Every now and again a video game comes along that completely redefines what we’ve come to expect from interactive entertainment. Because the arcade and home console gaming industries are so new, we’ve been able to experience revolutionary game concepts over the past ten years. Games like Asteroids, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and Super Mario Bros. have all been massive hits that have spawned an untold amount of clones hoping to cash in on their successes. Nintendo has been telling us for over a year now that the next big thing from the Super Mario Bros. team wouldn’t be a sequel starring the popular plumbers, but instead a brand new adventure game called The Legend of Zelda.
Indeed, Nintendo has pulled out all the stops, creating a box that’s practically a work of art itself. The entire Game Pak has been coated in gold, its shiny exterior peaking through the upper left quadrant of the intricately drawn crest on the cover of the cardboard box. This game is sure to stand out from the rest of the games lining retailers’ shelves.
Kicking off its new Adventure Series line of games, Zelda is so big that you won’t be able to beat it in a single sitting. Thankfully the cartridge includes a 5-year lithium battery, which allows you to save your progress and continue your quest right where you left off. You’re going to need help along the way, so luckily Nintendo has included a massive instruction booklet (in full color!) and a map with some extra tips and tricks.
As soon as you power on your Nintendo you’ll be greeted to a beautiful title screen. A waterfall is flowing over a cliff and the music is instantly captivating. Behind the game’s logo is a pulsating golden piece of the Triforce – one of three powerful relics. If you wait to push any buttons the screen will fade to darkness and the story will unravel. It turns out that the Prince of Darkness, Ganon, has stolen the Triforce of Power, one of the three pieces. He seeks the others and is now after the Triforce of Wisdom, which was in the possession of Princess Zelda. She wisely broke it into eight smaller pieces and hid them across the land of Hyrule to prevent Ganon from ever acquiring the whole thing. It’s up to the player, who takes on the role of Link, to search out these eight units to once again form the Triforce of Wisdom, rescue Princess Zelda, and vanquish the land from Ganon and his evil forces. If you want even more backstory, be sure to read the instruction booklet. It’s filled with more details and even some game tips to help you on your way. Although we’ve come across some inconsistencies between the manual and the game. For example, is the currency in the game called Rubies or Rupees, and is the evil mastermind named Gannon or Ganon? Take your pick.
After creating a save file, of which there are three, you’re ready to begin your grand adventure. The opening screen has you placed in an area surrounded by rocks, with pathways to the west, north, and east. The viewpoint is sort of top-down, and reminded me instantly of the arcade game Gauntlet, except this game is much more intricate in its design. Your first stop should be to enter the nearby cave to receive your sword. Now you’re ready for combat! It’s completely up to you on where to go next, and that is something that is completely unique and refreshing in this game. I can’t recall playing any game that has given me so much freedom to decide where I want to go next. You choose a direction and explore and each screen represents a new area of the map. The world is vast and varied. From lakes and rivers to forests and mountains, each area you come across is never exactly the same as the last. Every screen will have various types of monsters to vanquish or avoid and there are a total of 128 screens to discover in, what Nintendo calls, the game’s Overworld.
As you begin to navigate the vast terrain, you’ll soon discover that the game is loaded with secrets to find. Much like Super Mario Bros., the team at Nintendo love to hide things everywhere. You’re on the search for the entrances to the game’s Underworld labyrinths. Each of these mazes contains challenges that must be solved to continue on your quest. For example, you might have to push on blocks to move them and trigger a switch to open a locked door. Perhaps you need to defeat all of the foes in one room so they drop a key. You’ll be able to find treasures, like the compass and the map that will aid you in your navigation. You’ll even gain access to new items that will be vital to your success. New sub-weapons like the Boomerang will reach far off foes and items, whereas the Candle will light up dark areas and even allow you to burn certain objects. Other items, like the Raft and the Ladder will be necessary tools to reach areas of the map that were otherwise inaccessible. At the end of every labyrinth is a Boss character that must be defeated in order to receive a piece of the Triforce of Wisdom. These are unique monsters that have their own patterns and you’ll need to figure out their weaknesses in order to survive. Gather all eight pieces and you’ll be ready to take on the ninth maze and Ganon himself.
As you successfully complete challenges and find new items, you’ll become stronger over time, increasing your number of hearts. These hearts represent your health, so the more you have the more damage you will take before falling in battle. Additional weapons, like the bow and arrow will help even the odds. You’ll eventually acquire more powerful swords and shields to take on more powerful adversaries like Wizzrobes and Darknuts. Remember that your extra weaponry can be used to solve puzzles or find secret areas. One of the most important things to look out for are cracks in the walls. This usually signifies that it can be blown up with your Bombs and will often reveal a secret passage!
Graphically The Legend of Zelda holds up pretty well. Because the view is somewhat zoomed out, this allows for more enemies to inhabit the areas and for more action on the screen. However, this also means that most of the sprites are on the small side, with Link being about the same size as small Mario. Still, it’s obvious the creators paid a ton of attention to the designs of the various creatures, and there are a lot of variations in the game. The Boss enemies are especially impressive, growing in size and often more animated than the others. Many enemies are capable of throwing projectiles, like rocks and magical beams, so there’s quite a lot going on in the game at any given moment, creating for some spectacular scenes. Although the game does suffer from the now-standard sprite flickering found in most NES games, it’s not as prominent here and doesn’t really have any major impact on enjoyment. The various locales in the Overworld really add to the immersive adventure, and the Underworld mazes often have different color schemes to really make them stand apart from one another. The game is extremely colorful and represents one of the best looking games on the system to date.
The music is equally impressive. From the moment you turn on the game it’s obvious that special care was given to the game’s soundtrack. Much like Super Mario Bros., you’ll often hear the same song on repeat over and over again, but for some reason it never becomes old or annoying. Indeed, the entire time you spend in the Overworld you’ll be hearing the same tunes over and over again. Luckily it’s an epic piece of work that you’ll be humming long after you’ve turned off your Nintendo. The various Underworld mazes share a different piece of music, which equally compelling and perfectly complements the dank, dark labyrinths to create a sense of foreboding danger around every corner. The game doesn’t have a large sprawling set of tracks, but more than makes up for that with quality songs and exceptional sound effects. I especially love the little jingle that plays when a secret is discovered or a new item is acquired.
There’s a perception out there that video games are only for kids. I’ve never agreed with that, and The Legend of Zelda in particular really showcases that they can be enjoyed by players of all ages. In fact, it appears that Nintendo has moved the needle when it comes to challenging gameplay design. This game isn’t easy, and it’s loaded with obscure items to find and secrets to discover. The Bosses can be quite difficult, and even figuring out how to proceed in some of the Underworld mazes can boggle the mind. Zelda is far from a simple hack-and-slash game and will require just as much brain as brawn to complete. Don’t be surprised if you quickly reach for the included secret game maps to try and navigate the complicated world.
The Legend of Zelda represents a paradigm shift from Nintendo in the way video games have traditionally been created. Many console games have been ports of arcade games, which are designed by nature to suck away your precious quarters and have rigid level structures, taking you from point A to point B until you reach the end credits. This title marks a distinct switch in game progression, where it’s up to the player to decide where to go and what order to tackle the challenges. It’s a seemingly never-ending adventure that saves the progress you’ve made so you never have to start from scratch. With over 20 helpful items and over 30 different creatures, this is a completely refreshing and rewarding video game experience – one that has been created to entertain gamers for weeks and months on end instead of just for a few hours. Zelda is truly the next generation of video game entertainment and I can’t wait to see what its sequel, The Adventure of Link, has in store for us.