It will probably come as no surprise that the second of Nintendo’s new modern Game & Watch systems is an absolute delight. I was quite taken by the Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch introduced last year, but The Legend of Zelda Game & Watch retains all the charm of the first while expanding on what made it so great in the first place – and the included games are arguably better than the ones on the Super Mario version.
Whereas last year’s Game & Watch included the original Super Mario Bros. and the Japanese-only Super Mario Bros. 2 (known as The Lost Levels in the US), the Zelda Game & Watch includes three games: The Legend of Zelda and The Legend of Zelda II for the NES, as well as The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy. An extra game would have been more than enough to make me happy already, but Nintendo went a step further by making it so you can even play either the English or Japanese versions of the first two NES Zeldas, while Link’s Awakening is available in English, French, German, and Japanese.
Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda
What’s great about this inclusion is the Japanese versions of Zelda and Zelda II are different from the versions we’re used to here in the States. I was well aware of the soundtrack differences between the US and Japanese versions of the original Legend of Zelda but never experienced them first-hand. In Japan, it released on the Famicom Disk System, which meant there was more room for more sounds thanks to the audio hardware built into the FDS. You get a much richer, synthier sound to the Japanese version of The Legend of Zelda. Even little things like the sound of Link’s sword when his hearts are at full-level are better than the version we got. I’m familiar enough with the Legend of Zelda on NES that I might try and play through it on the Japanese version just to experience the differences of something I know so well.
What I didn’t know, and I’m embarrassed to admit, was that the Japanese version of The Legend of Zelda II also has different sounds than the version I grew up with. When you talk to a townsperson in one of the villages, there’s a made-up beepy-boopy video game language as their dialogue spills across the screen. I’d play through Zelda II in its Japanese version if it weren’t already hard enough to play in English, but it’s still super cool and definitely worth checking out for any long-time fans who have never seen the differences.
The tiny screen, something I was enamored with on last year’s Game & Watch, is back again and looks fantastic. The colors are rich, vibrant, and absolutely crisp. There’s no slimy smearing or other ugliness at all. It’s just a tiny thing of beauty. Viewing angle leaves a little to be desired, as the colors become somewhat washed out with as little as 10 degrees difference in any direction. But it’s not so bad as to be a deal breaker at all, especially since I found myself naturally holding it dead-on without feeling uncomfortable.
The speakers are surprisingly loud when turned up, but don’t sound washed-out or tinny. It’s not high-fidelity but it’s better than I was expecting from such a tiny little speaker.
The Legend of Zelda Game & Watch includes a new timer mode, which lets you set a timer in increments of one minute up to 10 minutes. As the counter ticks down, Link battles enemies from Zelda II on screen until the end, at which point he raises his hands and the triforces making up the numbers of the timer flow into his hands. If you feel like it, you can hit any of the face buttons and battle the enemies yourself, and there’s even a little counter on the screen to keep track of how many enemies you defeat during the course of the timer. Basically, Nintendo gamified countdown timers.
The Watch part of the Game & Watch is charming, as was the case with the Mario one. Link battles enemies on the NES overworld, and you can similarly take control of him and fight them on your own, if you feel like it. If you hold down the ‘A’ button for 5-seconds, the Zelda reward music will play and instead of a digital “ticking” sound, you get Zelda’s full soundtrack and sound effects. I’m a little disappointed there’s not an easter egg like last year’s “The Mario Drawing Song,” but the thing just came out, I’m sure someone will uncover any surprises hiding inside before the day is over.
Included alongside the three Zelda games is the fast and fun Game & Watch game Vermin, which has Link’s head swapped in place of the Game & Watch man. There are two different levels of difficulty, and it’s a game of reflexes to try to smack down the “vermin” as they pop their heads up from the bottom of the playfield. It’s an LCD whack-a-mole, basically. It’s fun enough but I won’t play much of it in the long term given the built-in alternatives.
Packaging for the Zelda Game & Watch is lovely, as it was last year, and this year the insert in the box converts to a stand to display your Game & Watch while it tells time. It’s a neat little use of something most people would otherwise throw away (not me, I’m a weirdo who keeps all his packaging). Two little legs pop out from the back and it sits at just enough of an angle to let gravity do the hard work. It should be noted that the space for the Game & Watch is somewhat generous, so it doesn’t lock into place or anything like that. I only mention this because I nearly had a heart attack when I thoughtlessly moved it and the fresh new review unit I’d just been sent nearly crashed on the floor. Thankfully decades of gaming have honed my reflexes to a sharp edge so I was able to catch it quickly, but please, be careful.
Aside from a different color scheme than the Super Mario version, the form factor of the Zelda Game & Watch is nearly identical with a few exceptions. The Zelda version adds Select and Start buttons, which is quite nice (and necessary for playing the included games). There’s also a light-up Triforce on its back this time, which is another cool little extra touch on a device already brimming with them.