The Legend of Zelda ReviewJoe Shaffer
An old man hands a green-clothed, pointy-eared lad a wooden sword to combat the evils across the land. A legend is born, one that will take you through the depths of maddening dungeons and perilous landscapes rife with vicious monstrosities. There are no towns, very little dialogue, and no cutscenes to point you in the right direction. Your only hope lies in exploration, experimentation and discovery--or the Internet.
Spread throughout the land are pieces of the Triforce, hidden in the aforementioned dungeons and guarded by savage bosses. Progression from one dungeon to the next isn't a matter of following an apparent rail. Without Big Brother Miyamoto pulling you by the hand to each locale, your only option is wandering about and hoping the next hole in the wall you see is a dungeon entrance. Most of Zelda is like a series of obtuse puzzles. You're expected to burn bushes or move rocks to unravel secrets. With both pieces of environment so ubiquitous, how does one know which bushes to burn and rocks to move?
The Legend of Zelda was a title that brought people together. Call it a social experience. People bought Nintendo Power or checked it out at the library, friends traded secrets, and buddies planned sleepovers whereupon they would uncover the mysteries of Zelda together, or die trying. In that respect, it was a fresh sort of experience. It wasn't your typical sword and sorcery title intended for one mind to ponder alone, but a group effort. Part of what made Zelda so successful was that many players overcame the counterintuitive aspects by getting together and educating one another. Over time, the game's secrets became common knowledge.
Other companies and games tried to replicate this formula with limited results. Neither Metroid, nor Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, or even the lesser known 8 Eyes could compare with Zelda in this respect. Even the most well hidden secrets in Zelda are nowhere near as random or obtuse as the aforementioned titles.
Nowadays we have ample information regarding even the deepest secrets, so puzzling them out is only a minor inconvenience. A FAQ can tell you how to locate the final dungeon, but a FAQ win the many rough battles waiting within it.
Mechanically speaking, Zelda is harmonious. Consider the tight control response, without even an ounce of slipperiness; Link's limited attack range; the erratic motions of the enemies; the sizes of the chambers; the clever placement of blocks and obstacles in each chamber. Each piece serves to boost the challenge factor and keep you on your toes. Nintendo knew how to take something so simple as a collection of basic sprites and turn it into a hair-pulling challenge, and they made it 100% fair. You cannot blame unresponsiveness on your mishaps, but you can blame your own lack of timing and awareness of enemies and their positions.
Each dungeon tests more than your hand-eye coordination. Conservation, intuition and memory play a huge role in puzzling them out. There isn't always a clear rail in a dungeon, and sometimes you have to experiment with bombing various walls to access hidden chambers. However, Link's bombs are finite, and dropping them on every wall was inefficient. This is especially true when you realize that most weak walls lie on key points on a map. Ever think it was strange that some levels resemble different animals, where the eye is an empty space? Intuition and knowledge of dungeon design might tell you that secrets lie within the eyes.
Like the dungeons, the overall flow of Zelda didn't have such a hard set rail. There is a rail there, sure, but it's not so stringent as to force you to complete every bit of it in a particular order. Armed with knowledge, you can replay it many times over and experiment with different dungeon order combinations and handicaps. You can take on the Ganon's entire evil menagerie with just a wooden sword, never use a healing medicine, or battle bosses using only close-range attacks.
We all know it isn't the rule system that makes Zelda legendary. For most of us, it's a link to the past. We'll never forget the first time we heard that catchy overworld diddy, especially not when we hear it in every game in the franchise. We'll always remember our frustration in traipsing through the Lost Woods, our relief in finding a fairy when our life was low, our triumph in holding The Master Sword for the first time, our anguish at having to pay Rupees to repair some old man's door, the image of Link holding up a item he'd obtained, the pleasant little fanfare we heard when we'd discovered a secret, or the satisfying sound effect enemies made upon death. For many of us, The Legend of Zelda is the surest thing when in need of a retro fix. Not only is it an intelligently designed game that utilizes simple concepts and interface to create a challenging adventure, but it carries decades worth of sweet memories.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.