Feature: Watch & Game: 608 Games Strapped to Your Wrist!

November 25, 2002 12:01 PM PST


Although actually if you add up the numbers the box claims, the number of games comes to 2113. At the eBay going rate of $10 per watch, that's... uhh... over two games a penny. Bargain!

I'd feel silly wearing a watch this bulky on my wrist but that's not a problem for me as I prefer to take the bands off and keep my watch in my pocket anyway. The front of the case looks metal but it's actually thick silver plastic. The back is metal, but feels light--aluminum? The straps manage to feel too floppy and brittle at the same time. Overall the feeling is one of cheap manufacture, but the actual button action is very solid and the plastic of the casing is so thick it could probably stop a low-caliber bullet without breaking much of a sweat.

The design of the casing has a few drawbacks besides its bulk. First of all, if battery replacement is even possible it's gonna require a jeweler's screwdriver to get those tiny screws on the back out. And then there are the buttons. Protruding out of the face a good ways, they're easy to press but it's also easy to press them accidentally when the watch face happens to hit something. And the layout has the "up" button way off to the side, which makes certain games (especially Macth"n Win) frustratingly unintuitive to control.

The LCD "screen" is easy to read in normal light and doesn't suffer from blurriness that I noticed. The main display section is pretty low-detail, though, with big boxy non-square "pixels." Would it have killed them to make square pixels? Oh well, takes me back to my Amiga days.

The sound has one thing going for it: volume. You wouldn't really expect a watch to be capable of making sounds this irritating. For some of the games they help enhance the action a bit but usually they're just irritating, and if anyone else is around they'll be coming after Watch & Game with a mallet. The speaker probably drains the batteries pretty quickly, too. Fortunately, you can toggle sound off.

Oh, there are normal watch functions here too. I like the big bold digital time readout. It's also got date, stopwatch and countdown modes and two alarms (haven't tried these yet but they'd probably wake the dead). The stopwatch and countdown don't have a hundredths or even a tenths of a second display, which is a shame. Finally, it tells time! And after running for a week it's keeping right up with the clock on my stove, so it's pretty much as accurate as you're really going to need.

The "On/Off" and "PA-ST" buttons bear special mention. On/Off lets you turn the LCD display off entirely, which is kind of neat and may even save battery power. "PA-ST" combines "Pause" and "Game Start" functions. "Pause" is great: you can pause any game at any time, turn the watch off, then when you want to continue you just turn the watch back on, unpause and you're playing your old game as if you'd never stopped. I wish every game system could do this. It also saves your high-score per game (but not per variant, aw).

Now, on to them 2113 games!

Tank War

Four forward-shooting tanks spawn in the corners while you start in the middle. Shots block other shots, so you can use that as defense. Take out the tanks a certain number of times, then you face a big Mothra-like boss in a vertical shooting mode. Beat him and it's on to the next "variation." Later variations add destructible bases (ala Asteroids) and flashing blocks which kill you if they're hit by stray fire. The tank shooting parts are easy once you figure out that you can just zip down to the bottom of the screen and take tanks out as they spawn in, since they're facing up when they appear. Mothra is more interesting but not for the impatient since you can only hit him on his long proboscis and constantly have to dodge to the side to avoid his shots.
 

Grand Prix

Weave through traffic, find the open lane and floor it! Starts off with two lanes, which becomes way too easy, but later variants add a third lane and tricks like reversing the driving direction. Per variant, you race the same course over and over, gradually going faster and faster--until it resets back to the default speed after five of six laps. Hm. Courses seem to vary per variant, by which I mean that the car formations you have to pass are in different arrangements. Accelerating past other cars and then executing a last-second lane switch is kind of fun but quickly gets overly repetitive.
 

Ping Pong

A Breakout/Arkanoid clone, offers a lot more replay value than some of the other games even though it only has four brick layouts, all based on simple objects (heart, teacup, fork, barbell). You can apply a tiny bit of "English" when you bounce the ball up to the bricks and this becomes vital as you'll frequently encounter times where the ball, left to itself, is just rebounding the same way every time. A "turbo" button helps accelerate the ball along--good thing too because the regular ball movement speed is a tad pokey, in fact it's so slow that there really isn't much danger of losing the ball unless you just get bored and stop paying close attention. I wish the ball would speed up gradually. Later variations shorten the width of the paddle--I'm still not sure how you apply English with a one-pixel paddle--and add horizontal scrolling to the blocks, which is a great twist and helps avoid the rebound-loop problem.
 

Dragon Ball

Snake clone, can't go wrong here, eh? Well you sorta can by making it too easy. Again the slow speed doesn't increase as time passes, and the stage resets before your snake gets overly long, so there's little challenge aside from overusing the turbo button out of sheer boredom. Later variants add a blockade in the middle of the playfield and... uh, maybe change the locations where the dots appear? Wish they'd thought of some more gameplay variants here.
 

Shooting

Now we got some challenge! Maybe too much. You dig your way upward with your heroic pixel, tunneling through descending layers of sorta random blocks. The tricky part is some of these blocks start falling individually and will kill you unless you dodge to the side, but of course you might not have room to dodge unless you've been keeping multiple lanes clear of blockages. Later variants make your "ship" three pixels wide (only as concerns falling block, however) and throw more falling blocks at you--this would be impossible to survive for more than two seconds except that you can now knock falling blocks away by shooting them, and except for your limited supply of screen-clearing bombs. Still, I can't survive for more than about four seconds at a time in the later variants. Ow.
 

UFO Raiders

Another very difficult game, sort of like a reverse Arkanoid where dots come bouncing down the screen at you and you have to shoot them or get out of the way. You only get points for shooting them, though, so you can't waste that much time dodging. Variants add more and more incoming "UFOs" and might be speeding them up too--it gets darn hard, at any rate: the UFOs move so fast that they're nearly impossible to shoot and when there are four of them to keep track of--yow. Particularly since the control is crippled by having the shoot button (Game Select) right next to the "right" movement button, so you really have to use one finger to both shoot and dodge right.
 

Three Dice

Just a luck gambling game where you pick which outcome of the dice you want to bet on. Fwee.
 
 

Light Out

Challenging puzzle game in which you have to turn all the grid-spaced blocks off. Clicking at a location toggles the blocks in four directions around you and the one at the center of your location, so you have to do your toggling in a specific order to turn off all the blocks. Later variants just add different configurations of starting blocks, I guess. You get a hint for your first move, which is nice because this game is tough.
 

Hit Zany

Reaction game, press the button to match the direction the CPU lights up. In later variants (which otherwise just vary the matching patterns?) you have to press both the correct direction and the "rotate" (Game Select) button simultaneously, no easy feat on the cramped control layout.
 

Macth"n Win

Best game name ever. You have to match three block with three descending blocks by toggling each block through a four-step sequence (one pixel, two pixels, three pixels, four pixels). Easy in early variants because the blocks descend slowly but the later variant I tried was mutating the descending block forms as they fell--yikes.
 

Fill"n Full

Fill up gaps in the descending block cluster to clear lines. Really hard because the block cluster is coming down FAST and if you miss a gap not only do you have to move back over and shoot it full, you've also piled up another pixel on the bottom of the descending pile. Variants flip the screen and... uh... I'm not sure what else.
 

Basic Bricks

Don't tell the Russians but it's Tetris, baby! Games L through S are Tetris variants, the most popular twist being that the Rotate button swaps brick shapes rather than rotating the brick--I just can't get used to that. One variant I really like is where the brick pile scroll over one unit with each block you place. Others add non-tetrad shapes and block-clearing bombs, or reverse the play direction. Tetris works great here aside from the fact that the LCD "pixels" are wider than they are tall, so when you rotate a piece its dimensions change slightly. Once you get used to that distortion, though, it's good old (or new) Tetris bliss.

In summary: a miracle of modern Chinese engineering, and clearly the best portable game system ever.

Paleface