Sunday, March 27, 2011

Retro Review: Club Nintendo Game and Watch Ball and Mario Hanafuda Cards

Let's take the wayback machine and experience the original Nintendo entertainment devices

Quick history lesson, Nintendo has been around for over a hundred years. Since video games haven’t existed for that long obviously they were doing things before Mario or Pokemon were ever thoughts in someone’s head. While being run by the somewhat tyrannical Yamauchi dynasty, Nintendo did everything from operating cab companies to running “love hotels”, which are exactly what they sound like.  

But even back then there were hints that the company was destined to provide more wholesome entertainment. For example, they were founded for the purpose of making Hanafuda, or Japanese playing cards. And before making their big splash into the arcade market with Donkey Kong in 1981, they produced the Game and Watch series of simple handheld games featuring one the several Smash Bros. characters only true fans knew of beforehand.

Present day Nintendo runs a customer loyalty service called Club Nintendo where one registers all the Nintendo products they purchase and gives them precious marketing data in exchange for coins that can be used to buy fabulous prizes like calendars, figurines and even actual games. Being the wannabe video game historian I am though, I decided to use some of my coins to experience some early period Nintendo by buying the recreations of the Game and Watch Ball and the Mario Hanafuda cards.

Game and Watch Ball

With the new 3DS on store shelves everywhere as of today, playing around with the Game and Watch reminded me  of how certain elements of Nintendo handhelds really haven’t changed. At times it felt like playing some kind of “Game Boy Zero” with a Game Boy Advance layout. In fact, other Game and Watch games featured two screens positioned not unlike current DS systems. As the picture shows, it’s basically a little plastic square with a primitive screen and five buttons. “Ball”, the game included, is an arcade score attack game. Also, like most games over three decades old, it is dead simple. With such limited hardware you make cuts where necessary. Push left or right to align a juggler’s hands with falling balls. Score more and things get faster. Drop the ball and game over. Game A only has you juggling two balls while Game B throws three at you. The time button mutes the retro bleeps and bloops. Using a pen, or a DS stylus, one can press the reset button to turn off the game and actually see all the different positions the graphics can be all at once. It is a neat peak behind the curtain at how games used to animate.  So yeah, it’s a neat throwback and still totally fun enough that I’d imagine a young child could enjoy it unironically, unless they’ve been completely spoiled by the mind-searing graphics of current game devices. Children unable to appreciate history? That’d be a real shame.

Mario Hanafuda Cards

These are cool but I have less to say about them. Mostly because while Game and Watch is old it’s still recognizable as a video game which is something I know to operate. I have no idea what to do with Hanafuda cards however. The little box it ships in comes with instructions for the game “Koi-Koi” and offers descriptions for the various cards. For example the Wario card represents Maple and the month of October. But I’ve been too lazy to figure it out and/or find someone to explain and play it with me. They’re still neat to mess around with though if just to see Mario characters randomly inserted into otherwise typical Japanese nature drawings. The 48 included cards are much smaller than the playing cards we’re used to over here and instead of being made of paper, they’re plastic tiles. However, after hearing that Nintendo once made their Hanafuda cards out of tree bark, I was a little disappointed they didn’t keep up that tradition for this re-release.

Overall, these are cool little trinkets. Not terribly compelling without the historical context but must-haves for collectors of Nintendo memorabilia or really anyone interested in the history of the company. Remember you have to have enough stuff registered with Club Nintendo to get this them but anyone interested in these probably has that part taken care of anyway. Support this too. Japan has been getting cool swag like this for years while putting them out in America is a fairly recent trend.

Super secret personal post incoming

So speaking of retro, it was my grandparents’ 60th anniversary celebration yesterday. It was a cool event and it got me thinking about family. So I decided to bury one of my favorite family-related writings in this post to save on the internet forever. It was a part of my application to a college I decided not to go to. Let’s just call it the University of Derp. Cool story I know.

Short Answer Part 1.   Share an experience through which you have gained respect for intellectual, social or cultural differences. Comment on how your personal experiences and achievements would contribute to the diversity of the University of Derp.

               The experience of having a family as diverse as mine has given me a great respect for cultural differences. Almost every holiday and special occasion brings me in touch with many different cultures. Most of my family members identify as African American. My grandfather is also very proud of his Native American heritage and is Assistant Chief of the Delaware Nanticoke tribe. They hold an annual Pow-Wow. One aunt’s husband is Caucasian and their two children are of mixed race. I have an adopted aunt who was born and raised in Thailand.  Her husband is Saudi Arabian. They live in the United States for most of the year so that my cousins can attend school here, and return to Saudi Arabia every summer.  One uncle’s wife has a black father and a Jewish mother, making two of my cousins technically Jewish as well. I attended both of their naming ceremonies. One cousin is married to a Panamanian woman. We were serenaded at their wedding by a mariachi trio.
               What is most astounding is how these disparate cultures manage to come together with relatively little conflict. It is extremely rare, even on religious holidays, for there to be any kind of friction. Our differences make for more worldly dinner conversations. Being in a family that allows these unique cultures to happily co-exist has given me a profound appreciation and respect for diversity. I feel that these experiences would allow me to successfully contribute to the diversity of the University of Derp. “

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