Retro Scope: Zelda (Game & Watch)

Let’s take a look at the one Legend of Zelda game that nobody is talking about.

By Anthony Vigna. Posted 10/02/2014 09:00 1 Comment     ShareThis

I’m baffled by the existence of the Game & Watch game Zelda. Despite the fact that the Legend of Zelda is one of the most popular franchises in the whole video game industry, this Game & Watch handheld remains as one of the most obscure games I’ve ever seen. Even when people talk about the most unknown Zelda games, you’ll typically only hear about those god awful CD-i games due to their immense notoriety. Not many people seem to be aware of Link’s LCD adventure and there’s a pretty good reason for that: Zelda was the second to last Game & Watch game to ever be released. The game was also released in 1989, which was the same exact year that the original Game Boy came out, making it appear obsolete in comparison.

As a Game & Watch title, Zelda is a bit of an anomaly in terms of its design. Other Game & Watch games feature very arcade-like gameplay where you’ll have to master simple game mechanics and last as long as possible in order to obtain a high score. You can also obtain high scores in Zelda, but the biggest difference is the inclusion of a story and an actual ending. As Link, you”ll have to destroy a group of evil dragons in order to claim the eight pieces of the Triforce and save Princess Zelda. Of course, the only way to find out the story is to read the manual, but it sets a precedent for adventure-styled gameplay with actual objectives that other Game & Watch games lack.

Because this game was released shortly after Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, the combat in Zelda is a bit similar in nature. A Goblin (resembling a Moblin) stands on the right side of the screen and will try to attack you when you are close, so you’ll have to wait for the right opportunity to attack it with your sword. There are also Stalfos attacking underneath you and a Ghost (resembling a Ghini) that shoots projectiles from the left side of the screen, which impede you as you try to kill the Goblin. You cannot attack anything other than the Goblin, so you’ll have to defend yourself against other enemies in the heat of battle by dodging or using your shield. Every level, except for the boss fights, is structured in this exact format. However, there are minor changes that are implemented to increase the difficulty to keep things interesting. For example, the first couple of levels might have one Stalfos on the bottom, but others may have up to four later on. Thankfully, the heart system makes a return in this game, so you’ll be able to sustain multiple hits before you lose all of your health.

Zelda is one of the most complex Game & Watch games ever created due to the fact that it incorporates RPG mechanics in its gameplay. One of these additions is the inventory management system, which allows Link to gather three different items from defeated Goblins to aid himself in his quest. The first item is a Tomahawk, which is a powerful weapon that can only be used during boss fights against each dragon. The second item is the Water of Life, which restores Link’s health entirely and lets him shoot beams with his sword until he is damaged. This item can be used at any time by pressing down on the d-pad. The last item is the map, which shows you the layout of the entire dungeon. This is helpful because the game has branching pathways, a mechanic that is pretty impressive for a Game & Watch title. Once a Goblin is defeated, you can pick either the left or right staircase to progress, making the map great for navigation.

An LCD screen can only handle a small amount frames at once, so the developers elected to use a second screen for Zelda. The multi-screen system has a clamshell design with buttons on the bottom, making it bear a striking resemblance to a Nintendo DS. While the bottom screen displays the normal floors of the dungeon, the top screen displays the player’s inventory as well as the boss stage. The boss fights are much simpler than the normal levels, as you only have to dodge the incoming fireballs falling from the sky, but it can still provide a decent challenge to the player.

People might think that this isn’t a real Legend of Zelda game, but I have to disagree. Unlike most LCD games that feature licensed properties, Zelda was developed in-house by Nintendo R&D1. As a result, I consider Link’s LCD adventure as a genuine part of the Legend of Zelda series despite the fact that it’s generally unacknowledged in the gaming community. If you have any interest in this game, then I urge you to play it! The actual game can cost up to $240, but you can get it at a much cheaper price on Game & Watch Gallery 4 for Game Boy Advance. Being that it’s a hidden unlockable, it may take hours to access, but it’s definitely worth it to experience such a rare Nintendo gem.

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