Last year, Nintendo provided its fans with the perfect stocking-filler via its Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. handheld, a neat tribute to the classic Game & Watch range of LCD games that were so popular in the pre-Game Boy landscape of the early 1980s. That release was essentially created to celebrate 35 years of Super Mario, and this year, the company has returned to the concept with Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda.

The first Zelda outing on the NES was released in Japan in 1986, making 2021 the 35th birthday of Link, Ganon and Princess Zelda. Alongside Super Mario and Metroid, Zelda is one of Nintendo's most popular and beloved franchises, so it makes sense for the Japanese veteran to focus on it for the next in its presumably regular series of Game & Watch updates.

As before, Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda (no relation to the actual Zelda Game & Watch from 1989) takes design inspiration from the single-screen handhelds which first appeared at the dawn of the '80s. While Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. sported a colour scheme that called to mind the Nintendo Famicom (NES in the west), Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda replaces the dark red with a more fitting green, but retains the gold metal front plate. Outside of that, the design is identical to the Super Mario Bros. version – save the neat inclusion of the Triforce, which is embossed on the rear of the unit and actually lights up.

The D-Pad feels great, the rubber buttons are responsive and it's reasonably comfortable to use, although the controls still feel like they're positioned a little too close to the bottom of the device, which can lead to some mild discomfort if you're playing for prolonged periods. The rechargeable internal battery is good for around 8 hours of play (that's with brightness and volume levels kept low) and is charged using the bundled USB-C cable. There's also no kickstand (again), but at least this time Nintendo has been kind enough to see that the packaging's internal cardboard tray can be turned into a rather fetching display stand.

When we reviewed Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros., we were slightly disappointed that Nintendo hadn't included more games on the device. On that score, Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda is a slight improvement. As well as the original Legend of Zelda and its (often divisive) NES sequel Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, you get the 1993 Game Boy outing Zelda: Link's Awakening, the same game which was recently remastered on the Nintendo Switch. In addition to these three games, there's a reimagined version of the 1980 Game & Watch title Vermin, with Link in the starring role. There's also a special 'timer' mode which allows you to set a time limit between a minute and 10 minutes and beat as many enemies from Zelda II as possible, with the unit keeping track of your best performance at each time setting. There's also an interactive clock that is based on the overworld of the original Legend of Zelda. Left to its own devices, this clock will automatically show Link battling a series of enemies from the game, but you can pick up the unit at any point and take control of the Hero of Time yourself.

Because there are notable differences between the Japanese and western versions of the two NES games (in Japan, they were released on the Famicom Disk System – which was exclusive to that region – and featured different music), Nintendo has kindly included both the versions on this device. Obviously, unless you can read Japanese, the Famicom Disk System variants are little more than a neat curiosity; the Japanese version of Link's Awakening is also present, alongside French and German-language versions.

As was the case with Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros., you can freeze the game at any time, which is handy for when you're out and about and aren't in a position to save your progress in the game itself. It even picks up where you left off if you switch to another game on the unit, which is nice. Other options include the ability to alter the screen brightness and volume, as well as toggle between full-screen and 1:1 aspect ratios on Link's Awakening. Emulation is, as you might expect, perfect, although the screen does have a certain softness that makes the visuals look a bit smeared (again, this is something that was equally true of the Super Mario version).

Between the three Zelda games included here, there are many hours of enjoyment to be had, which arguably makes Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda a much better proposition in terms of value than last year's Super Mario-based offering. While the first game shows its age and the second NES title has divided critics since release, they're still worth a play if you're a seasoned fan of the modern-day Zeldas. Link's Awakening, on the other hand, is just as joyous an experience now as it was back in 1993; it's one of the most oddball Zelda games and really stands up – largely because it borrows so many of its gameplay mechanics from the peerless Zelda: Link to the Past. So much so, in fact, that it makes you wonder why Nintendo didn't include that game, too; Link's Awakening is based on humbler technology, admittedly, but it came out after the SNES title, so it would have made sense to see it here – at least in terms of series chronology. Also, why include the original Link's Awakening and not the superior Game Boy Color update, Link's Awakening DX?

Still, you're getting three of the foundational Zelda titles as part of this package, as well as some neat throwaway extras – plus, as Nintendo itself states, this is a 'collectable' item that will look great on your shelf. In an ideal world, this would be bursting with content, but as it stands, we can't say we're disappointed with this ongoing Game & Watch revival; long may it continue, in fact.

Game & Watch: The Legend Of Zelda Group Shot
Image: Nintendo Life

Thanks to Nintendo UK for supplying the Game & Watch The Legend of Zelda unit used in this review.

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