I have in my hands the Legend of Zelda Game & Watch, the second in Nintendo’s line of whimsical laptops clearly meant to be rockers for those who already have (or can’t find) a Switch. It does a good job, and the three old-fashioned Zelda games included are great options for the pocket-hard Nintendo-adventure.
Announced a few months ago, this $ 50 gadget is very similar physically to last year’s Mario Game & Watch, the first in the series based on Nintendo’s pre-Game Boy line of handhelds. The only difference is the addition of the start and select buttons, which are actually used in Zelda games.
The games themselves are the inimitable original, The Legend of Zelda; its brutally difficult side-scrolling sequel, The Adventure of Link; and the beloved Link’s Awakening puzzle box, recently redone with style. There’s also a recreation of a classic ’80s monochrome Game & Watch, although its entertainment value is frankly limited.
You can play each one directly or press the Play button to switch to another, saving your progress. There are no save states beyond that, so be prepared to die millions of times in Zelda II.
The display is nothing fancy but matches the resolution of the game well, looking as clear as you would expect at this size. It’s certainly more difficult to play on this handheld than it is on a TV, but definitely doable. For the record, these close-up images show more pixelation than you notice when reading; there is definitely no screen door effect as you see in the photo below. With a little attention to detail, Link’s Awakening has an aspect ratio adjustment option; the original Game Boy screen was narrower than 4: 3, so you can switch between them on the fly. These include the original monochrome version, not colorized.
The “watch” part consists of a clock and now also a timer app. The clock is pretty funny, actually: at midnight and noon, Link begins his quest in the original game, starting with picking up his sword and instead progressing through the game rather haphazardly, repeatedly killing monsters that spawn over and over again. on one screen for a minute at a time – and sometimes die himself, only to be resurrected as well – before moving on to the next. It’s not recorded by a simple AI playing the game, so you won’t see the exact same thing happening over and over again.
At 7:59 a.m., for example, he cleans a green room in Stalfos’ dungeon, and as the clock strikes 8 a.m., he still walks into the boss room, where he plays the flute to reduce Digdogger, slaughters the poor shrunken thing, and recovers his fifth piece of the Triforce. At 11:30 a.m. he enters the last dungeon, and at midnight he effortlessly sends Ganon into an anticlimax – and the cycle repeats, albeit with a different color scheme. Dungeons and overworld aren’t exactly like in the original game but have been changed in various ways to accommodate the clock. Still, you get a feel for the progression as this Sisyphus Bond progresses through the game, collecting the various tools and treasures over and over again.
The timer is a small, limited but useful item that does exactly what you might expect, counting down from any full minute increment that is less than an hour. Link takes on waves of Zelda II-style enemies and seems to have as much trouble killing those stupid blue knights as I do. He tracks his highest “score” for a certain amount of time, so you can set it on three minute rounds and take bets on his performance.
The hardware, as I said, is largely unchanged, but the addition of the start and select buttons means that A and B, already quite far into the device, are even lower. I think it went from “not ideal” to “uncomfortable” if you plan to play for more than a few minutes and have medium or larger hands. Nintendo, we can move them half an inch, can’t we? Fortunately the device is very light.
At the back of the Zelda Game & Watch is a small Triforce which, for no reason, lights up very dimly. It’s a totally unnecessary little detail that indicates someone out there really likes this thing.
Battery life will likely depend on the brightness of the screen, but it’s at least five or six hours, and probably longer. I’m testing it right now and will update this post later.
Another fun detail, and maybe I missed this one on Mario’s, is that the box it comes in doubles as a small stand; you unfold the cut-out legs and it holds the device at the proper angle to be seen – the viewing angle isn’t great, so leaving it flat or propped up straight isn’t ideal.
Overall, the Zelda Game & Watch is a fun little gadget that any fan of the NES and Game Boy classics will appreciate. The only question is whether you will be able to get one.