The 80s were wild, not only because when most Gen Xers are asked about it they’ll tell you “Man, the 80s were wild”, but also because we had 3 groundbreaking and innovative action-adventure titles that came out ready to rearrange the insides of the genre: The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and Zelda III: Zelda: Game And Watch. Catchy. While most rational people will look to the groundbreaking A Link to the Past as the de-facto Zelda III, and to some the Zelda II, I am a facts guy and in the grand chronology of Zelda releases, this is in fact the third one.

Original Legend of Zelda Game & Watch

Hmmm. Neat.

Does this actually matter? Absolutely not, but this is my third chronological article about the series that just happened to coincide with my most fruitful Facebook Marketplace purchase of all time. So yeah, as requested by no one, this is a review/retrospective of the elusive multiscreen Zelda Game and Watch from 1989. Grab your favorite crappy 80s reference, throw on some glam metal, and dive in.

Game and WAT

Game & Watch Collection

Image by Japan collectorsno.1 on eBay.

The original Game and Watch was an absolute gem of a concept before the Game Boy line completely took over the entire industry. The technology is pretty impressive for the time, utilizing a reflective screen similar to the Game Boy, but with the ability to peel back the layers and see what makes it tick. Screens typically had a thin reflector sheet, a plastic and transparent background, 3-4mm of glass, a transparent foreground, and a diffusing plastic filter on top.

This gives you a sense of depth, and the shadows cast by the foreground are real shadows. This used early LCD technology that is still used in calculators (please don’t buy these) and looks like ass, with every sprite being in a fixed pose specific to the game being played. It was good enough for the time and it’s good enough for me for 3 minutes until I get bored.

Donkey Kong Game & Watch

Donkey Kong is actually very solid.

Each Game and Watch had buttons tailored to the needs of the game it was for: Ball had a button on each side for juggling, Hammer had 2 buttons on each side for… something, and Donkey Kong had the single most valuable contribution to gaming controls at the time and used and abused to this day: A Watch — no actually the D-Pad. And they nailed it on their first try. These slick rubber membrane D-Pads are the GOAT and have been copied various times with about as high of a failure rate as the screen bleed test on an RG Cube. Which isn’t a lot, and includes Nintendo too.

This style didn’t take off as much as Nintendo wanted, but they literally cannot stop reminding us it existed: 1995 for the Game Boy, “Here are those games you dropped for Links Awakening! They are still… good?” 2001, Smash Melee “Hey look at this quirky broken fella!” 2006, “Here’s those games again, but for the DS! Remember! The form factor? *Wink wink*” 2008, Brawl “here’s that funny beep boop dude again XD”’ and we all know the Mario and Zelda Game and Watches from the 2020s “Here are better games plus Ball!” You get the picture. Oh, also there’s a watch. Riveting.

The Zelda One is Cool Right?

Short Answer: Yes. Long answer: *Ahem* so the premise of the story is simple; Zelda got captured by…. Dragons (?) and you must… find them and — okay this is the plot to Super Mario Bros. Lore-wise this takes place after the Adventure of Link and before the non-canon Zelda cartoon (This era was wild). Gameplay wise you beep and boop from one end of a platform to another in a “dungeon” avoiding attacks and spamming the stab button at one enemy until you clear the room, then gradually ascend and repeat.

Those with good eyesight will notice this guy has two screens because this is a two-screened game. Once you get to the boss, a dragon, you actually use the top screen to fight instead, which is NEAT and EPIC. Once defeated, you gain a piece of the triforce and repeat until your bathroom break is over, or you beat it and save Zelda with numb legs. Sprites are predetermined, so there’s no real flexibility with how your adventure goes. Which is fine, considering it’s still a Game and Watch.

Game & Watch Gameplay

Wow look at that gameplay

To be honest, though, the REAL selling point of this handheld is how this thing looks. Look at it. The classic 80s beige on dark green, the 1980s dark fantasy aesthetic and the glorious early Zelda art that screams “Wait, was Link a Christian?” Paired with a D-Pad that actually holds up quality-wise and a couple of screens that make you go “DS? Oh I get it”.

It’s truly a nifty novelty for any Zelda fan’s collection. Hence it’s high cost online. And given how old this thing is, that isn’t going down. You can find it for around $200-$300 on eBay, despite it being the quality of an early 2000s McDonald’s toy.  Anyway, it was the best $150 on Facebook Marketplace I’ve ever spent. “Screens have dark circles.” Like, okay I’ll just spend another $8 and get new reflectors to mix a very common G&W issue. Thanks Reddit.

Should You Buy One?

OG Zelda Game & Watch next to the modern version

We certainly have a clear winner in the looks dept.

I paid $150 for this second hand and I look at it every day before bed because it’s so cool to own, so you really shouldn’t take advice from me. Objectively speaking, you aren’t seeing people buying a retro handheld and going “Man the Game and Watch emulation on this is great!” Because there are simply… better games out there to get your retro fix. Nintendo themselves when they released a Mario and Zelda game in watch literally just slapped three top-tier and low-spec titles on them and added Ball out of pity.

It’s clear we’ve moved on from calculators and watches, but I feel like you aren’t a real gamer until you’ve at least tried it. These consoles are truly a time capsule that captured one single moment in Nintendo’s history and I love them for making these. The Zelda one is a must for collectors with TRULY disposable income and might be best suited for the display case. Find a deal though. Please. For me.

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