It will come as no surprise that the second of Nintendo’s new modern Game & Watch systems is an absolute delight. I was pretty impressed with the Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch that was launched last year, but The Legend of Zelda Game & Watch retains the charm of the first while expanding on what made it great – and the games included are arguably better than the Super Mario version.
While Game & Watch last year contained the original Super Mario Bros. and that only for Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 (known in the US as The Lost Levels), the Zelda Game & Watch includes three games: The Legend of Zelda and The Legend of Zelda II for the NES and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy. One extra game would have been more than enough to make me happy right now, but Nintendo went a step further and even made it possible to play either the English or Japanese versions of the first two NES Zeldas, while Link’s Awakening is available in English is. French, German and Japanese.
Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda
The great thing about this recording is that the Japanese versions of the Zelda and Zelda II are different from the versions we’re used to here in the US. I was well aware of the soundtrack differences between the US and Japanese versions of the original Legend of Zelda, but I’ve never experienced them firsthand. In Japan it was released on the Famicom Disk System, which meant there was more room for more sounds thanks to the audio hardware built into the FDS. The Japanese version of The Legend of Zelda gets a much richer synth sound. Even little things like the sound of Link’s sword when his heart is at full level is better than the version we got. I’m familiar enough with Legend of Zelda on the NES that I could try playing it through on the Japanese version just to learn the differences from something I know so well.
What I didn’t know, and embarrassed to admit, was that the Japanese version of The Legend of Zelda II also has different sounds than the version I grew up with. When you talk to a city dweller in one of the villages, there is a made-up video game language, while their dialogue runs across the screen. I would play through Zelda II in its Japanese version if it wasn’t hard enough playing in English, but it’s still super cool and definitely worth checking out for all long-time fans who have never seen the differences.
The tiny screen I fell in love with at Game & Watch last year is back and looks amazing. The colors are rich, vivid and absolutely crisp. There’s no slimy smear or other ugliness at all. It’s just a little beauty. The viewing angle leaves something to be desired, as the colors are a bit washed out with a difference of only 10 degrees in each direction. But it doesn’t matter that it’s a deal breaker at all, especially since I naturally stuck it on without feeling uncomfortable.
The speakers are surprisingly loud when turned up, but they don’t sound washed out or tinny. It’s not high-fidelity, but it’s better than I expected from such a tiny little speaker.
The Legend of Zelda Game & Watch includes a new timer mode that allows you to set a timer in increments of one minute up to 10 minutes. As the counter ticks down, Link battles enemies of Zelda II on-screen to the end, at which point he raises his hands and the triforces that make up the timer’s numbers flow into his hands. If you feel like it, you can press any of the face buttons and fight the enemies yourself, and there is even a small counter on the screen to keep track of how many enemies you defeat over the course of the timer. Basically, Nintendo gamified countdown timers.
The Watch part of Game & Watch is charming, as was the case with Mario. Link fights enemies on the NES overworld, and you can similarly take control of him and fight them yourself if you feel like it. If you hold down the ‘A’ button for 5 seconds, the Zelda reward music will play and instead of a digital “ticking” sound you will get the full Zelda soundtrack and sound effects. I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t an Easter egg like last year “The Mario Drawing Song” but that thing just came out, I’m sure someone will uncover any surprises that are hidden in it before the day is over .
In addition to the three Zelda games, the fast and entertaining Game & Watch game Vermin is included, in which Link has swapped heads instead of the Game & Watch man. There are two levels of difficulty and it is a game of reflexes to try and knock down the “bugs” as they lift their heads off the bottom of the playing field. It’s basically an LCD whack-a-mole. It’s fun enough, but in the long run, given the built-in alternatives, I won’t play a lot of it.
The packaging for the Zelda Game & Watch is lovely like last year, and this year the insert in the box turns into a stand to showcase your Game & Watch while it shows the time. It’s a nice little use of something most people would otherwise throw away (not me, I’m a weirdo who keeps all of my wrappers). Two little legs stick out at the back, and it sits at an angle just enough for gravity to do the hard work. It should be noted that the space for the Game & Watch is a little generous so that it does not click into place or the like. I only mention this because I almost had a heart attack moving it mindlessly and the fresh new test device that was just sent to me almost smashed on the floor. Fortunately, decades of gaming have sharpened my reflexes to a sharp edge so I could grasp them quickly, but please be careful.
Apart from a different color scheme than the Super Mario version, the form factor of the Zelda Game & Watch is almost identical with a few exceptions. The Zelda version adds Select and Start buttons, which is nice (and necessary for playing the included games). There’s also a glowing Triforce on the back this time, which is another cool little extra serving for a device that’s already bursting in front of you.