1988 has turned into the year of the sequels with Super Mario Bros. 2, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, and now Zelda II: The Adventure of Link all hitting the NES in quick succession. Interestingly enough, each of these Game Paks deviates from the first game in the series a great deal, which is really bold and potentially dangerous for a sequel since they have the potential to alienate longtime fans if too different. We talked about the vast changes seen in Super Mario Bros. 2, which plays almost nothing like its predecessor, and now The Adventure of Link takes the action in a whole different direction and mostly succeeds. Nintendo has managed to deliver a more realized version of Hyrule to explore, but has managed to gloss over some of our favorite parts of the original Zelda: secret areas and puzzle solving. Fans of the first game may have mixed feelings here, but in the end I came away rather impressed and happy with many of the new additions to the gameplay.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link picks up a few years after the first game ends. In a first for a NES sequel, you play as a grown-up version of the character you controlled in the original game. Tragedy has struck the kingdom of Hyrule once more with Princess Zelda being cursed to sleep forever. To wake her once more, Link must travel to the six palaces in Hyrule, battle the beasts waiting inside, and place a crystal in each one to vanquish the binding force protecting the Triforce. Once completed, Link will have the power to restore peace to the land and rescue Zelda once more.
The millions of NES fans who have played The Legend of Zelda might be surprised to find that The Adventure of Link plays quite differently. At first glance the game looks similar, with Link roaming the countryside via an overhead view. The similarities end there, because everything else in the game is presented via a side-scrolling viewpoint. As you wander the kingdom of Hyrule you will “follow the yellow brick road” to stay out of danger. You’ll notice dark monsters roaming the forests, plains, mountains, and deserts throughout the game. If you wander off the path and make contact with one of them, the game will immediately turn into the side-view and you’ll have direct control over Link.
Link has a very tiny amount of moves at the outset of the adventure. He can jump, duck, and swing his sword. If all of your heart containers are full, his sword will fire out a small beam attack that can hit enemies at a distance. Brand new to this game is an RPG-like experience system that’s in place. What this means is that for every enemy that you destroy you’ll earn a set number of experience points. These will add up and can be spent when you meet a minimum threshold on one of three categories: attack, magic, or life. You begin at level 1 in all three, and they all can be raised up to level 8. For every level you increase your attack you’ll deal more damage to the enemies. Increase your magic to use less magic points when casting spells. Bolster your defense and you’ll take less damage when hit. What this means is that there is some customization to your Link that could be different from other players’ games. It’s up to you to decide how you want your character to evolve and which attributes are the most important. If you get into a later area of the game and are dying too much, you can always go back out to an easier area and kill enemies over and over again to level up and get stronger!
Much like the first game, there are plenty of different items and tools that you’ll find on your adventure. You’ll need to locate Heart and Magic Containers to permanently increase the amount you can carry. Essential ones like the Candle will light up dark caves and areas and are needed to access new areas of the world. Throughout your quest you’ll come across a hammer to break rocks, a raft to sail across the sea, and magical flute to, well I won’t reveal that secret, that’s up to you to discover!
Also vitally important are the various spells Link will learn throughout the game. Some of them are defensive spells and others will help him take out tougher foes. The first you’ll come across is Shield, which will reduce the damage taken from enemies by half for a limited time. Later in the game Link will learn Jump to reach areas previously out of reach (reminiscent of Metroid), Life to heal, Fairy to fly about, Fire to throw fireballs, and more. These are all fun to mess around with and really give Link a vast array of options to consider as he traverses the world.
This time around the land of Hyrule is more realized with actual towns and people to talk to. These villages are safe havens from the constant deluge of roaming monsters and great places to recover health and magic and dig up new clues on where to go next. You’ll be able to learn new moves from swordsmen (the jump thrust and downward thrust), which are essential to completing the game. The towns are fun to explore, but the residents are exceptionally useless and cryptic most of the time. Still, it’s a nice change of pace from the original game where it seemed like you were completely alone except for the occasional old man in a cave.
Much like the first game’s underworld labyrinths, the Palaces are the most difficult parts of Link’s adventure. The original featured many secrets, often discovered by pushing block and bombing walls. While there’s some of that here, for the most part the action is more straightforward. Once Link learns his down thrust and gains the ability to break blocks, there are some areas with secrets to discover, but it never quite reached the heights seen in the original. This is a bit disappointing because some of my favorite parts of Zelda were discovering secrets, and that’s dialed down a bit with the sequel. Also, unlike the last game there’s no Rupees to find and thus no items to buy – which is a bit ironic considering this time around we have actual towns to explore and it would make sense for there to be stores to purchase things from.
Graphically the game features bigger and more detailed sprites throughout. Link is larger on the screen and looks great in the side-scrolling areas. The overhead view somehow looks worse than the original game, but most of the time is spent with the side view so it’s not too concerning. I must admit this game loses a bit of the uniqueness found in the original because so many games look similar in style (how many side-scrolling games have you played over the past few years?). We’re getting this game about a year later than originally planned, and that shows up in the graphics. Konami and Capcom have especially shown off the power of the NES as of late, and the result is that Zelda II doesn’t quite have the oomph it would have had a year ago. Still, this isn’t an ugly game by any means, and I appreciate the work that went into creating some of the enemies. The downside is the cast of characters has been vastly reduced from the first game, which is unfortunate to see.
The soundtrack has a very distinct instrumentation to it and it sounds different from most other games. Some of the tracks, like the town and palaces are fantastic to listen to. It seems there is more variety here when compared to the original game, but at the same time they aren’t quite as iconic. The title screen is quite captivating, however, and I have a hard time beginning the game without listening to it play through at least once. It’s difficult to crown a winner in this category, but as of this writing I enjoy this soundtrack just a slight bit more than the last game.
When it comes to difficulty, Zelda II definitely gets the nod. This one has more challenging areas and the enemies are more devious than ever before. Just like the first title, there are going to be strange and cryptic ways to gain entrance to new areas. Don’t be surprised to be stumped more than once and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a subscription to Nintendo Power to gain access to maps and other tips and tricks.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link has been a long time coming. It was delayed an entire year, but the wait has been worth it. It’s a worthy successor to the original as long as you go in with the knowledge that the gameplay is entirely different. This game leans heavily on the RPG elements of leveling up Link, something fans of the original may or may not like. I give Nintendo credit for trying something completely different instead of just recycling the original and putting in different dungeons. There’s a lot to like here if you give it a chance and I believe Nintendo has another winner on its hands. With the massive computer chip shortage many readers will have a difficult time finding a copy for the holidays. While it won’t be quite as difficult as finding Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket, hopefully some of you will be lucky enough to find this glimmering gold cartridge under your Christmas Tree!
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link Review
Final Thoughts: EXCELLENT
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is a worthy successor to the megahit original that doesn’t rest on its laurels. It features a completely new side-scrolling viewpoint with a more entertaining combat system and the ability to customize your character by assigning experience points. While it may not be better than the first game, it’s still one of the best adventure games to date on the NES!