Today when you talk about handheld gaming, most players think of a Nintendo Switch or a mobile device connected to a remote play or cloud gaming service. Twenty years ago, handheld gaming meant carting around a Game Boy Color. Thirty years ago? Well, there was the original Game Boy, of course, but for a cheaper and more portable experience there were the Nelsonic gaming watches featuring famous licensed franchises from Nintendo including Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong. I wrote about my cherished Mario watch back in 2006, but Brian Crecente at Pad and Pixel dug into the history of the gaming watch concept and details how Mario wound up on our wrists once upon a time.
“Of course, the game-changer was the Pac Man game watch,” he said. “Again, I think the reason Bernie saw this first was because we were the demographic of the kids putting hundreds of quarters into the arcade versions. To play this game on your wrist was just too unbelievable. We had two suppliers in Hong Kong making the game for us. Both had color screens that looked identical to the arcade version and made that thoroughly annoying munching sound. One version actually supplied four colored mini joysticks to insert into the port in the watch face and play the game as if it were in the arcade.”
I had no idea Nelsonic was producing these watches into the Super NES era with a Star Fox model. Today these watches are more of a unique collectible and conversation piece than an practical way to tell time or play a video game. I wore my watch to my office job once on a lark and spent most the day explaining what the hell was strapped to my wrist. Now it resides in my gaming collectibles display case with other Mario memorabilia.