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 it, but before you can say “Well excuuuuse me, Princess” I’d like to show you a few lesser-known relics from this year.
The first handheld Zelda
Contrary to what you may believe, Link’s Awakening was not the first portable Zelda game. 1989 saw the release of Zelda games 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. But unlike the DS, or any portable console, the Game & Watch could not 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 story behind the game is that 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.
The Game Watch was an actual wrist-watch with a built-in game. The Legend of Zelda version pits Link against a family of Aquamentus dragons. Link must make his way through four dungeons, each with four rooms. At the end of each dungeon, Link fights a dragon 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.
Anyone who had been thinking about dressing up as Link for Halloween had their wish granted this year with this special release costume, provided that they didn’t mind looking like a creepy version of Link. I’m not sure why Link would wear a top with a picture of himself on it. And those red pants… I’m not even going to go there.
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.
In the story, Link encounters a Molblin who has a magical spear: no matter how many times the spear is thrown, it 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. You might have noticed the spelling of Molblin as opposed to Moblin, which is how the name of this enemy was first translated from Japanese in the original Legend of Zelda game before Moblin became the official spelling.
Zelda: The animated series
Perhaps the most well-known thing to emerge from the Zeldaverse in 1989 was the animated series. The series came about when DIC Entertainment, known for many popular children’s cartoons back in the 80s, teamed up with Nintendo to bring their hugely popular Mario and Zelda franchises to life.
I will never forget the moment when, as a child, I was watching The Super Mario Bros. Super Show on TV and a Zelda cartoon came on instead of the usual Mario one that I was expecting. 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.
I’m sad to say it, but my brief dreams of the most wonderful cartoon in the world were shattered shortly after the opening title had played out. The noble and courageous Link that I’d envisioned while playing the games was whiny and annoying in the cartoon. 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 very 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, 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.
the general consensus was that the Zelda cartoon was pretty bad. 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 bad. It was still pretty cool to see Hyrule 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 for example when Link defeated an enemy or picked up an item the sounds were the same as the ones you’d hear in-game.
In the series, Link lives in Hyrule Castle where he guards the Triforce of Wisdom, while Ganon has the Triforce of Power. Whoever can get their hands on both Triforces will rule Hyrule forever. Therefore most of the episodes revolve around Ganon plotting to steal the Triforce of Wisdom. And if Ganon himself 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 in my head. Whenever Zelda becomes annoyed by Link, he retorts with a line that’s so annoying it became funny and is now often-quoted by Zelda fans as a meme in the Zelda community: “Well excuuuuuuuuuuuse me, Princess.” Link said this a total of 29 times in 13 episodes.
Well Excuuuuuuuuuse me, Princess!
Along with Link, Zelda and Ganon, there are other characters who make regular appearances in episodes. 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 some of Link’s antics). Spryte is a fairy who has 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 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? Why, 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 cartoon’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 favorite video game brought to life in cartoon-form is a pretty magical moment, even if The Wind Waker did cartoon Zelda far, far better.