Power Shot, a frequent article writer for Zelda Universe, brings us his take on the original Legend of Zelda for NES in a series of “retrospective articles,” made just for ZU’s revamp, where he takes the Zelda series in a modern context, then proceeds to rip it to shreds. What did AoL mean to Zelda history? How much has the series evolved since then? Is this old game truly worthy of the Legend of Zelda name? The answer lies within this Retrospective Review.

Retrospective Review: The Adventure of Link

By Power Shot

Lately I have been thinking a lot about innovation. What with the news that the next Legend of Zelda game might be both first-person and casual, and those steampunk rumors we had going on, it made me realize how many people really hate change. When one builds up a routine, perhaps the most terrifying thing is to change said routine. There are always people who love change and those that hide under their beds with the Boogyman when change comes calling. When I was playing Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, I could not help recalling such modern transformations of the Zelda franchise. After all, this is without a doubt the most…shall we say unique, game of the series. Forget breakout titles like Ocarina of Time, this is the game that did things differently. With side-scrolling, EXP-elements such as leveling up attack, magic, and health, this was definitely one of the more innovative titles of the series.

But is innovation good? Since we’ve never seen elements introduced in this sequel title in any other of the series, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe people don’t like things like side-scrolling from our favorite fairy boy. But I seem to be babbling, which I often do, for which reasons I shall explain later. So let’s hitch up out pants, flatten ourselves to two dimensions, and grab our swords as we investigate this, the second of the Zelda series. Hopefully someone remembered to bring bacon grease for Rosie O’Donnell.

Talk Two Sentences to Me

As we all know, I enjoy starting these reviews discussing some of the more important things of a game: characters, setting, and plot, so let’s talk about Link and his merry band of assistants through this adventure.

Now, as this is a direct sequel Zelda, the player might notice that Link’s grown a few pixels, specifically the amount of pixels game characters the age of seventeen obtain. He’s an adult now, so it’s time to treat him like one. He’s got a few new moves, and he’s grown out of a few old ones. For starters, Link’s learned to leave the surface of Hyrule and escape the confines of gravity for brief intervals in an ability I am told is called ‘jumping’. He also gets a bit of personality, as Link actually speaks in this game! Yes, our silent protagonist has learned how to cause words to float across the screen to convey what he’s thinking, and displays this talent more than once. It gives him a bit of personality, and really helped me engage myself in the game, though others mind find the phenomena a bit out of place with the series.

Now, we all know that a protagonist is nothing without many, many supporting characters for which he can perform tasks to get to different sections of the game. I found out one of two things: either Hyrule has an abundance of old man or there is only one old man in all of Hyrule who seems to have more concubines than a Sultan. He shows up everywhere, and gives you spells if you help his various daughters/wives/love slaves. I found it a bit inspiring, and wanted to learn all the spells in Hyrule so I might emulate him one day. Sadly, despite my frequent saving of the world, no one wanted to be my concubine. I guess the old man forgot to tell me the spell that summons his vast supply of little blue pills.

Even though all of the characters can speak a whole two sentences without forgetting their speech patterns, there are several things missing from this Zelda game. For one, Zelda herself only appears at the beginning and end, mostly because she’s in a coma for this game. It’s not like the last game, where we didn’t know her. We’ve got a relationship now, and it seemed a bit like she was giving me the cold shoulder. But maybe she’s just shy. After all, she does have to wait for a curtain to fall before she kisses Link.

Because this is a direct-sequel Zelda, Ganon is nowhere to be seen, though his followers are everywhere. A bit sad, as I was really looking forward to hunting some wild boar again.

Dimension Traveling

The staples of any good Legend of Zelda game involve, among several things, good landscape to travel in. I suppose the countryside has to be beautiful so that we’re motivated to save it. Hyrule has gone through several changes since the last time we visited. For starters, there are towns now! Yes, actual people inhabit the land now and give it its own little personality. The land is still rather large, and I wouldn’t be the critic that I am if I didn’t bash it for not having a map, yet again. I would have thought that after the first game they would have realized that having a giant world means people need to know where to go! Even the dungeons don’t have maps now, which caused me to spend several hours consulting websites just looking for where I was supposed to go.

The dungeons and towns are much more detailed than the over world, which they’re supposed to be, but I felt that they looked too similar. The towns were all identical, and the only thing that really differentiated the dungeons were the different shades of colors in the backgrounds. After a while they started to feel repetitious. This might be because of budget, or technological difficulties, but they all follow the same pattern: go in, grind through enemies and rooms, find item that you will rarely need to use, and kill the boss by hitting it with your sword. Even the items feel unnecessary, as the bow and arrows, the bombs, and all the rest we saw in the last game are gone, resulting in Adventure of Link becoming a giant hack-and-slash with Mario jumping mixed in.

I Dream of a Plot

One day in the future, I know that Zelda will have a good plot. I understand the difficulties of executing one with NES technology. Back in those days, it was completely natural to have the entire plot on the back of a box or on a scrolling prologue. They didn’t have all the fancy gizmos that we do nowadays.

Adventure of Link revolves around an incarnation of Link who has grown out of his kid-sized tights and has begun noticing strange things about himself. Specifically, a triangle-shaped mark on the back of his hand that means he is naturally the chosen of the Triforce of Courage. He is then heralded by Impa, nursemaid of Princess Zelda, who informs him that the princess has fallen into a deep sleep and, unlike Sleeping Beauty, cannot be awoken by a steamy mouth-to-mouth CPR session. No, she requires Link to seek out the actual Triforce of Courage at the Great Palace, which can only be opened by placing crystals in other palaces and blah de blah de blah. The entire plot is completely ignored during actual game play, and I had to actually keep checking the box for the back story to remind myself why I was trying to wake her up.

I’m assuming everyone can guess what happens at the end. Good triumphs, evil is vanquished, and Link gets a girlfriend. Oh, I guess that is a sort of twist. Normally people use their words to thank the sole sword wielder in all of Hyrule.

I Can See You, Mario!

This is the part of the review where I am contract-obligated to discuss gaming aspects that worked, failed, and utterly tanked. As we are all aware, Adventure of Link is probably one of the most unique games in the entire franchise and, after careful analysis, I think I can figure out why. Adventure of Link plays very much like a hack-and-slash Mario title. You run left to right in vaguely similar levels and butt-stomp, or I guess the case for Link would be sword-stomp, your opponents into submission. The enjoyable items like the bow and arrows, even the bombs, have been needlessly replaced with travel items used to open up new locations and, while it’s a half-decent idea, it basically causes all the levels to blend together quite blandly. In the previous installment of the series, I would look forward to finding weapons and even rupees, but all of that’s been removed. It just kind of makes everything listless and uninteresting, with little to look forward to besides beating the game.

While elements of Mario were certainly present and clearly visible during game play, there were several things that were not clearly visible. Specifically the villains, and this I felt was the most annoying thing about the game. Time and time again I would die simply because I walked somewhere I wasn’t supposed to walk. I had to memorize where the enemies were, I had to determine where their attacks would hit… It felt almost like work, and I always find it difficult to enjoy myself when I’m working when I should be having fun.

In Closing

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, so I thought it would be a good idea to discuss innovation one last time. The Adventure of Link is certainly innovative, but was it a success? Well, in terms of game play, perhaps not. After all, no other Zelda titles followed the example set by Adventure of Link, as sequels returned to the game play elements introduced in the original Legend of Zelda. Yes, this is the game that shall remain forever the ‘dark horse’ of the series, to quote Wikipedia. And though I have mounted the mountain of evidence against the game, though I have slandered the game, still I wonder…what might have been? I like when things are done differently, a trait that is unfortunately a bit absent from several games in the series, and here in this game is it displayed why. Maybe this is the game that caused Nintendo and Miyamoto to stick to the formula that had made Zelda what it is.

Remember, Nintendo, for all their giant leaps in recent years for innovation, is a company that fears change, especially their core franchises. And no series displays this more prominently than The Legend of Zelda. Is that bad? Of course not. After all, I believe the old proverb is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But with the new rumors about casual Zelda rearing their heads, I cannot help but think that maybe Nintendo’s pulling out their wrenches to try their hand at fixing the plumbing.