The 2000s clearly was an amazing decade for Zelda games in comparison to the ‘80s and ‘90s before it. In the 2000s alone, nine Zelda games were released, ten if you count Ocarina of Tim: Master Quest and even more still if you count the spin-off games starring Tingle. This has been, as of yet, the definitive decade for the Zelda series to date, shipping more than half of the titles of the franchise (unless you count all of the remakes and remasters of previous games). Yet despite this, despite the plethora of good fortune that this decade brought to the series, 2008 was the only year that didn’t see a single Zelda game or Zelda spinoff game the whole year. Clearly, Nintendo must have been slipping.
Then again, it’s not like we didn’t get our share of Zelda goodness this year whatsoever. We just had to look in a few clever spots to find it…
A good old-fashioned Brawl
The first of those spots was the third iteration of the Super Smash Bros. series. Super Smash Bros. Brawl came out in 2008, and it was promised to be the biggest and best Smash Brothers game yet. Biggest it certainly was. Boasting a range of 35 characters — 39 if you count Zelda’s, Samus’, and Red’s various forms — and a total of 41 stages (including 10 reprising from Melee), it was clearly a buffet for the Smash aficionado.
However, as for best, eh, a lot of people seemed to have mixed opinions on that one. While it certainly felt more epic with the addition of Smash Balls and Final Smashes, many criticized the game for being extremely twitchy and much less precise then its earlier Melee cousin. Brawl would introduce a great degree of randomness, starting with the ability to just randomly slip and fall down when quickly reversing course, the chance of which would increase dramatically as your damage percentage rose. Players would also be forced to contend for the Smash Balls, and getting the coveted item (and almost guaranteed kill that would occur as a result) seemed to favor the lucky instead of skillful. And finally, characters seemed to be more unbalanced by expert players than Melee with almost every tournament champion winning through with Meta Knight, who would later be banned from play. Though it was never Sakurai’s design goal to make a serious fighting game akin to Street Fighter II, The King of Fighters, and Guilty Gear, it seems that most players were clearly expecting something more along those lines, especially since Melee had become one of the six major tournament fighting games in Japan.
A lot of people seemed to have mixed opinions on Brawl. While it certainly felt more epic, many criticized the game for being much less precise than Melee.
That isn’t to say that Brawl did miserably or had little to offer. Brawl was the first game on a Nintendo console to be shipped on a dual-layered optical disc, which extended the storage capacity thereof from 4.7GB to 8.5GB, and Sakurai made sure to use every last bit of space available by dumping gross quantities of music onto it. Allowing multiple tunes to be played on each stage, Brawl had 304 separate music tracks that, when combined, could be listened to for over 16 consecutive hours. Unfortunately for Zelda fans, no new Zelda characters were added to the roster with the exception of swapping out Ocarina of Time’s Young Link for Wind Waker’s Toon Link, though semantically the two are virtually the same character. There were no epic Zelda challenge events as there were in Super Smash Bros. or Melee due to the Subspace Emissary taking up the lion’s share of the single-player content.
For what it’s worth, the single-player content of the game was perhaps the best of the single-player components of the games, though once you’d completed the mode there seemed to be little need or desire to go back and attempt to replay any of the challenges. Instead, the game was all about the multiplayer, and, as if to make things even more interesting, HAL Laboratories decided that Nintendo would get introduced to the Internet more properly and put Super Smash Bros. Brawl online. Brawl featured two-minute matches between strangers or custom-rules matches between friends (once you’d dealt with the hassle of sharing friend codes, of course).
But, unfortunately for Nintendo, taking Brawl online turned into a fiasco. The game would frequently hang in the middle while the four players attempted to handshake and synchronize with one another, turning what should have been a fighting game and converting it into a turn-by-turn RPG as lag would inevitable freeze the match every few seconds to sync everyone up. Nevertheless, it was, at launch, the fastest-selling videogame in Nintendo of America’s history and ultimately sold about 9½ million copies worldwide. It was definitely a worthy title to keep us busy until 2009.
The rise of Zelda on the Internet
Speaking of keeping us busy until 2009, IGN decided that they were going to do just that: whet our appetites for more Zelda to come in the near future. On April 1, 2008, IGN decided that they would join the ranks of WiiTV (who had in 2007 released a controversial “trailer” regarding the future of the Zelda franchise) in releasing an April Fool’s joke on the community. This time, they decided not to make a spoiler for a game but instead for a Zelda movie. The trailer promised a movie simply called The Legend of Zelda, though it clearly borrowed heavily from the Ocarina of Time story by casting Link as the Hero of Time and Zelda secretly hiding Link away in the Temple of Time for seven long years to save him the wrath of Ganondorf’s fated razing of Hyrule.
Discussing the very prospect of a Zelda movie on any forum filled with Zelda fans is liable to quickly result in a heated discussion as to the pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages that putting the Legend of Zelda on the silver screen would be. “Should Link even be allowed to talk in the movie?” “What if it’s as terrible as the Super Mario Bros. movie?” These were just a few questions to which there could be no consensus.
Nevertheless, the release of the prank trailer got most people talking about the idea since the trailer managed to fool a great number of fans. Looking back on the trailer, it’s a clear forgery, clearly nowhere near professional quality. Yet fortunately for others, Nintendo has still not announced any intentions to make a movie to date, probably as they are worried sick about repeating the fate of their first attempt at silver screen fame with the 1993 disaster Super Mario Bros.
Instead of a movie, however, 2008 did bring about the beginning of two different webseries that starred a Zelda cast. The first of the two was The Legend of Neil, an R-rated and, well, rather alternative look into the Legend of Zelda series. While the first episode was technically aired on YouTube in 2007, the first season did not appear until July 2008 where a man named Neil, dispirited from leading a rather dismal, downtrodden, and unlucky existence in the real world, strangles himself with an NES controller and transports himself into the world of the original Legend of Zelda game.
There he meets several of the old familiar faces from the original series, Old Man and O-old Man, the (not-so-)helpful Moblin, a sex-crazed and obsessive fairy, and eventually Princess Zelda herself. The series was written by and starred several members of the MMO parody webseries The Guild (Felicia Day!) and spoofs many pop culture and historic references such as the TV show The Office, the American Civil War, the movie Rocky, as well as just about every musical ever. The series would have three total seasons and continue all the way to 2010 and is definitely worth it if you can stomach the sense of humor.
The very tail end of 2008 brought about the webseries There Will Be Brawl, a ten-episode take on the Nintendo world of Brawl, but instead of the normally kid-friendly Nintendo vibe, There Will Be Brawl instead set the world is a modern-day dystopia of the Mushroom Kingdom where multiple mob bosses clash with the oppressive ruling elite, ultimately leading to death and violence in the streets.
While not as irreverent as The Legend of Neil, it still presents a dark and mature story as Luigi and his entourage of sometimes-friends, sometimes-foes attempt to find and destroy a serial killer who is mutilating corpses and stumping the cops while attempting to thwart those who threaten to topple the precarious balance of power within the city. While Luigi is the primary protagonist, Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf definitely have prominent roles in the series, and there are cameos of Saria and Navi as well. Written by Matthew Mercer and starring a host of dozens, it’s a story for any lover of both Nintendo and murder mystery. This one definitely had me glued to The Escapist every month as it came out over the course of 2009 and 2010.
Zelda becomes pop culture
Outside of webseries, another major Zelda release in the year was that the Zelda manga series of Akira Himekawa, a two-artist team in Japan officially supported by Nintendo, finally began to be translated and officially released in English. For many years, the various manga of the duo had been available in Japanese, and only those in Japan, those who lived near Asian bookstores, and those who were lucky enough to find them on eBay could gain access to them. Between 1998 and 2010, Akira Himekawa published ten separate volumes covering eight games of the Legend of Zelda series. Yet it wasn’t until 2008 when Viz Media decided to pick up the effort to translate these into English and officially sell them in stores. The two story arcs of Ocarina of Time were released first, and the remaining issues continued to stroll into bookstores over subsequent years. I remember picking these up in Japanese during my first few visits to Seattle when visiting the Kinokuniya import bookstore and being pointed to these on the shelves; while I couldn’t read any of the text, I did find them usually simple enough to make out what was going on, and I’ve become a perpetual collector of them ever since! The artwork is stunning and, were it not just black and white, it could easily be mistaken for official artwork.
There weren’t any Zelda games in 2008, but the profound influence and sheer presence that Zelda has had on popular culture is evident everywhere.
Last but not least (surprising how much stuff happens in a year when there aren’t any video games to fill it up!), Luke Cuddy arranged several scholarly essays into a single book that related philosophical concepts to the world of videogames and particularly to Zelda and Hyrule. The book was called The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy: I Link Therefore I Am and became briefly known in videogame circles as a proof of concept that videogames have serious and academic principles and aren’t just silly things that young kids enjoy. I unfortunately have yet to read the book, but Zelda Universe does in fact have a book review of it in case it sounds interesting.
And that’s 2008 in a nutshell! There weren’t any Zelda games, but the profound influence and sheer presence that Zelda has had on popular culture is evident everywhere. By this point, as we were coming up on the 25th anniversary of the Zelda franchise, Zelda was everywhere if only you had the eyes to see it. With Mario and Zelda commonplace on T-shirts both in brick-and-mortar stores and in online web shops, it was clear that Nintendo had something going for them. And given that there’d be a new game just down the pike in 2009, Zelda was here to stay. But that’s for tomorrow.