donkey Kong one, to be more precise.

Whether you're a veteran gamer or grew up knowing nothing below HD resolution, Ninty's DS-precursor is definitely worth a second look...

The Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong story

Back in 1980, when pixels were the size of sugar lumps, computer games looked rubbish. Then Nintendo realised you could make LCD pixels any shape you liked, and invented the Game & Watch handhelds – games, that also told the time. Wow!

The first was a single-screen affair colloquially known as Juggler, though its real name was simply Ball. Then came the strangely macabre Fire, in which babies were bounced from a burning building into a waiting ambulance. The Game & Watch series reached its pinnacle in 1982 with Donkey Kong.

The design is faultless, and clearly the blueprint for the modern Nintendo DS. The dusty orange clamshell case and machined metallic front panel scream ‘Don’t leave me on the bus!’, while inside, those two displays each house an array of intricately crafted, razorsharp animation cells which blink on and off to create a miniature interactive cartoon.

Gameplay is based on the first level of the coin-op, adapted to suit the limitations of the LCD displays. Overhead girders limit the places in which you can hurdle the barrels, and the top screen sees you leaping onto the swinging winch of a crane. Do it four times and you’ll unseat Kong and save the girl.

There were over 50 Game & Watch games made between 1980 and 1988, and if you fancy one for yourself, good buys are regularly available on eBay. The clamshell dual-screen models are pretty robust and go for between US$30 and US$50.

Once you’re sure it works, check that the battery cover is intact – these are powered by watch batteries that are near impossible to keep in place without the original cover.

Remember these handhelds?

Atari Lynx (1989)

The Game Boy’s first real rival came with a colour screen, but was marred by poor battery life.

Sega Game Gear (1991)

The third colour handheld had an impressive library of games, but still couldn’t defeat Ninty’s flagship.

Nintendo DS (2004) 

The Game Boy was retired. We sobbed. The dual, touch-screen, mic-wielding DS arrived. We rejoiced.

Also in 1982...

Film: Bladerunner

Do androids dream of electric sheep? The film never did answer that but who cares when you’ve got alluring robot women, Harrison Ford doing his hard-man act and a twist that’ll leave your jaw on the floor.

Music: Prince - 1999

The album title and the identically monickered single are now sadly out of date. Luckily Prince packed the album with a fistful of funky pop including the stone-cold classic Little Red Corvette.

Gadget: Commodore 64

The big hit at CES 1982, the Commodore 64 was nicknamed ‘breadbox’ and ‘bullnose’ thanks to its chunky looks, but still went on to sell over 17 million units. It remains so beloved that emulators abound.