Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda Review

Nintendo always ramp up their toy production for December, ready to bring children of all ages the very best things to keep them entertained. Staff work tirelessly all year round, their red-clothing clad frontman does all of the PR, and while there might not be a reindeer in sight, who needs one when you’ve got a Yoshi or two? It’s an oddly familiar story. This year, Nintendo Claus has come up with a new toy, and it’s the older children who’re going to get a particularly big kick out of it. It’s time to start writing some letters, asking for the Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda.

Just like last year’s Mario Bros. Game and Watch, this is a device not so much wreathed in nostalgia as built entirely from it. Nintendo have packed a back-lit colour screen into an original Game and Watch styled handheld case, and furnished it with software that was cutting edge in the 80s and 90s. They’ve certainly looked at what worked with last year’s iteration and then built upon it, making this the best Game and Watch ever built.

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The Mario Bros. Game and Watch was a lovely thing, but once you’d beaten Super Mario Bros. for the fourteenth time and discovered that The Lost Levels were much harder with your aging reflexes, it was clear that it ultimately had some limitations.

The Legend of Zelda Game and Watch is going to stay in your pocket for much longer into 2022. It’s packing three whole Zelda games into its slim green and gold case, including my all-time favourite; The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

Now, this obviously isn’t the Switch remaster of Link’s Awakening, it’s the original Game Boy edition, presented in lovely monochrome, but there’s a very strong argument that this remains the better version. There’s no frame rate drops for a start, and the art design is playful and tailored to its original console’s limitations.

With the Game and Watch’s wider screen you’re able to stretch the image or play it in its original aspect ratio, with the extra pixels doing little to diminish the art while possibly going easier on your ageing eyes. The 8-bit soundtrack is also incredible, having once wrought every last ounce of emotion from the Game Boy’s audio chip. This game alone is reason enough to buy the Game and Watch: The Legend of Zelda.

It’s not the only game here though. You’ve also got The Legend of Zelda, the very first game in the series, and its sequel Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Both titles originally appeared on the Nintendo Entertainment System, the 8-bit powerhouse that revived the home console phenomenon, and in terms of nostalgia Nintendo have nailed the delivery.

The Legend of Zelda is a window into the past, of a simpler time where screens had to scroll when you reached the edge of the previous one, and where sprites flickered when you get too close to them. If you’ve been a fan of the series since the beginning it’s a lot of fun remembering where it all started, and seeing some of the enemies in their original form. Compared to Link’s Awakening however, the original game simply isn’t as much fun to play. Where Super Mario Bros. has a timeless quality, and mechanics that haven’t changed all that much over the years, The Legend of Zelda series has come a long, long way in the last 35 years. There’s history here, certainly, but I’d say that it’s not until A Link to the Past or Link’s Awakening that the Zelda games stand up in the modern day.

The same goes for Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It’s never been held up as a classic of the series, but it does do some interesting things that the original doesn’t, such as shifting to a side-scrolling perspective for combat, dungeon exploration and when you visit towns. It still manages to feel like a Zelda game, but the aggressive enemies, flickering sprites, and convoluted exploration will likely have you running back to Link’s Awakening fairly swiftly.

There’s actually a fourth game here that’ll likely please Game & Watch aficionados, with Vermin seeing Link take two big hammers and play whack-a-mole. It is, like the majority of LCD titles, a simple affair, but it’s a zen-like experience, benefitting from the wonderfully taut D-pad to keep you in control. If I’m honest, this is the second-best game here.

It’s a very easy device to live with as it lets you create a save state for each game in addition to using the original save system. You can hop in and out of each one with the action pausing instantly,

Nintendo has also built on the clock functionality of the original Game and Watch, including a cardboard stand in the packaging that’ll turn the tiny unit into an animated bedside clock. It’s classic Nintendo ingenuity – perhaps it’s a little hangover from Labo? – and it gives another valid reason for this Game & Watch to take pride of place on bedside cabinets this winter.

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Summary
Nintendo’s Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda is another nostalgic gift that will delight gamers of a certain age. Link’s Awakening is the star of the show here, as even with the thickest of rose tinted glasses I think most will find the original 8-bit games a little too old-fashioned.
Good
  • Link's Awakening is a stone cold classic
  • Lovely form factor
  • Clock stand adds to the functionality
Bad
  • The original two titles in the series are showing their age
7
Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.

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