By 1989, Zelda – and Nintendo in general – fever raged high. Although the next game in the official Zelda series wouldn’t be released until 1992, 1989 was anything but a quiet year for Zelda fans. Merchandise was widely available and the Zelda fans of 1989 could start their day by eating Mario and Zelda cereal, packing their Zelda lunchbox into their Zelda backpack, playing the Zelda board game with their school friends at recess, and at the end of the day drift off to sleep while tucked into Zelda bedsheets (complete with matching curtains). Most Zelda fans will probably remember 1989 as the year of the infamous Zelda cartoon, and this article will certainly cover that, but before you can say, “Well excuuuuse me, Princess,” I’d like to show you a few other lesser-known relics of this year.
Anyone who had been thinking about dressing up as Link for Halloween had their wish granted this year with this special release costume:
Contrary to what you may believe, Link’s Awakening was not the first portable Zelda game. 1989 saw the release of two much lesser-known games, with Zelda games released for both Game & Watch and Game Watch.
The Game & Watch was a handheld device made by Nintendo that somewhat resembled the Nintendo DS with its two LCD screens. Instead of being able to play multiple games, each Game & Watch had an inbuilt game along with a clock and alarm function. These devices were a precursor to the original Game Boy and proved to be extremely popular. The Zelda version, simply called Zelda, required Link to battle eight dragons in order to collect eight Triforce pieces. The dragons have captured Princess Zelda and the only thing that can break the seal to her prison is the complete Triforce. The gameplay has Link fighting through a dungeon on the lower screen of the console, and once he reaches the dragon boss, he climbs a set of stairs and then the action switches to the upper screen where Link must fight the dragon. This game was re-released as a Nintendo Mini Classic and as an unlockable extra in 2002’s Game & Watch Gallery 4 for the Game Boy Advance.
Unlike the Game & Watch, the Game Watch was an actual wrist-watch with a built-in game. The Legend of Zelda version pits Link against Aquamentus, one of the bosses from the first game. Link must make his way through four dungeons, each with four rooms. At the end of each dungeon, Link fights Aquamentus (or more specifically, one of Aquamentus’ three sons and then Aquamentus himself) in order to collect a piece of the Triforce. In this game the Triforce has only been split into four pieces, and once all four pieces have been reunited the game is complete.
The first Zelda book that wasn’t a strategy guide was also released this year. Molblin’s Magic Spear is a story about one of the many adventures that Link had while on his way to rescue Princess Zelda from Ganon. He encounters a Molblin who has a spear that no matter how many times it’s thrown will always appear back in the Molblin’s hand. Link uses his wits to deceive the Molblin in order to get past him and continue on his journey. The book was beautifully illustrated and accompanied by an audio cassette tape which narrated the story and even featured actors from the animated series providing voices for the characters. The following video plays the original audio over scans of the book:
Perhaps the most well-known thing to emerge from the Zeldaverse in 1989 was the animated series. I will never forget the moment when, as a child, I was sitting on the couch at home watching The Super Mario Bros. Super Show on TV and a Zelda cartoon came on. Nintendo was a big part of my childhood and both Mario and Zelda were among my favorite games to play. I was delighted when I discovered The Super Mario Bros. Super Show and watched it as often as I could, enjoying the Mario cartoons and even getting up to dance along to “Do the Mario!” at the end of each episode. When the hosts announced that a Zelda cartoon was about to be shown, my heart skipped a beat. This was quite possibly about to be one of the best surprises I had ever had in my short life up until then. The world of Zelda that I loved to play and write stories about and imagine was about to be brought to life on TV. Eagerly I watched the cartoon that was shown; sadly I cannot remember exactly which episode it was. That particular day in my life didn’t happen until a few years after 1989, but 1989 was the year in which this cartoon was first aired.
The series came about when DIC Entertainment, who made many popular children’s cartoons back in the ’80s, teamed up with Nintendo to bring their popular franchises to life. Along with Zelda, there were also Mario cartoons. Since both series were so popular at the time, TV shows seemed only natural. You may be familiar with other cartoons such as Inspector Gadget or Captain Planet and the Planeteers which were also made by DIC.
I’m sad to say it, but my dreams of the most awesome TV show in the world were shattered shortly after the opening title. The noble and courageous Link that I’d envisioned while playing the games was whiny and annoying. The evil and fearsome Ganon was an incompetent buffoon. And while I liked the fact that Zelda could hold her own and fight alongside Link, she was also a snob. These three characters that I loved so much were portrayed quite differently to how I had imagined them. I’ll be the first to admit that the first two Zelda games, on which this cartoon was based, didn’t offer up a lot in terms of personalities for the characters. This left them open to interpretation, and I’m sure that many different writers could come up with many different personalities for each character and not all would be to everyone’s taste. But judging by the reactions of the people I watched the show with, my sister and my best friend who were both avid Nintendo fans like myself, they also weren’t impressed. And years later after discovering the online Zelda community and talking to Zelda fans from all around the world who had watched the series, I saw that the general consensus was that the Zelda cartoon was pretty bad. The overall response must not have been very positive in 1989 either, for the series was canceled after only 13 episodes.
All that said, and possibly looking back on it with somewhat nostalgia-tinted glasses, the Zelda cartoon wasn’t all that bad. Aside from the personalities given to the main characters it was still pretty cool to watch Hyrule being brought to life. I loved seeing how all of the enemies were portrayed and I adored the music and sound effects. The cartoon actually incorporated sounds from the games themselves, so, when Link defeated an enemy or picked up an item, the sounds were the same as the ones you’d hear in-game. The music often consisted of variations of tunes from the game. The cartoon didn’t seem all that different from other cartoons I watched at the time, although it was clearly aimed at children and featured a lot of childish slapstick humor such as characters getting covered in mud or tripping over in ridiculous outfits.
In the series, Link lives in Hyrule Castle where he guards the Triforce of Wisdom. Ganon has the Triforce of Power, and the idea is that whoever has both Triforces will rule the land forever. Therefore most of the episodes revolve around Ganon making some sort of plot to steal the Triforce of Wisdom. If Ganon wasn’t formulating a crazy scheme of his own, he was taking advantage of Link and Zelda getting themselves into some sort of bizarre situation, which they were often apt to do. At some point in most episodes, Link tries to get Zelda to kiss him, and, in the same way that Ganon’s plans to steal the Triforce are always thwarted at the last minute, Link’s attempts at receiving that kiss never succeed.
I can’t talk about recurring themes in this cartoon without mentioning a certain catchphrase often uttered by Link while in the presence of Zelda. I can’t even think about it without hearing Link’s voice (well, actually voice-actor Jonathan Potts’ voice) in my head. Whenever Zelda didn’t like something that Link said or did, he retorted with a line that’s so annoying it became funny and is now often-quoted by Zelda fans and somewhat of a meme in the Zelda community.
Uttered a total of 29 times in 13 episodes, the below video is a compilation of every single time that Link says it in the entire series. If you can stomach this through until the very end, then I applaud you!
Along with Link, Zelda and Ganon, there are other characters who make regular appearances. King Harkinian is Zelda’s father, an absent-minded man intended to be the comic relief (in case you weren’t already laughing out loud at Link in his underwear). Spryte is a fairy with a crush on Link and a viable contender to steal the “most annoying fairy” crown from Ocarina of Time‘s Navi. Even the Triforces speak up occasionally, with the Triforce of Wisdom offering up advice such as, “Evil is the path you choose, but evil-doers always lose.”
The cartoon also tries to explain some of the questions that you may have asked yourself while playing the games. For example, just how does Link manage to carry around so many items, let alone without them being visible? He has a magical pouch that shrinks the items when he puts them inside it, and they grow back to their original size when he takes them out. And why do enemies disappear when Link slays them instead of leaving behind a corpse? Because they return to Ganon’s Evil Jar, a magical contraption which allows Ganon to conjure up his monsters.
Overall the show’s failing was that it appears to have been made in a rush to take advantage of the Zelda hype at the time. Along with the bad-to-irritating personalities given to the characters and the fact that Cartoon!Hyrule didn’t really live up to the magical in-game Hyrule, there were several errors with the animation, and things from the game such as Link’s left-handedness that were overlooked. It was half “let’s make a cartoon based on Zelda” and half “let’s make a 1980s cookie-cutter children’s cartoon”. While it’s not the Zelda on the small screen that I would love to see one day – and I believe that Zelda could be something amazing if done well – ultimately, I do love this cartoon. It’s partly due to nostalgia and partly due to the fact that I find it so amusing, even if it’s in ways that the writers never intended. But you can’t deny that having the opportunity to see your favourite video game brought to life in cartoon-form is a pretty magical moment, even if The Wind Waker did cartoon Zelda far, far better.