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Game & Watch ‘The Legend Of Zelda’ Review: Classic Adventures, Pocket Sized

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Game & Watch ‘The Legend Of Zelda’ Review: Classic Adventures, Pocket Sized

The second of Nintendo’s revived Game & Watch releases - inspired by and echoing the design of the company’s range of LCD games from before the Game Boy really took over in the handheld space - is another anniversary-marking classic that collectors shouldn’t hesitate to check out. It’s both a wonderful tribute to Nintendo past, and a fun way to play some series classics. 

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Last year’s Super Mario Bros. release (reviewed here) marked 35 years of the mustachioed mascot, and featured the original game in full colour alongside its sequel and a new take on the first-ever Game & Watch release, 1980’s Ball. It was a high-quality little package, but for The Legend of Zelda Game & Watch, Nintendo have added a lot more bang for your buck. 

Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda beside the Super Mario Bros. version / Photo: the author
Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda beside the Super Mario Bros. version / Photo: the author

You get the original NES/Famicom release from 1986 - you know, “It’s dangerous to go alone,” the entry that most directly inspired Breath of the Wild, that one - and its sequel, 1987’s divisive but undeniably ambitious Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, playable in both their English and Japanese versions. These are the complete games, and playing them on this Game & Watch is comfy enough for short sessions. The screen is crisp and bright, the buttons a little on the spongy side but not too much as to not have enough purchase to them.

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Like a lot of 8-bit releases, these games haven’t dated especially brilliantly, and may be completely alien to younger players whose Zelda journeys began on the Nintendo 64, or later. But there’s still something quite magical about your first steps, your first dungeon, in the original Zelda. If you only play it for 30 minutes, it’s enough to get a feel for where it all started - that striking sense of freedom, and of adventure ahead.

The Legend of Zelda Game & Watch starts up with a classic jingle - check out the video below

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The Game & Watch inclusion is Vermin, another LCD affair from way back in 1980, where the player must whack moles with extended mallets. For this new release, the player character, previously a fellow of spiked-up hair and no given name, is replaced with Zelda’s own hero of time, Link. It’s super simple stuff, but a fun-enough time-killer if you’re waiting for a bus or something - and the Game & Watch’s actual pocket-sized proportions does mean it’s totally portable in a way that the Switch and even the Game Boy aren’t. No baggy jeans necessary for this one.

But the best game here is the Game Boy’s The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, a somewhat surreal entry in the series that began development as a portable conversion of the Super Nintendo’s A Link to the Past before swerving into a Twin Peaks-inspired (yes, really) entity all of its own. Its monochromatic palette doesn’t stand in the way of it being the best-looking title on the Game & Watch, and while this is the original Game Boy release of 1993 and not 1998’s Colour Dungeon-added DX version for the Game Boy Color - which seems like a slight misstep - it’s still the most satisfyingly modern-feeling of the three proper games here. 

Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda / Credit: the author
Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda / Credit: the author
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It’s really with A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening that the Zelda series hit its stylistic and atmospheric groove, and a consistent quality that maintains to this day. If you only know this game from its superb 2019 remake, going back to its roots will still deliver plenty of fun and thrills. And if you’ve never played Link’s Awakening in any form, well, let’s just say it’s going to surprise you, hopefully in a very good way. (If you don’t mind a spoiler or two, click here for more on what makes this game so special.)

Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda beside a Nintendo Switch / Credit: the author
Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda beside a Nintendo Switch / Credit: the author

Every game will save your spot when you close it, and of course regular save points in each game can be used, too. This being a Game & Watch, there’s a clock function - and what’s great is that, unlike the Super Mario Bros. release, you can take control of Link on the clock screen at any time, and obliterate some enemies for a few seconds. Likewise, you can control him in a Zelda II-style side-on perspective on the countdown option, or just leave him to automatically go about his monster-vanquishing business. Another new inclusion here is a fold-out cardboard stand for the unit, so you can stand it upright on your desk or bedside table, with volume and brightness options available. 

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The rear features a glowing Triforce / Credit: the author
The rear features a glowing Triforce / Credit: the author

I’m yet to find out if there are any on-screen easter eggs here - there was on the Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch, which played ‘The Drawing Song’ - but if you are sat in a low-light location, and the unit is powered on with its brightness turned up, you will get to see a Triforce on the rear of the device. That’s pretty neat. I’m sure there’s a button combo to be found that’ll unlock something - I’ll keep poking around for a while yet. Power wise, there’s a rechargeable battery inside that’ll get you about eight hours’ worth of play, but you need to provide your own AC adapter to charge it - the one that comes with the Switch is perfect but I imagine most USB-C leads will be fine.

With Christmas approaching, the Game & Watch The Legend of Zelda makes for a cracking retro-gaming stocking filler that’ll actually fit in a stocking, too. I don’t expect many people who pick one up will want to take it out and about, as it’s an item to treasure and protect rather than bounce around beside your wallet and keys, but hey, it’s an option (c’mon, Nintendo, when do we get the clamshell, dual-screen Game & Watch revivals?). I’ll be keeping mine here on my desk, as it counts down the time in an incredibly cute 8-bit Hyrule style. Ach, is that the time? See ya.

The Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda unit used for this coverage was provided by Nintendo. The product is available now, with a UK RRP of £44.99.



Featured Image Credit: Nintendo

Topics: Nintendo, The Legend Of Zelda

Mike Diver
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