I’ve spent so much time making fun of the CD-i Zelda games that I barely remember how I felt when I first learned about their existence. I may laugh at them and quote them now, but there was a time when I was initially fascinated and then mildly horrified by what I uncovered, back in the days before YouTube made it easy to view all of the cutscenes and gameplay.
I want you to remember the time you first discovered the online world of Zelda. Maybe you had finished a couple of the games and couldn’t stop thinking about them. You wanted something more, and so one day you jumped online and typed “the legend of zelda” into a search engine. You dove head first into the online community: fan sites, Wikis, forums, YouTube channels and other repositories of knowledge. Best of all, you may have discovered that there were more Zelda games than the ones you knew about. A new fan today has more than 30 years of the series’ history to discover, for example.
That was me in the year 2000 after Ocarina of Time converted me from someone who really liked Zelda games to someone who was obsessed with them. I joined the online Zelda community when Majora’s Mask was still in development, and I spent hours upon hours poring through websites, staring at pictures, and absorbing every piece of information I could get my hands on. Most websites I looked at had similar amounts of information on the games I knew and loved, and it wasn’t long until I’d exhausted the material that was available. I began to turn to less prominent aspects of the series, things I hadn’t experienced firsthand, and things I didn’t remember very well. Simply put, I couldn’t get enough Legend of Zelda.
I was surprised to discover that there were three whole Zelda games that I’d never even heard of before.
With only five games in the series back then, I was really surprised to discover that there were Zelda games that I’d never even heard of before. These were BS Zelda and CD-i Zelda. Many websites didn’t cover them at all or didn’t have much information about them if they did. It was particularly hard to find information about BS Zelda, as it had only been released in Japan via broadcast. CD-i Zelda however, was far more intriguing. These were three whole games, you were able to play as Zelda in two of them, and Nintendo didn’t make them. The early fan sites that mentioned them generally had only high-level information, and I became determined to know more. Why had I never heard of them, or the Philips CD-i for that matter? What were they about? Could I find a way to play them?
I don’t remember how long I spent looking for information, piecing together everything that made up the games. It certainly wasn’t a process I went about all at once. Every so often, I’d think about them and see if there was anything new to find. I started making a Zelda fan site of my own in 2001, and that fuelled a desire to have as much information about the CD-i Zelda games on it as possible. I hunted down screenshots. I found MIDI music files purported to have been from the games. I read as much as I could find, learning about the games’ storylines and how they worked. I discovered the fascinating history of how the Philips CD-i came to be, and how three Zelda games (along with a Mario game) were made for the console by someone other than Nintendo. I learned that the console had been a flop, and only a limited number of copies of Zelda’s Adventure had ever been made. And I read that all of the games weren’t very good, although that didn’t dissuade me from wanting to play them.
Finally, after a lot of reading, I came across the holy grail: a few video files available for download. These were the intro cutscenes from Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, along with gameplay from Faces of Evil and the final boss battle of Zelda’s Adventure.
Before I continue with the next part of my tale, let me digress slightly and take you further back in time. I had been lucky(?) enough to watch some of the Zelda cartoons on TV when I was young. I loved Mario almost as much as I loved Zelda, and a highlight of my afternoon television schedule was the Super Mario Bros. Super Show. I had the surprise of my life one day when watching the show and expecting a regular Mario cartoon, a Zelda cartoon began. As it played out, I was taken aback by Link’s character. I’d never imagined him to be so… whiny… or annoying. It definitely wasn’t the Link I’d imagined in my head while playing the games, but my little mind back then was still blown to see the world of Hyrule brought to life on TV.
If I’d thought cartoon Link was annoying, he had nothing on CD-i Link. I fired up the first of my new videos, the cutscene intro to Faces of Evil, and I remember thinking that it was like they’d used the very worst of the cartoon as inspiration for the animation.
The first episode of the cartoon begins with Link waking up in North Castle, looking out the window, and commenting, “Another beautiful day in the magical kingdom of Hyrule… boring place.” He goes on to describe how he misses the life of an adventurer. CD-i Link is brash and straight to the point: “Gee, it sure is boring around here.” When the king suggests that peace is a good thing, he doesn’t care. He’d rather be fighting Ganon, oblivious to all of the damage, death, and destruction that comes with Ganon being on the loose. I was stunned. This wasn’t the brave hero who selflessly fights to save Zelda and Hyrule. Surely it was a joke.
A king who was more concerned about his next meal than the fact that one of his dukes was under attack. Scrolls conveniently prophesying that only Link can defeat Ganon. I don’t need to describe the rest of what I saw in those cutscenes; you’ve probably seen them for yourself. They presented an interpretation of Hyrule so far removed from what was in my head that I had trouble believing someone had actually given it the green light. At least Zelda turned down Link’s request for a kiss.
I wondered if the gameplay would be any better. I watched the two gameplay videos and was equally unimpressed, if not as horrified as I’d been with the cutscenes. A final boss battle should be huge and climatic, but the one in Zelda’s Adventure was simply boring. The Faces of Evil gameplay looked repetitive. All I saw was Link walking back and forth across different levels of the screen and fighting enemies. This was before I heard that the controls were terrible and the hitboxes were bad.
A final boss battle should be huge and climatic, but the one in Zelda’s Adventure was simply boring.
I understood why I had never heard of them, and why information about them was hard to find for a long time. These games were so bad, in contrast to the Nintendo-made Zelda games which were so good. Nintendo certainly doesn’t acknowledge their existence, and it’s mainly thanks to YouTube that they became accessible to the wider gaming community.
It’s easy to see how the CD-i games, especially Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, became memes. There was a point where I realized that they were so bad, all I could do was laugh at them. I started making fun of the animations with other Zelda-fan friends. The more I watched them and quoted them, the funnier they became. And it was through this combination of making fun of them and that early desire of wanting to learn about these dark, once-hidden pieces of Zelda’s history, that CD-i Month was first born.
One thing has evaded me though. I still haven’t actually played any of the CD-i Zelda games. I’ll have to try to rectify that before CD-i Month 2019!