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Retro gaming week: “The Legend of Zelda”

Nick Blecha and Sasha Burnett

Editor’s Note: in the spirit of April Fools’ Day, we have decided to run a review for the original “The Legend of Zelda” game, released in 1987 for the NES, as if it was a current game being released on current technology.

Well, it seems that Nintendo isn’t going to rest on their laurels with their successful “Super Mario Bros.” Their new game, created by the same mind as Mario, aims not to be some variant on the same concept, but an entirely different type of game. “The Legend of Zelda” may share the “Save the Princess” motif, but in other respects is very different, with a focus on top-down exploration and combat.

The basic gameplay concept is fairly straightforward. You play as “Link” a young boy from the Kingdom of Hyrule, who has to find the eight pieces of the “Triforce of Wisdom” and use them to defeat the evil Prince of Darkness, Ganon, who has kidnapped Princess Zelda and holds the “Triforce of Power.” You see the world from a top-down perspective, and explore the land of Hyrule while fighting monsters and looking for secret caves. Some of these caves hold shopkeepers or old men who give you cryptic hints or gifts, but a few of them lead to giant underground mazes, which are where the Triforce pieces needed to complete the game are hidden.

There are eight of these mazes, and while in theory they can be solved in any order except for the last one, in practice most players will want to complete them more-or-less in the order suggested by the game, as the later ones have very powerful enemies that will be difficult to kill without the health powerups and weapons found in earlier mazes. As for solving the mazes, and finding a way towards the goal, the game keeps a map of each room you visit so far, and in addition each maze has hidden map and compass items, which show a full map of the maze, and your position and that of the goal, respectively. Finally, as mentioned, each maze has a hidden item (sometimes more than one) that helps the player advance through the game: some of these are weapons and some are items that allow the players to reach previously inaccessible areas.

Combat is the game’s area of strength. Right when you start, you can find a cave with a sword, and that will be your main way to kill monsters. There are many different kinds of monsters, and each is killed in a different way. Again, the monsters get harder to kill the further along you go in the game, and some have special ways to be killed: for example, “Darknut” enemies, which look like evil knights, can’t be hit from the front, and the “Ghini” ghosts are all invulnerable except the original one on a given screen, but killing that one kills the others. Each maze also has a “boss” monster at the end, some of which are very fun and tricky.

The game’s main fault is that there’s a lot it doesn’t tell you, or even really hint at. For example, there are fake walls that can be blown up with bombs to reveal hidden caves and passages, but nowhere in the game tells you this. Worse, though, are the hints the game does give you, which often seem meaningless unless you know ahead of time what they mean. Some of the information you do get is just plain wrong: the manual for the game describes the Pols Voice, a rabbit-like enemy with large ears, as hating loud noises, but the whistle item you can get doesn’t do anything to them. Apparently Japanese version of the NES has a microphone on its controllers, and you’re supposed to blow into it to kill these enemies, but the manual writers didn’t seem to realize this.

On the other hand, what this game does well, it does very well. As mentioned, combat is varied and a lot of fun. In addition, the world is huge, and at least on the overworld there’s almost no recycling of screens, so there’s a lot to explore.

Ultimately, this game has the potential to become a classic. It’s not flawless, but what’s there is seriously good, and there’s a lot to build on. Definitely a game to buy.

About Nick Blecha and Sasha Burnett

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