You know, when I decided to start doing game reviews I really wasn't going to review any of the mainstream classic titles. People for some reason are very defensive of their old school games, and if I were to say anything bad about them I might suddenly find myself on the receiving end of some kind of Zelda inspired Kilingon dork feud. People do funny things when it comes to their favorite games and characters of their youth. Just look at what happened to Assembler over that ridiculous Sonic Extreme debacle. I doubt anyone is going to DDOS my little site or threaten my life because of a game review, but badmouthing Zelda does definitely carry the danger of alienating a certain portion of my audience.
Zelda... well, I do like the game, I just don't see why some people have elevated it to devine status. We've all played it, so in case you've been living on a desert island for the last twenty years here is the condensed version of what this game is about:
You star as Link, a little elf dude who in this game sort of looks like a one of the Lollypop kids from the Wizard of Oz with an elongated backwards pointy Smurf hat on. The evil Gannon-person has taken over Hyrule and kidnapped princess Zelda, and you have to get her back. You do so by defeating various monsters in several different dungeons, all the while collecting pieces of the mystical triforce and all kinds of little handy items along the way.
Let me start off by saying that for a home console game released in 1986 this was a top of the heap concept. There pretty much wasn't an action RPG genre before this. RPGs tended to be of the technical type like Wizardry or something, with lots of stats and hit points and crap, very few of them had an arcade interface. The converse was also true, action games tended to rely mostly on arcade skills and usually followed a straightforward level format. I can't think of an example before this of a game that had a unifying "world" tying the various "levels" together.
Many of the basic action RPG concepts that would later solidify in the Zelda series are introduced here. The overworld tends to act as a "hub," where the player must collect items and find the entrances to the different dungeons, while in the dungeons themselves the challenge then becomes figuring out how exactly to defeat that dungeon's boss. Each dungeon has a special item that usually is used in some way to progress in subsequent dungeons (A ladder that you use to walk over gaps in the floor for instance.) This seems like basic gameplay 101 today, but back then most home console games consisted of either shooting things in a spaceship, jumping through three or four screen platformers, or eating junk in a maze.
The game is fun, and still playable today, if not a bit simple. Most of the puzzles are pretty logical, however there are some areas where absolutely no clue is given on how to progress and you've got to resort to the bomb every-wall-push-every-rock technique. Apparently I'm not the only person who thinks so, back in the day the Nintendo Hotline had their own specific section to deal with questions concerning Zelda (You kids today don't know how good you've got it. We didn't have no internet where you could just go look up a Faq if you were stuck, we had buy a stupid magazine or call a 1-900 line and get charged up the wazoo.) Nowadays this game is still very popular, and it's hard to find anyone who doesn't know it inside and out. But you know, a lot of time has passed. This game used to be somewhat confusing.
Zelda has never really been my favorite franchise, especially the early NES games. It seems there's just a lot of walking involved - walk here, do something, walk there, do something else, walk all over the place searching for one section of wall you can blow up, etc. But the game is playable and pretty fun at times, and the payoff when you find a particular item or hidden room is worth it. I can understand why there are so many Zelda fanboys out there, I'll just never be one of them.
Graphics: The graphics for the original Zelda have not aged very well. They're somewhat smushed, like everything is made up out of little midget marshmallows. The various monsters look more cute than frightening, and sometimes it's hard to tell exactly what something is - Is that a rock I'm supposed to push? A bush I'm supposed to burn? Etc. That being said they're well animated and detailed in spots - for instance you can clearly make out Link's facial expressions when he swings the sword or holds up an item in triumph. The look for the sprites in this game (and in fact, for most of Nintendo's first generation classics) have become sort of like cultural icons, a "retro" look that we see a lot in games and advertising today.
Sound: The epic , upbeat overworld music has firmly entrenched itself into mainstream gamer culture. The Zelda "secret" sound effect that plays whenever a hidden area is found or a puzzle is completed has also been elevated to cultural icon status, only rivaled by the Super Mario Jump noise and the Pac-Man death cry.
Gameplay: For someone who's never played it (however unlikely it may be to find such a person in this day and age) the game may seem a bit primitive at first. You begin with absolutely nothing and slowly build up in strength and abilities. People who want to go and kill stuff right off the bat will be a bit frustrated until about halfway through. By the end Link is pretty much unstoppable, able to walk through most enemy attacks with the only threat being major boss characters. The overworld map gets a bit convoluted sometimes, and there's not many hints in which order the dungeons are supposed to be tackled. Also as I said before, you just have to walk all over the place till you figure it out. However the game does a good job of drawing you in so you want to complete it.
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