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Hardware Review: Game & Watch: The Legend Of Zelda – A Link to Link’s Past

Game & Watch: The Legend Of Zelda Box
Image: Nintendo Life

Last year Nintendo told its fans about its Play & Watch: Super Mario Bros. Handheld, a beautiful homage to the classic Game & Watch line of LCD games that were so popular in the pre-game boy landscape of the early 1980s. This release was essentially created to celebrate 35 years of Super Mario, and this year the company returned to concept with the concept Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda.

The first Zelda outing on the NES was released in Japan in 1986 and made 2021 the 35th birthday of Link, Ganon and Princess Zelda. Next to Super Mario and Metroid, Zelda is one of Nintendo’s most beloved and beloved franchises, so it makes sense for the Japanese veteran to focus on this during the next of their presumably regular series of Game & Watch updates.

Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda (no reference to the actual Zelda Game & Watch from 1989) was inspired, as before, by the single-screen handhelds that came onto the market at the beginning of the 80s. While Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. had a color scheme reminiscent of the Nintendo Famicom (NES in the West), Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda replaced the dark red with a more suitable green, but kept the golden metal on the front panel. Otherwise, the design is identical to the Super Mario Bros. version – apart from the neat inclusion of the Triforce, which is embossed on the back of the device.

The D-pad feels great, the rubber buttons are responsive, and it’s reasonably comfortable to use, although the controls still feel like they’re positioned in one position little too close to the bottom of the device, which can cause slight discomfort when playing for long periods of time. The rechargeable internal battery lasts for around 8 hours of play time (ie at low brightness and volume) and is charged using the USB-C cable provided. There’s no stand either (again), but at least this time Nintendo was kind enough to make sure that the box’s inner cardboard compartment can be turned into a pretty neat display stand.

When we reviewed Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. we were a little disappointed that Nintendo didn’t have any more games installed on the device. In this sense, Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda a easy Improvement. Also the original Legend of Zelda and its (often divisive) NES sequel Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, you get the 1993 Game Boy excursion Zelda: Link’s Awakening, the same game that was recently remastered on the Nintendo Switch. In addition to these three games, there is a revised version of the Game & Watch title from 1980 vermin, starring Link. There is also a special ‘Timer’ mode that allows you to set a time limit between a minute and 10 minutes and defeat as many enemies as possible from Zelda II, with the device keeping an eye on your best performance at each time setting. There’s also an interactive clock based on the overworld from the original Legend of Zelda. This clock is left to its own devices and automatically shows Link fighting a number of enemies from the game, but you can always pick up the unit and take control of the Hero of Time yourself.

Since there are notable differences between the Japanese and Western versions of the two NES games (in Japan they were released on the Famicom Disk System – which was exclusive to that region – and contained different music), Nintendo kindly recorded it both the versions on this device. Of course, if you can’t read Japanese, the variants of the Famicom Disk System are little more than a nice curiosity; the Japanese version of Link’s Awakening is also available alongside French and Dutch language versions.

As with Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros., you can freeze the game at any time, which is handy when you’re on the go and can’t save your game progress. It even picks up where you left off when you switch to another game on the device, which is nice. Other options include the ability to change the screen brightness and volume, as well as toggle between full screen and 1: 1 aspect ratios on Link’s Awakening. The emulation is perfect, as you’d expect, although the screen has a certain softness that makes the graphics look a bit smeared (again, this is also the case with the Super Mario version).

There are plenty of hours of enjoyment between the three Zelda games included here, which arguably makes Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda a much better deal in terms of value than last year’s Super Mario-based deal. While the first game is showing its age, and the second NES title has split critics since its release, they’re still worth a game if you’re a seasoned fan of the modern day Zeldas. Link’s awakening, on the other hand, is as joyful an experience today as it was back in 1993; It’s one of the weirdest Zelda games, and it really stands up – mainly because it borrows so much of its gameplay mechanics from the incomparable ones Zelda: Link to the past. So much so that one wonders why Nintendo didn’t record this the Game too; Link’s Awakening is based on more modest technology, admittedly, but it came out after the SNES title, so it would have made sense to see it here – at least in terms of series chronology. Why the original Link’s Awakening and not the superior Game Boy Color update? Link’s Awakening DX?

Still, you get three of the basic Zelda titles as part of this bundle, plus some nice throw-away extras – and as Nintendo itself says, this is a “collector’s” item that will look great on your shelf. In an ideal world this would be full of content, but as it stands we can’t say we are disappointed with this ongoing Game & Watch revival. May it actually go on like this for a long time.

Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda Group shot
Image: Nintendo Life

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