To mark the 35-year anniversary of The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo has released the Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda handheld. It's a lovingly crafted thing packed full of secrets and little nods to Link's legacy. Part handheld gaming device, part clock, this Game & Watch is a must-buy for anyone wanting to celebrate the 8-bit era of The Legend of Zelda.
Let's start off on the games side, shall we? Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda comes with The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. You also get a version of the original Game & Watch game Vermin, with Link as the playable character. It's a great collection, charting the 8-bit era of Zelda games.
How much you get out of these games will depend on your personal experience with the series. Link's Awakening is easy to recommend to younger Zelda fans, though admittedly the recent Switch remake would be better. The first two games are still fantastic, but are showing their age in more than a few places. Fans who played them the first time around will certainly get a kick out of returning, as will those looking to learn more about the history of The Legend of Zelda as a series. Zelda II is particularly worth checking out, given its unique side-scrolling design and RPG elements.
What's great is that you can switch between the English and Japanese versions, with the latter featuring different music that I'd never heard before. Via the 'Game' button off the side, you can jump between games on the fly. Being able to simply drop in and out of a game like Zelda II made it more manageable than any other version I've played. In fact, the Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda has actually got me appreciating Zelda II for the interesting experiment that it is, whereas before I'd mostly found it to be frustrating and intimidating.
It's easy to get caught up in the sheer reverence for Zelda that Nintendo channels through the Game & Watch. If you leave a game idle for a while, the screen starts to display gorgeous artwork contextual to where you've left off. You can trigger hidden modes within the timer and Vermin functions, and if you look at the back of the device while playing, you'll see a glowing green Triforce shining bright. Even the packaging has a hidden secret, with the cardboard folding out to produce a dock for the Game & Watch to sit in. It's these extra steps that Nintendo has gone to that really make the Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda stand out. It certainly didn't need to include a cardboard dock, but in doing so, it provides the clock functionality a context to shine.
The device itself is what you'd expect for the £44.99 price tag. While the gold-tinted metal faceplate feels great and adds weight, the green plastic that it's housed in does feel a tad cheap. Thankfully, the screen makes up for this, packing an impressive punch with rich colours and solid brightness. The speakers sound premium too, and can be cranked up surprisingly high without losing any sound quality. It's not the most comfortable thing to hold and play for extended periods, but nice enough for short bursts of pickup and play.
Watch This Space
I feel that the Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda is less about being a handheld gaming device, and more about giving fans a way to celebrate some of their favourite games. I expect the device to be used as more of a display piece for many, which is where the watch functionality really comes into its own. You have two options, clock or timer. The clock can be left idle, allowing you to watch Link battle his way through The Legend of Zelda throughout the day. He'll slowly progress as time ticks on, and I'll admit I've spent more than a few minutes watching him adventure through Hyrule. At any point, you can pick up the Game & Watch and control Link in clock mode, clearing the screen of enemies and collecting the Rupees that drop.
The timer is similar, but allows you to programme an interval to count down from. It's themed after Zelda II, with Link moving from side to side, clearing enemies. I've found myself using the timer a lot, and had the Game & Watch stationed in my kitchen for a while to serve as a fancy coffee timer. It's been a nightmare for my productivity, but it's hard to stay mad at something so downright charming.
Nintendo's Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda isn't going to be for everyone. It's a great way to play three of the best games of all time, though perhaps not the best place to do so. Instead, think of the device as more of a celebration piece. If you genuinely love The Legend of Zelda, and have any sort of reverence for its 8-bit era, you'll likely fall head over heels for this little bundle of Zelda magic. It managed to make me nostalgic for games I never even experienced first time around, and its myriad secrets and Easter Eggs have kept me smiling all week. I'll mostly be using its clock function from now on, though I must admit that the beautiful screen and tiny form factor do beckon me to play when I check the time while working. Nintendo has once again managed to bottle nostalgia and sell it in a surprisingly well-made and completely faithful package. I imagine it will make many Zelda fans very happy.
System provided for review purposes by Nintendo
Available Now: Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda at Amazon