Image: Nintendo

If you've followed my work over the years you'll know I'm a huge fan of The Legend of Zelda series, including all the non-canonical material, even things like Faces of Evil and Wand of Gamelon – to the point where I was the only person to interview the creator of these games, Dale DeSharone, before he sadly passed away. In fact, I was later informed that the interview was part of the motivation for Seth Fulkerson (who is currently developing Arzette, a spiritual successor to the pair) to remaster them, adding various quality-of-life improvements – please check them out, as these remasters will prove the CDi games were cleverly designed Metroidvanias!

Now that I've established I'm a Zelda series superfan (ahem), you can guess where this goes next. I purchased a copy of the rather excellent Curious Video Game Machines by fellow Time Extension contributor Lewis Packwood. In it was a detailed chapter on the Barcode Battler, highlighting the special Zelda-themed cards available only in Japan. This led to me contacting Anthony Black of the Barcode Battler Museum, to acquire high-resolution scans and translations so I could print a reproduction deck in English. Maybe I could write an article on it for Time Extension, thought I?

Thinking about the Zelda cards then reminded me of the Milton Bradley board game, which now commands astronomical sums on eBay. Could it be remade digitally? This too might make an interesting article, but researching it then revealed a second Zelda board game by Bandai, exclusive to Japan! Further digging revealed yet another board game by Bandai, plus a Korean board game, making for at least four board games.

At this point, I was five Zelda games deep and suddenly recalled the Game & Watch handheld title, plus the LCD wristwatch game. Hold on... What about the "choose your own adventure" books? Why yes, those also exist, at least four in English and several in Japanese! (I've even interviewed the man behind the Nintendo Adventure Book series as a result – keep you eyes peeled for that.)

Searching the Internet Archive for PDFs of the books accidentally led to the Nintendo Game Pack scratch cards by Topps, including 29 cards dedicated to the Zelda series, which resulted in a simulation being programmed.

All this makes for more than a dozen forgotten Zelda games you've probably never played. Not traditional video games, but just "games" – and yes, we're counting the game books. An article at this point seemed mandatory.

You better believe it readers: it's Zeldas all the way down!

Barcode Battler Zelda Cards

Made by Epoch and released in 1992, this is based on the SNES game Link to the Past. and is exclusive to Japan. Over the years, there's been a lot of fan speculation on how the cards functioned, especially since the Barcode Battler could be hooked up to a Super Famicom. This connectivity, however, is limited to a select few titles, which does not include Zelda.

This video by the Barcode Battler Museum explains everything, including how the secondary "dice mode" can be played:

If using a Barcode Battler, you scan your two Link cards, then lay the deck out in a pyramid shape, adventuring around it while collecting items and defeating enemies. At the end, you must battle Ganon. If you don't have a Barcode Battler, you can still play, albeit by rolling a dice for encounters. The decks are plentiful on eBay, either standalone for around £80 plus shipping or as a pack of six decks in the original wholesaler packaging.

As mentioned, this forgotten game was the catalyst for this article. The Barcode Batter Museum kindly provided high-resolution scans, which I'm in the process of translating (see images). A local printing shop says they can print the entire deck at the correct size, front and back in full colour, on shiny card, and even cut the corners to be rounded, for around £60. Which is less than a Japanese deck on eBay, and would make for a fun collector's curio. If I ever finish the 300dpi print-ready English language PDF, it will find its way online.

There were other video game-based Barcode Battle decks, including for Street Fighter II, Super Mario World, and Super Mario Kart.

Milton Bradley's Zelda Board Game (1988)

Image: MB Games

This was released in 1988 by Milton Bradley and supports between one and four players. You create your own "attack dice" by affixing stickers to cubes and then traverse six areas, searching for the key item which allows progress to the next.

Landing on a yellow square allows you to select one of the down-facing tokens; if it's an enemy, all players roll dice to fight them (solo players roll all the dice). It does feel very reminiscent of Zelda, with recognisable items and enemies. However, the game is quite simple, there is no skill involved, and it relies solely on the luck of choosing the right token and rolling the best dice.

Given the regular triple-figure price it goes for on eBay, the original plan had been to take high-resolution scans and program a free digital version – until fellow Time Extension contributor Ashley Day suggested first checking if Tabletop Simulator supported it. This incredible piece of software allows users to recreate any existing board game or invent their own. It doesn't actually track in-game events, like score, but rather it's a physics sandbox – meaning you manually have to click dice to roll them, observe the result, then physically grab your pieces to move them. These things won't happen automatically. But for £15 (we got it half price in the Steam sales), you can play any board game made by users.

As it turns out, the Milton Bradley Zelda game has been recreated! User DonValor posted it in 2017. Just click the subscribe button for free, and Tabletop Simulator will download all the assets next time it starts. As you can see from the screenshots, it is a work of passion. All the materials have been scanned in high resolution, you can zoom in to get a closer look, and there's even an in-game music option. It's not Zelda music, but it's good enough. Our only complaint is that despite spending several hours in the lobby waiting for someone join our game, no one did, so we've only played solo. Some YouTubers have been quite harsh on this game for its simplicity, but it's actually fun in short bursts.

After so many years of being curious about how it felt to experience this, the cost of entry was minuscule compared to eBay prices – plus it allowed us to try a second Zelda board game...

Bandai's Zelda Board Game (1986)

Image: John Szczepaniak / Time Extension

This Japan-exclusive actually predates the above Milton Bradley game; Bandai released it in 1986. Browsing photos shows it to be quite complex and impossible to play without Japanese knowledge. Thankfully, it was fan-translated! Actually knowing the rules reveals that it follows the NES game fairly closely. In some ways, it's actually more complicated than the NES game – while players don't actually explore any dungeons, you still need to keep track of and physically micro-manage all the things the video game did automatically. For example, each player has their own secondary game board, which tracks hearts, items and rupees.

Thankfully, this has also been lovingly recreated in Tabletop Simulator, for free and in English, so you can see for yourself. The overworld map is recreated, there are cards for each boss, a variety of smaller enemies, the shopkeepers, and even the rupee-making mini-game. The ocarina, which allows you to play actual Zelda music in the background, is an especially nice touch. The amount of love that has been put into simulating the original is staggering – for player icons, there's even little 3D models of Link from Ocarina of Time!

However – and this could be because we couldn't find anyone else to play with, and the game doesn't support solo play – it's not quite as much fun as it appears. People online tend to trash the Milton Bradley game and praise the Bandai game, perhaps out of spite because the Bandai version never left Japan, but exploring both via Tabletop Simulator shows Milton Bradley's to be short but sweet. Whereas with the Bandai game, even after reading the lengthy rules three times, some points were still not clear (are the caves on the map actually meant to do anything, or are they just for show?).

It's also quite laborious going through the motions of moving, drawing multiple cards, plus keeping track of multiple items and rupees... you physically need to pick up and move everything. Maybe it just needs another player, though?

Other Board Games

Bandai actually made a second board game, this time based on Link to the Past. Sadly, as far as we can tell, this has not been recreated in Tabletop Simulator. The only version on eBay is currently listed at $1600. Then there's this Korean oddity; though given the Lego castle on the box, we suspect this was an unlicensed bootleg.

There are also other Zelda board games based on Monopoly, Clue, and Chess, but these are much more recent. The fact they're built on pre-existing games also makes them less interesting, so let's move on.

Zelda Game & Watch (1989)

Developed by Nintendo itself, as opposed to a licensed third-party like the other games here, this was released in 1989 as part of the original Game & Watch series. Ashley Day has an excellent write-up – we also have to strongly agree with him that it's a shame the recent Game & Watch offering didn't provide a recreation of the original 1989 version. The NES and GB titles are nice, but it feels like a missed opportunity. Still, it just makes the 1989 original feel all the more special. So special, in fact, that recently sold copies on eBay, unboxed, have been upwards of £70!

Luckily, the Game & Watch series is now emulated in MAME, featuring high-resolution scans of the original screens. There's also a Game & Watch core for the Analogue Pocket, which looks beautiful on the handheld – though at the moment, Zelda isn't supported due to using a more advanced CPU. Give it time though!

As for the game itself, you move Link back and forth, avoiding ghost and skeleton attacks, while attacking a Moblin on the far right. Defeat him, and you might receive an item, and then you ascend higher, until you reach a dragon boss. Beat him, and you get a piece of Triforce. This repeats until all the pieces are acquired. It's alright in short bursts, but suffers from the same repetitiveness and limitations as other G&W titles.

Nelsonic Nintendo Game Watch LCD Wristwatch (1989)

This is not to be confused with Nintendo's own Game & Watch series. Manufactured by electronics company Nelsonic Industries, the Zelda wristwatch debuted in America in 1989. Children in the UK had to wait a few years, but you may recall seeing the Nintendo-themed series in Argos catalogues, priced £11.99. In the UK, they were sold under the brand Zeon. Other games included Mario, Donkey Kong, Tetris, and even Starfox / Starwing. (Actually, browsing the Argos catalogue from that time reveals a diverse array of playable wristwatches, including Jurassic Park and Sonic the Hedgehog-branded examples, too.)

Sadly, we never owned one, and recent sold auctions on eBay put it at £50 for a broken example, and between £70 and £150 for a working but unboxed watch. The highest mint condition example we found sold for over £300. Suffice it to say, we did not buy one. It's also not yet supported in MAME, unlike the Game & Watch version. So we're going to leave you with this full playthrough video by GamingShroom:

To be honest, even after reading the game's description, it's not the easiest of gameplay loops to follow. There's barely enough room to draw Link on the outer border, let alone in-game. Comments in various YouTube videos, however, reveal a lot of very happy childhood memories. Except for that one guy who smashed his in anger when losing at the game – we can only imagine his regret now, given the resale value.

Choose Your Own Adventure Books

We purchased both 1992 books, plus Oracle of Seasons, which we're still waiting to arrive. Why is Blaster Master pictured? Blame eBay hysteria - once you start buying video game books, it's difficult to stop! Image: John Szczepaniak / Time Extension

Over the years, there have been many Zelda books where readers guide the story – Choose Your Own Adventure has become short-hand for this style of narrative, even though it's an actual registered trademark. We'll still use 'CYAO' for convenience, though, and for ease, let's split them into English and Japanese books. Of the English, there are four that we found: two from the Nintendo Adventure Books series of the early 1990s and two from 2001, based on the Game Boy Color Oracle games.

Published in January 1992, book #9 of the Nintendo Adventure Books series was The Crystal Trap, and a month later, book #10 was The Shadow Prince. Unlike the other items in this article, where there are several on eBay, even if overpriced, these two books are comparatively quite scarce. (Thankfully, both are on the Internet Archive.)

We managed to buy one of each, though, and they're honestly good fun – any kid who enjoyed the video games would have taken great delight in reading the books. The tone of the characters is similar to the cartoon TV show, with Link being wisecracking and Zelda more formal, and both cram in numerous accurate game references. The Crystal Trap also has readers choosing the actions of Zelda herself, given that Link is encased in the eponymous crystal trap; in The Shadow Prince, readers must guide Link to unmask who the prince is.

Image: John Szczepaniak / Time Extension

Along the way, readers choose paths and actions while solving puzzles which give hints as to the correct choice; if you can't solve the puzzle, you can also just guess. There's a mainline thread to the end, with multiple offshoots based on wrong or alternate choices, though these often give players an opportunity to return to the main thread. While there are multiple amusing 'Game Overs', nothing is stopping you from going back and choosing again.

In 2001, there were two more CYOA books, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, both attributed to Craig Wessel and published by Scholastic. We ordered Oracle of Seasons from America, though the estimated delivery is January; Oracle of Ages was curiously very expensive, even from the same seller. Given we're still waiting for our copy to arrive, we can't say much – but Zelda Dungeon's Rod Lloyd attributes his love of the Zelda series to these little books, which is high praise indeed. His in-depth exploration of Oracle of Ages is also fascinating.

Which brings us to the Japanese CYOA books – a topic so complicated and far-reaching it warrants a standalone article. For example, our sister site Nintendo Life last year covered the news that History of Hyrule had found and uploaded what they believed to be the very last missing CYOA book in the Zelda series. The book came out in 1992, and only in 2022 were English-speaking fans able to scan it. Just think about that fact: we are still learning new things about Zelda merchandise 30 years after sale! According to the Zelda Fandom site, there are at least seven Japanese CYOA books.

Image: John Szczepaniak / Time Extension

Also, if you were thinking The Crystal Trap was the first instance of players enacting the role of Princess Zelda, given that it predates Wand of Gamelon by nearly two years, you'd be mistaken. Battle of Mirage Castle from 1986 predates both of these! The story has readers controlling Link during the day and Zelda at night while the other is trapped in a magic orb. Which, if we're being honest, rips off the 1985 fantasy film Ladyhawke, starring Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Matthew Broderick. The book even replicates Broderick's character, with Funny the fairy following Link/Zelda and helping them communicate. If you're going to plagiarise someone else's story, this is a great film to copy.

History of Hyrule has a dedicated section on all the Zelda books and includes a section on fan-translating them. Sadly, at the moment, none of the translations seem to have been completed. So instead, if you're craving more Nintendo CYOA goodness, how about a fan-translation of the Metroid adventure book, Twinetroid? The original, Metroid: Zebes Invasion Order, was exclusive to Japan, but Devin Monnens of the Metroid Database was donated a copy by the Japanese Game Preservation Society, translated each page, and converted it to Twine. We asked Devin about doing the same again for the Zelda books, but he said some nonsense about having a day job and family commitments. Rest assured we will be bagging and vanning him, so as to facilitate this project, shortly.

Finally, if anyone is wondering if there's a tabletop RPG based on Zelda, there is, sort of. There's lots of fan creations, but we specifically mean a Nintendo-endorsed TRPG book. Firstly, The Legend of Zelda Shogakukan Game Book is sometimes incorrectly listed on Japanese websites as a "table talk RPG", which is the Japanese equivalent for tabletop. Reading it on the Internet Archive though shows that it's really just a very detailed and complicated CYOA book - we can't find any other Japanese examples. However, Nintendo of America did broach this topic when sponsoring a special one-off livestream with Critical Role, to generate publicity for Tears of the Kingdom.

EMBED: https://twitter.com/CriticalRole/status/1659623759626797057

Topps Zelda Scratch Cards (1989)


If you didn't already know about these, you'd think we were making it up. Cards with scratch-able latex ink, just like lottery cards, where you scratch silver circles to reveal symbols in a single screen "game". Crazy and totally unexpected! Here's our earlier coverage of these 1989 scratch cards, which includes a free digital simulation you can play.

They were part of the Nintendo Game Pack cards, manufactured by the playing card company Topps. The first series in yellow packaging had 60 different game cards (not counting the stickers), of which 20 were based on the Zelda and Link games. Other games were Mario, Punch-Out, and Double Dragon. A second series in blue packaging featured an additional 36 cards, of which nine were based on The Adventure of Link. This second series also included Metroid!

The second series variants will be added to the Zelda simulation at a later date, while Time Extension reader Asaki is now working on a Javascript version with mouse support.

Other Miscellaneous Stuff

Well, that was quite the odyssey. Turns out there were a lot of interactive Zelda spin-offs that weren't traditional video games.

We were actually going to end this article by making a joke along the lines of: what next, Zelda Pogs?! Except as we discovered, those do actually exist, courtesy of Nintendo Power. Officially branded Pogs plus a slammer. Then there's a Top Trumps deck, tabletop pinball game (at least two), jigsaw puzzles, an audio cassette & book combo called Molblin's Magic Spear, various handheld ball-in-maze games, and other stuff.

The maze games are especially odd – they carry the Largo brand and were licensed by Nintendo circa 1988, and there are several variations, where you manoeuvre balls through a maze, sometimes filled with water. Apart from the art it's not especially evocative of Zelda. At this point we're dredging through licensed rubbish so cheap it feels like bootleg knock-offs. Photos for a lot of this weird stuff can be found here.

Have you experienced any of the above Zelda oddities? Perhaps you've come across something not listed. If so, post in the comments.

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