It’s been 35 years since we first visited the land of Hyrule. There have been 19 original games and countless spinoffs, remakes, remasters, and media tie-ins, with a new adventure slated for next year. To celebrate this auspicious occasion, Nintendo remastered Skyward Sword, released an amiibo, and followed in Mario’s footsteps by giving us Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda, which we have today for review. This epic little package includes the original The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link from NES, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening from Game Boy, and a reskinned Game & Watch: Vermin. There’s also a playable timer function and, of course, a clock. It’s a neat collectible with a lot of utility, but is it worth your time? Let’s find out.
If you’re reading Nintendo Enthusiast, you’re almost certainly familiar with these early Zelda games. All three are available in English and Japanese, and Link’s Awakening also has the French and German language versions. The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II are the same as they’ve always been. It’s clear that great care has been taken to ensure their authenticity in this format. This includes little touches like the audio differences between regions, (The Famicom Disc System had much better sound than the NES.) crystal-clear pixels, and even a bit of slowdown when too much is happening on screen.
Meanwhile, Link’s Awakening was cleaned up a bit for Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda: Some of the more well-known glitches are gone, and others don’t break the game nearly as terribly as they did on the Game Boy. You can change the aspect ratio to more closely match the original or play it stretched out to fill the screen. One thing I found odd was that they used the original instead of Link’s Awakening DX, the latter being the definitive version (sans remake) of the game. Still, it’s always a pleasure to revisit Koholint Island.
There’s also the reskinned Vermin, in which Link plays 2D whack-a-mole with Octoroks. It’s cute, and I’ve spent more time with it than I’d expected to. However, a dual-screen Game & Watch: Zelda released in 1989, and its lack of inclusion in some form is disappointing, even if it might have required tweaking to fit.
Another odd choice is that Zelda II is used as the basis for a timer minigame. You set a time in which to defeat enemies in a sidescrolling perspective, rather than top-down. While I maintain Zelda II is a better game than its reputation would imply, it’s still a weird choice to represent the series in this way.
Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda is housed in a replica of the original G&W units. It’s cool, albeit tiny — not quite Game Boy Micro-tiny, but smaller than an NES controller and enough to make my hands cramp. It’s got three buttons on its face in addition to the standard controls. There’s one that brings you back to the game select menu, where you can resume each title from where you left off. The Time button switches over to a clock mode, where Link walks around a screen based on The Legend of Zelda, slaying enemies and collecting rupees. The third button lets you adjust the volume, brightness, aspect ratio, and the time, and you can reset the game if you want to head back to the title screen. There’s a power button on the top right side, a USB-C charging port right below it, and a speaker on the left side.
The buttons are nice and snappy, and the A and B buttons are made of a soft rubber material, reminiscent of the original G&W games. The screen is bright and clear, but this comes at a cost. The battery life is disappointing, lasting only a few hours before needing to be plugged in again, and the USB port is in an incredibly uncomfortable position if you want to play while charging.
Finally, there are a couple cute little features worth mentioning. The Triforce symbol on the back of the Game & Watch glows when you’re playing. The box it’s housed in unfolds to form a stand for the game when you want to use it as a timepiece. There are some codes to help out when the games prove to be too difficult. Everything about it feels like holding a piece of Nintendo history.
Tiny epic adventures with Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda
It’s clear that great care has been put into this product. Some of the choices are perfect. While the first two Legend of Zelda games are currently available on Switch and many other systems before that, they’re a welcome addition to any Zelda collection. And although Link’s Awakening got a wonderful remake two years ago, it’s never been re-released in its original, non-DX form. Meanwhile, the Vermin reskin is a nice distraction, but an adaptation of Game & Watch: Zelda would have been nicer. The tiny form factor, weak battery life, and charging port position also detract slightly from the experience.
Ultimately, Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda probably won’t win over any new fans. That’s OK because it’s a product made for people who truly adore Zelda, a love letter to and celebration of the most epic and influential fantasy video game series. There are lots of little features for players to discover, much like Link exploring the land of Hyrule. Welcome home, hero.
A Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda review unit was provided by the publisher.