The Legend of Zelda series didn’t have a new game released in 1990, but despite this Zelda fans were not left with nothing to hold them over. The Zelda cartoon series had already lived its short 13-episode life in 1989, however Link, Zelda, and Ganon would return in two mediums: television and comic books.
Nintendo cartoons continue
Captain N: The Game Master was an American cartoon series about a boy named Kevin who managed to get himself and his faithful dog transported to a world called Videoland, where all video games the producers could buy the rights to came to life. Using an NES Zapper, controller, and other Nintendo merchandise, Kevin went on many merry adventures thwarting the plots of villains from a large variety of video games (but mostly Metroid’s Mother Brain). Kevin teamed up with Princess Lana, Simon Belmont of Castlevania fame, Mega Man, “Kid Icarus” (sit down, Pit fans!), and a talking Game Boy. Some episodes also included special guest characters.
On four different occasions, Kevin and Lana enlisted the aid of Link and Princess Zelda, with Jonathan Potts and Cynthia Preston reprising their respective roles from the Zelda cartoons (yes, the same guy who gave us “Well, excuuuuuuse me, Princess!”).
The biggest change to Link and Zelda was in their physical design. Link’s hair was longer (and still brown. Viva la old school!), his tunic had some more details (stitches, etc.), he had gold bracers on his wrists, he wore rather hideous boots, and he also looked like he’d aged a few years. Most notably, he actually hits things with his sword in this series, rather than zapping them with its magic. Zelda also looked to have grown up a bit, and had traded in her previous cartoon outfit for something a bit more, well, sexy (hooray, long gloves and bare midriffs!). Other than that, she retained the color scheme of her previous outfit, and more frequently fought with a bow in this series.
Hyrule was portrayed as an actual world in Captain N, as opposed to just a kingdom. The fairy Spryte was MIA, along with King Harkinian, thus raising the question of why Zelda is still a Princess (no TVTropes links, please. I have work to do!). The heroes have all three Triforce pieces in their possession, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Link found the Triforce of Courage behind the couch one day and used it to finally defeat Ganon.
Overall, the world of Hyrule struck me as much darker and more dangerous than it was previously, particularly in the first Zelda episode The Quest for the Potion of Power, which seemed to draw heavy inspiration from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (I just made some people hate this show even more, didn’t I?).
But what about their personalities, you ask?
Honestly, Link and Zelda struck me as a bit more mature in this. Zelda seems to be running the kingdom just fine despite her father being AWOL, and Link’s still cocky, but not shouting “Excuuuse me, Princess!” in this one. He is a bit whiny in his first appearance, but is much better in the other three episodes. Then again, I was a bit biased because first, I’m a Zelda fan, and second, Kevin’s incessant pissing contests with every other major male character had gotten on my nerves.
Heck, Link and Zelda seem to have gotten a lot closer to one another. No lip locking (unfortunately for us Zelink shippers), but Link does get a couple of pecks on the cheek in this show.
the world of Hyrule struck me as much darker and more dangerous, particularly in the first Zelda episode ‘The Quest for the Potion of Power’.
The Quest for the Potion of Power was the first episode with Link and Zelda. As I mentioned earlier, it’s very reminiscent of Zelda II, as Ganon’s minions are terrorizing the populace and trying to restore Ganon with the titular Potion of Power. Kevin and Lana go to Hyrule to help our heroes, and we discover that Kevin apparently knows more about Hyrule than Link does, and Zelda is immediately infatuated with the young protagonist.
On top of all this, another villain wants to revive Ganon and rule Hyrule through him or something to that effect. This villain is none other than the famed Metroid villain Mother Brain.
Once Upon a Time Machine begins with Kevin and Lana having a picnic with Link and Zelda, only to be attacked by monsters. Kevin’s Nintendo merchandise is stolen, and he and Link chase the thieves through several time portals to get Kevin’s stuff back (Zelda and Lana stay behind for who-knows-why). In the process, they wind up visiting the world of Puss ‘n Boots: Pero’s Great Adventure, an NES game I’d never heard of until I watched this particular episode.
As weirded out as I was by the guests of this episode, I took great enjoyment in it for one reason: seeing Kevin get his butt kicked repeatedly, allowing Link to save everyone. Heck, I might have to make a video putting together all the shots where Kevin makes a fool of himself.
Having a Ball had some interesting plot ideas, if weakly executed. Link and Zelda attend a ball (the most fascinating part of this is that the ball was announced to all of Videoland that same friggin’ day), only for Mother Brain’s lackeys to steal the Triforces of Courage and Power. It turns out that Zelda’s life is tied to the Triforce, and she’ll die if the pieces are not reunited within a certain amount of time. Furthermore, it’s insinuated that Hyrule itself will be warped beyond recognition at least, if not outright destroyed.
Unfortunately, despite its potential, the episode’s action was lackluster (even for this show), and the resolution was rather weak.
The Trojan Dragon was Link and Zelda’s final appearance in Captain N, and unfortunately they only showed up for a few minutes. There’s really not much to say here, other than that they help Kevin and his friends build a wooden dragon so that they can sneak into some dragon’s keep, since apparently Kevin concluded that Homer was a Greek Sun Tzu. This would have been a perfect opportunity for Kevin to anger some video game sea god and spend twenty years trying to get home, but alas, it was not to be.
I enjoyed the Zelda episodes of Captain N, but only the Zelda elements. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up watching the show, but I don’t think I could stand watching any more of Kevin and his friends (or enemies, for that matter). I much prefer the actual Zelda cartoons, but had they continued, I would have liked for them to eventually take Captain N’s darker art style.
Valiant’s Legend of Zelda comic series
In 1990, Valiant Comics struck a licensing deal with Nintendo, and began releasing the Nintendo Comics System, or comic books based on Nintendo’s products. Among the games they produced comics for was The Legend of Zelda.
The comic books were similar in art style to the cartoons. Zelda’s hair was darker, Link looked a bit goofier, and Ganon was a bit more menacing in appearance (and usually had his face shadowed by a hood). Overall I’d call the artwork passable at worst and eye-pleasing at best. The artists did a tremendous job adapting the NES world of Hyrule into believable, living, and dangerous locations. However, the characters’ facial expressions could have used a bit more attention at times (for instance, there’s a scene where Zelda looks a bit nonchalant when she should be horrified).
The general plot and characters were also similar to that of the animated series. Ganon has the Triforce of Power, while Link and Zelda defend the Triforce of Wisdom. However, Link has the Triforce of Courage in this series (and the comics clearly reference Zelda II, though change the story to Ganon himself placing the current Zelda under the sleeping spell). And yes, Link is constantly bugging Zelda for a kiss.
At the same time, however, the comics themselves delve a lot more into the characters. Link is just as cocky as he was in the cartoons, but we can clearly see in the comics that he and Zelda truly love each other. Furthermore, Ganon is an actual threat in this. Sure, he’s still cartoonish, but he comes up with some fairly decent schemes to defeat the Hero and the Princess.
We’re also introduced to a host of other characters, who unfortunately get little development. There’s good ol’ King Harkinian, who’s a bit more qualified as a ruler than he was in the cartoons. Impa, who was absent in the animated series, is presented as Zelda’s wise old caretaker (and yes, she’s a short, old woman. The series existed before Ocarina of Time, folks!), and the cartoon fairy Spryte has been replaced with another fairy named Miff (who hates Link, actually). We also meet Krin, Hyrule’s Captain of the Guard, Seline, the Queen of Calatia (Link’s home country), and Arn and Medilia, Link’s parents. Dark Link also appears, albeit in a much different portrayal than we’re used to seeing him. And no, there’s no “yaoi” or whatever the heck you kids call it these days.
Included with the comics were a variety of special features, ranging from “fun” to “cool” to “wait, what the heck was that!?” As you look through the comics, you’ll find a map of Hyrule, a diagram of the castle, short stories, and other things. The letters to the editor are also worth a look, especially now that we know what Zelda 3 and Zelda 4 turned out to be (it’s also interesting to discover that some of the things Zelda fans ask for now were also requested in 1990).
The individual stories are what make the comics really worth a read. Where the cartoons focused heavily on Ganon’s attempts to steal the Triforce of Wisdom, the comics tend to branch out. While it’s true that some stick with the standard, adventurous formula, others address some interesting questions:
- What if Link had the Triforce of Power?
- What does Zelda value more? Love or duty?
- Can anything overcome Link’s loyalty to Zelda?
- What if Ganon convinced people that he was an innocent victim of Link and Zelda?
- What if Zelda decided that taking the Triforce of Wisdom away from Hyrule and hiding forever was the best solution available?
- Does Link wear socks?
I was surprised by the amount of depth found in Valiant’s Zelda comics. The dialogue is simple and the conflicts are resolved fairly quickly, but the writers did a spectacular job despite their constraints. The characters have their strengths and their flaws, and there’s plenty of action, adventure, romance, and excitement to be had. I find it a great shame that only five issues were released.
While no new game was released, 1990 was a good year for The Legend of Zelda. Captain N: The Game Master allowed us to see our heroes on television once again, and the Valiant comics brought the world of Hyrule to life.
It’s thanks to the cartoons and comics that I have a great love for the old-school Zelda world, even if Ocarina of Time is my personal favorite game. As goofy as they were, DiC’s and Valiant’s presentations of Hyrule and its people have left a greater impression on me than the current games and their manga ever have. The Zelda games were much simpler back then, and the NES didn’t allow for much detail, so there was great room for interpretation. DiC and especially Valiant did a tremendous job filling in the details the games couldn’t show. It may not be to your liking, but hey, I didn’t care for Majora’s Mask. It won’t stop me from recognizing it as a true Zelda game.
It’s thanks to the cartoons and comics that I have a great love for the old-school Zelda world.
And do yourself a favor and at least read The Power and The Price featured in the third issue of the Valiant comics. You won’t regret it.
The four Captain N episodes listed can currently be found on YouTube, and Valiant’s comics are available at ZeldaLegends.Net.