“After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth’, and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear.” – J. R. R. Tolkien
Once upon a time, a young Shigeru Miyamoto stumbled across a dark cave whilst exploring the woods of Kyoto. As he stepped cautiously into the remote darkness, anxiously clutching his lantern, little did he realise that this particular moment would shape the inspiration of one of the most legendary and influential video game series to have ever been brought to code.
Over the years, the many incarnations of Link and their adventures have been experienced and retold time and time again. Usually, it’s the first The Legend of Zelda game we beat to completion that is the one we hold dearest to our hearts. As time marches forwards, and nostalgia begins to creep in, the very thought of having just a small reminder of that initial feeling of exploring the fictional fields of Hyrule is one many fans will seek to hunt down and cherish.
Last year, Nintendo celebrated the 35th anniversary of Miyamoto’s other gaming legend by stuffing digital memories into a slim box of nostalgia with the Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros.. If you happened to have grown up during the ’80s when the late Gunpei Yokoi’s game-changing invention was all the rage, then you will likely know that the sheer sight of seeing one a few decades later is bound to give a little tingle in the jellies.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda series and what a more fitting way to honour the Hylian hero than to release a companion piece to last year’s celebration. Weighing in at the same weight and dimensions with an extra two-button advantage, we see a new Game & Watch showcasing three of Link’s early outings through a 2.5-inch window of sheer joy.
First, there’s the tale that started it all, The Legend of Zelda (1986). While it can be regarded as the blueprint to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild‘s open-air structure that has blasted open the doors of imagination for both young and old gamers of today, it still undoubtedly holds up well enough to warrant its title. I remember being in awe of the shiny golden Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) cartridge as a kid but wasn’t yet quite at an age to truly appreciate the game itself. I did finally beat it for the first time on the Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System nearly 30 years later, and surprisingly, the magic of its charm managed to grip me so much more than I honestly ever thought it would.
The second game packed in is the much more diversely opinionated sequel, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1987). The whole structure of this one was so far removed from its predecessor, and the titles that followed, with its incredibly high difficulty, RPG structured levelling up system and a limited number of lives. This was another one where I finally built up the courage to play to its end on the Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s certainly not for everyone, but one thing that holds true is how several gameplay elements conjured up in this sequel are undeniably the bread and butter of FromSoftware’s Souls series.
The third and final core game from The Legend of Zelda series to be packed in is the Game Boy’s own The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (1993). For me at least, this game is by far the system seller. Despite a rather gorgeous 2019 remake for the Nintendo Switch with its fitting diorama graphic style and much better inventory control, there’s still something about the original Game Boy version that the remake just could never quite capture. The restrictions of the original visuals and sounds set a certain mood and atmosphere that simply cannot be recreated. And the narrative that leads up to the brief but impactful conclusion still hits as hard now as it ever did. Furthermore, the strange parallels to the Super Mario and Kirby series seal it as the most bizarre and thought-provoking entries up until The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
All three games included have the option to play the Japanese version with each one bearing its own slight differences to the western releases. Take the music of the opening title screen from the original The Legend of Zelda, for example. The extra sound channels of the Famicom Disk System creates a completely different tone and feel of the same melody with bell chimes and everything. The overall screen on the device itself is also crisp and clear, with the speech text of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening being surprisingly easy enough to read even with my ageing eyes.
This year’s Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda may very well be a celebration of all things Hyrule-related, but it wouldn’t be complete without one of its very own classics. On this occasion, it’s 1980’s Vermin, a lateral take on a whack-a-mole score chaser, and the third game to be released during the initial silver series run of Game & Watch handhelds. Similar to the Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. version of Ball, the head of the character has been swapped out for Link’s chibi mug, and the enemies are now Octoroks rather than moles. There are two standard levels of difficulty – A and B – plus a secret “C” mode hidden away to truly test those reflexes.
Speaking of secrets, as with the Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros., this The Legend of Zelda version is riddled with them as fans probably would expect. Many are more aimed at making life a little easier for the player, with Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, in particular, being one that may make the experience a little less intimidating. If you want to find out what most of them are, Nintendo has already released a three-part guide covering the system itself and the secrets that lie within.
One secret the article does not mention is a little easter egg that I would never have found if it wasn’t for one of my kids clocking it when sat opposite me. On the back of the device itself, there is a small Triforce moulded within the plastic shell that happens to glow when the backlight of the screen is turned up. It’s only a small little detail, but an incredibly cool one nonetheless.
If there’s anything I was disappointed by, there still isn’t a kickstand implemented into the back of the device. Nintendo has included a sort of McDonald’s Happy Meal cardboard shell in an attempt to allow the owner to display the unit in an upright position. Not the ideal solution I was hoping for considering the original ’80s handhelds did have one already built-in. I suppose a little something is better than nothing, even if it does ultimately come across as a bit cheap and underwhelming.
Last but not least, a Game & Watch wouldn’t be complete without the means of actually telling the time. The original The Legend of Zelda game plays automatically across the course of its full adventure over 24 hours to where certain events and boss fights occur depending on the time. Similarly to the Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros., the player can take control of Link at any given moment to beat up a few bad guys to where the in-game day setting will match outdoors. There are also several countdown time-attack options to where Link from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link can destroy as many enemies as possible with several stages to choose from and different enemies tailored to each one of them.
For slightly less than the cost of a full-price retail game, the 35th-anniversary Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda is a little trinket of joy. The games included aren’t exactly difficult to get hold of by any means. In fact, there’s a good chance you already own them all several times over. This is more of a device made for those who want to evoke their fond memories upon others and share tales of the past. Or, maybe even just a little something for younger family members to interact with whose first The Legend of Zelda game may well happen to be Link’s recent genre-defining adventure in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Review unit provided by Nintendo