Forever late to the party, I splurged a bit and got the Zelda Game & Watch Nintendo made last year, and you can still find on sale in some places. It doesn’t seem to have been as popular as the Super Mario Bros. version, despite being a somewhat better value for the money. It’s hackable, but it requires opening it up and doing some soldering, and has so little storage that to really make use of it you have to replace its Flash memory chip too.
But even if you don’t hack it, it’s a nice thing just to have? It’s got a great screen for one thing. And as reports were on release, there is a light-up LED Triforce that shows up through the back case when it’s on that’s just a nice touch. The games are largely as they were on their original release, although with flashing effects toned down to avoid triggering seizures in photo-sensitive sufferers of epilepsy.
Of new features though, the standout is the clock mode, which I’ve not seen a lot of people talking about! It self-plays a kind of weird version of The Legend of Zelda via AI. Monsters are generated, the AI destroys them, then more monsters are generated. They drop items, but rupees don’t seem to matter. Every two minutes, Link moves to a new screen. Every 30 minutes or so he changes location between the overworld or a dungeon. He finds items, he beats bosses, he gets heart containers, he slowly collects Triforce pieces, and at noon and midnight he defeats Gannon and starts all over again. There are even secret staircases to find, although the AI seems to know where they are.
At any time during this show, you can press A and B at the same time to take control of Link yourself. He controls exactly like he does in the NES version, with enough nuance (like, the edges of the screen are a safe zone like in the console version) that I wonder if this isn’t a hugely hacked-up version of the game’s rom that’s providing the show. The sound is just ticking by default, but if you hold the A button down for five seconds it enables the sound from the game too.
If you choose to control Link, you can’t access the subscreen, but you can switch items using the Select button. If you run out of hearts Link respawns almost immediately. Also you can’t move to a new screen yourself, instead the game advances to a new area after two minutes regardless of how well either you or the AI player does. If you leave the controls alone for a couple of seconds the AI will take back over for you.
I don’t know if the world map that Link travels through is mappable. I’d be very interested to know if it’s a hack, and if it is, if someone could break it out of the software. If it isn’t, maybe the game world could be recreated in a hack of the original Zelda rom?
There is also a special version of Zelda II. When you activate the Timer function, the version of Link from that game will automatically fight enemies, and you can take over from its AI too. This version is more explicitly game-like: it tracks high scores earned (by either human or AI) in each of its ten time limits and on each of three enemy sets, plus one more, a special mode where it records the time a human player can defeat a number of enemies. (Hold A for five seconds from the timer set screen to activate it.) And there’s a version of the old Game & Watch title Vermin included, with Link instead of its generic character that was later christened Mr. Game & Watch.
A note about the combat implementation of Zelda II in the timer game. Ironknuckles show up here, but the trick familiar to people who have played a lot of the NES game, of jumping before an Ironknuckle and stabbing as you’re coming down, as of slashing through the top of the enemy’s head, which always gets past the shield, does not work in it. Instead, to get past an Ironknuckle’s defenses, you must rely on the fact (in this game) that they can’t movie their shield while they’re attacking with their own sword.
So, it’s time to make an embarrassing admission. This is at least the seventh time I have legally owned the original Legend of Zelda. I had its NES cartridge, the Virtual Console rereleases for Wii, Wii-U and 3DS, the GBA rerelease, and the one on the Gamecube bonus disk for pre-ordering Wind Waker. I’ve probably forgotten at least one other version along the way-I had Gamecube Animal Crossing, which has the rom of The Legend of Zelda on its disk too, although it was never made available without hacking, and I subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online, meaning I can also play it there if I were to be of that mind. Now, I own a yet another device that can play The Legend of Zelda. Most of that time I could have played it for free via emulation, yet I keep buying it.
My response to people who are somehow in favor of Nintendo’s draconian legal response to pirates is, why do I keep doing that, continually giving them money for a game I’ve bought many times, when if I had the mind I could probably have gotten a hundred copies off the internet? Am I just stupid, or is there some other motive at work here? I am open to either possibility.