Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda review: Hero of time

It's dangerous to go alone, but now you can take a collection of Zelda games with you everywhere thanks to the Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda.

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The Nintendo Game & Watch line of products has a long history. Several of the portable, handheld LCD titles in the product line's library even pre-date the original NES. There have been a few ports collected and released on some of Nintendo’s more modern handhelds, but last year the Big N decided to bring the line back with a new stand-alone Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch. For this year, the company has seen fit to grace us with the Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda edition. For all intents and purposes, it’s the same concept as the Super Mario edition, with a few nice new touches, and some of the same flaws.

The Game(s)

The Game & Watch The Legend of Zelda is the latest iteration of Nintendo's classic product.

The Zelda version of the Game & Watch comes loaded with not one, not two, not three, but four, count-em, four games: The classic 8-Bit title that started it all, The Legend of Zelda, it’s cult classic sequel Zelda 2: The Adventures of Link, and the iconic 1993 Game Boy version of Link’s Awakening. There’s also a version of the old school Game & Watch title Vermin where Link replaces Mr. Game & Watch as the mallet-wielding mole whacker.

The ports of Zelda 1 and 2 are pretty straightforward and feel just like they did on the NES, only on a much smaller screen. Everything does look more vibrant and smooth on the Game & Watch’s tiny LED screen, but these are still the same 8-Bit games you may have known and loved as a kid. To me though, Link’s Awakening is the real standout. I played that bad boy on an original Game Boy and man-oh-man is it so much better looking on this baby. It is a million times easier to play Link’s Awakening with a nice, vibrant, backlit screen than it was with the original Game Boy and the display really makes that artwork pop!

The rub here is you get all the good with the bad. I swear I experienced processing slow-down on the same screens in the original Legend of Zelda that I did when I was a kid. And Zelda 2 is still a pain in the butt for me, but that was never going to change. All the games also have the added option of playing them with English or Japanese translations and Link’s Awakening includes French and German translations as well, which I felt was a nice touch. The Zelda version of Vermin is also a fun little distraction and a nice nod to the product’s roots. The handheld also saves your gameplay states as you move from one game or feature to another, which is another nice convenience.

& The Watch(es)

The Game & Watch cardboard packaging doubles as a display stand.

It feels like an odd thing to say, but the watch aspects of the Zelda Game & Watch blow the Super Mario edition out of the water. While I loved the day/night cycle and backdrops on the Mario watch, the Zelda version actually takes you on an adventure. The watch mode basically plays through a more random variation of The Legend of Zelda with clock numbers in the middle of the playing field. You can sit around and watch an AI Link slowly gain hearts, weapons, and Triforce pieces or you can pick it up and control him yourself. Stop playing and Link will go right back to adventuring on his own after a few moments.

There’s also a new Timer option that’s themed around Zelda 2. Basically, you set the timer for however long you want then you can just leave it going or you can see how many enemies you can kill in the time you’ve allotted yourself. The Timer mode tracks your record as well so you can work to best your score. What’s also interesting about the Timer mode is that while it’s based on Zelda 2, everything has a much more modern look to it. There’s definitely a lot more detail to the characters and backgrounds. Not to say this is Breath of the Wild-level graphics, but you can tell the difference between the game and the timer.

The total package

The Zelda version of the Game & Watch includes a timer.

While physically the Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda edition shares many features with the Mario Bros one, there are a few differences worth mentioning. First, well, it’s green instead of red, that’s kind of an obvious one though. The really nice touch here is that there’s a light-up Triforce on the back of the handheld. They also went ahead and turned the cardboard inside the Game & Watch packaging into a display stand for you to rest it on when not in use. They’re such sweet design additions that are totally that little bit of extra that Nintendo likes to add to its products to just make it a bit more special.

But even with those added nuances, Nintendo somehow managed to miss a few things. For instance, Nintendo decided to include the same super-short USB-C cable that the Mario Bros. version had. And the placement of the speaker is still such that it gets muted by my fingers while I’m holding it. I’m still not sure why there are no speaker holes on the faceplate, but it is what it is.

It’s dangerous to go alone

Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda includes four classic games to choose from.

While there are a few things here and there that could be better, I think that the Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda manages to improve upon the product line in some wonderful ways. On top of having that cool light-up Triforce on the back, there’s one more game included in this version, two if you count the Timer/Survival challenge, maybe even three if you include the watch version of Zelda. And it even manages to retail for ten dollars cheaper than the last version. If you’re a Nintendo collector, or a major Zelda fan, you’ve more than likely already pre-ordered yourself one of these bad boys. But if you haven’t, you may want to try and snag a Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda edition.


This product is based on a review unit provided by Nintendo. Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda is available now at a suggested MSRP of $49.99 USD.

Reviews Editor

Blake has been writing and making videos about pop-culture and games for over 10 years now. Although he'd probably prefer you thought of him as a musician and listened to his band, www.cartoonviolencemusic.com. If you see him on the street, buy him a taco or something. Follow him on twitter @ProfRobot

Pros
  • Improves upon last year's Game & Watch
  • Light-up Triforce on the back
  • Watch is an interactive or hands-off adventure
  • Timer mode is a great addition
  • A particularly great port of Link's Awakening
  • Ten bucks cheaper than last year's model somehow
Cons
  • Needs a longer charging cable
  • Old quirks like processing slo-mo still baked into games
  • Speakers not in a good spot
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