The auction house who recently sold the rare Nintendo Play Station console is making it harder and harder to be a fiscally responsible adult. Heritage Auctions has just listed another rare piece of video game history with a demo machine that was used to sell Nintendo’s Game & Watch handhelds; the precursor to the Game Boy, Nintendo DS, and the Switch.
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Tiger Electronics released hundreds of cheap handheld video games that defined portable gaming before the arrival of the Game Boy. But Tiger’s handhelds actually came years after Nintendo itself dabbled in portable gaming. As the story goes, Gunpei Yokoi, Nintendo’s celebrated game and hardware designer, was inspired to create a portable electronic gaming machine after watching a bored traveling businessman playing with a calculator.
That led to the creation of Nintendo’s Game & Watch series, a collection of over 59 portable electronic gaming devices that used pre-defined, segmented LCD displays to facilitate very simple gameplay mechanics. They’re impossibly crude by today’s portable gaming standards, but the Game & Watch series helped introduce the world to concepts like the four-way directional pad controller, which is still included on gamepads to this day. The Game & Watch devices were some of Nintendo’s first successful video game products, but due to their pocket-friendly designs, demonstrating them to a group od potential sellers and interested retailers was a challenge, which is what led to the creation of this unusual tabletop machine.
The earliest Game & Watch units were manufactured by Mego in North America, and included that company’s branding, not Nintendo’s. That includes this unusual machine, which was built for the New York Toy Fair as a way to easily demonstrate the games and the tiny console’s functionality in front of a large crowd. When the original Game Boy was released years later, Nintendo took a similar strategy with in-store demo stations that piped gameplay through a larger TV screen so it was easier for a large crowd to watch.
The demo machine, which Heritage Auctions has dated back to 1979 or 1980, plays a classic Game & Watch title called Vermin where a character uses a hammer to smash moles that attempt to get near his garden. There are no bosses, no other levels, just an endless onslaught of moles and the challenge of besting the handheld’s high score.
Somewhere along the way, after the Game & Watch devices were replaced by the Game Boy and the demo station was no longer needed, it seems like it found its way into the hands of a child who decided it need more adornment than just a faded Game & Watch logo. The machine was decorated with a collection of equally vintage ‘80s stickers, including the puffy variety, that Heritage Auctions decided to keep intact instead of attempting to restore the hardware to its original condition.
At the time of writing the highest bid for the demo machine was $525, but with 16 more days before the auction comes to a close you can expect it to eventually sell for much higher than that. It’s a rare piece that few consumers actually know existed until now, and that’s what will be its biggest draw for collectors. Also, those puffy stickers are still pretty rad!