Release: August 26, 1989
Sales: <250, 000
Model Number: ZL-65
The Zelda Game & Watch (model number ZL-65) is a multi-screen Game & Watch system developed by Nintendo and released in North America in 1989. Its gameplay was heavily inspired by Zelda II: Adventure of Link on NES, and it featured an original story described on the manual.
Unlike the other LCD games, this was made by Nintendo and appeared on a Nintendo platform. The handheld console would be Nintendo’s penultimate release before the release of the Game Boy (the last being Mario The Juggler).
Players control Link and fight through labyrinth chambers on the Game & Watch’s lower screen. In the labyrinth chambers, Link faces Poe-like Ghosts, up to four Stalfoses, and a Moblin-like Goblin mini-boss. Stalfoses and Ghosts cannot be defeated and must be dodged and blocked with the shield respectively. The Goblin must be killed in order to complete the lower-screen labyrinth. Once the Labyrinth is complete, stairs appear and the action shifts to the Dragon’s Lair in the upper screen. Here Link battles a dragon on the right hand side of the screen while avoiding its fire and tail attacks. The left hand side of the screen displays the dungeon map and items such as the Tomahawk item—unique to this game—that Link gains while fighting the dragon. Upon defeating the dragon, the game starts again with quicker enemies and retaining the player’s high score. This Game & Watch game also features a continue button that allows players to continue the game in the event of the player’s death.
Eight unruly dragons are creating havoc in the world. After they kidnap Princess Zelda, it is up to Link to defeat them and rescue the princess. The dragons have imprisoned Zelda behind a seal that requires all 8 pieces of the triforce to unlock. After defeating each dragon, Link gains one piece of the triforce.
Development & release
The Zelda Game & Watch was developed by Gunpei Yokoi and Nintendo R&D1. As Nintendo stopped releasing Game & Watch games in Japan after 1985, this game was only released in North America.
Zelda is thought to have pushed the limits of what is possible on the Game & Watch LCD format, though the gameplay is far simpler than the NES original. The game was noted in particular by Famitsu Magazine as having achieved the excitement and RPG-feel of the original series, however the game was criticized for being too easy if the player attained too many power-ups during play. Retro Gamer Magazine rated it Number 5 in their “Perfect Ten Games” for Game & Watch, noting that “it did capture the feel of the world it was played in.”
Today the game frequently fetches high prices on the secondary market with auction values ranging from £25 to £60.
Ports and re-releases
In 1998, Toymax Inc. was licensed to make the Mini Classics series, keychain-sized remakes of the Game & Watch series, one of them being Zelda. It has a significantly smaller screen size. This keychain version, along with Oil Panicand Donkey Kong, was only released in Europe. By as early as 2007, Stadlbauer and It’s Outrageous! began distributing the Mini Classics version in select locations within the United States, using art from A Link to the Past and Four Swords Adventures.
In October 2002, Nintendo included a port of the game as a hidden unlockable extra in Game & Watch Gallery 4 for the Game Boy Advance. This Zelda minigame is the most difficult to unlock, requiring the player to have beaten all other games (and to have earned all 160 stars). Due to limitations of the GBA hardware, the visuals were changed. To fit everything on-screen at once, the screen where the action is not taking place is reduced to about two-thirds of that of the original height.