Game Corner [Zelda Day]: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Nintendo Switch)


On 21 February 1986, The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo EAD, 1986) was first released in Japan. The creation of legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, The Legend of Zelda launched one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises, with its silent protagonist, Link, and his vast fantasy world of sword and sorcery not only enduring over time but constantly evolving and improving as the series progressed.


Released: 20 September 2019
Originally Released: 6 June 1993
Developer: Grezzo
Original Developer: Nintendo EAD
Also Available For: Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console (Original/DX release)

The Background:
As some of you may be aware, my very first introduction to the Legend of Zelda series (Nintendo EAD/Various, 1986) was with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (ibid, 1993) on the original Game Boy. Beginning as an unsanctioned side project of programmer Kazuaki Morita and evolving from a desire to port the incredibly successful Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (ibid, 1991), it was incredibly impressive how the developers were able to cram so much into such a small cartridge. Link’s Awakening was critically acclaimed and is widely considered to be one of the best Game Boy titles ever released. The game received a slightly enhanced colour upgrade on the Game Boy Color in 1998, which was also received very well, but I was stunned when Nintendo announced an all-new, high definition remake for the Switch in 2019 as the game always felt like more of a cult favourite compared to other mainstream Zelda titles.

Link’s Awakening was my introduction to the Zelda series and it’s gratifying to see it get remastered.

The Switch remake of Link’s Awakening was spearheaded by Grezzo, the development team who had ported and enhanced Zelda’s Nintendo 64 efforts to the Nintendo 3DS, and the team immediately sought to separate the game from other Zelda titles by not only returning to the classic top-down perspective but adopting a quasi-isometric, diorama-inspired look that made the entire game appear to be constructed out of plasticine figures. Upon release, Link’s Awakening was met with glowing reviews as critics praised the visual presentation, music, and quality of life improvements; it was also the fastest-selling Switch game of 2019 and scored very highly across the board, assuring that Link’s Awakening was finally recognised as one of the best Zelda titles out there.

The Plot:
After defeating the dark wizard Ganon and rescuing Princess Zelda, Link embarks on a quest across the sea in search of enlightenment and ends up caught in a terrible storm and washing up on the shores of the mysterious Koholint Island. Link finds the island tormented by monsters who are the creation of the malevolent “Shadow Nightmares”, a dark entity who will do anything to keep the legendary Wind Fish from waking. However, Link takes up his sword and shield to oppose Nightmare, only to discover that not everything is as it seems on the all-too-familiar Koholint Island…

Gameplay:
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a top-down (well, more like a slightly isometric) action/adventure role-playing title in which players are placed into the familiar green hat and tunic of Link, the long-running protagonist of the series. As is the case in many Zelda titles, you can customise Link’s name at the file select screen; you get three save files (and a temporary autosave file) that you can personalise, and characters will refer to you by that name throughout the story. For those keeping track, this is the same Link who starred in A Link to the Past, making Link’s Awakening one of the rare Zelda titles to feature the same Link, and which possibly explains the many similarities between the two titles. Link begins the game with three hearts representing his health and stripped of his sword, shield, and all of his recognisable weapons but is quickly provided with his trusty shield, with is mapped to the ZR button and allows him to block incoming attacks and push through certain enemies. You’re then tasked with using the shield to head down to the beach and retrieve your sword, which is mapped to the B button; you can tap B to swipe at enemies or hold the button to charge up Link’s trademark Spin Attack, which sees him spin around in a circle and damage any nearby enemies once the button is released. Link can also pick up and throw certain items and objects (such as Cukkos and, later, pots), using the A button but he’ll need to journey to a whopping nine dungeons to retrieve the rest of his gear and further explore the mysterious Koholint Island.

After acquiring his sword, Link sets out on a new adventure fill with hijinx and dangers.

Along the way, Link will encounter a number of non-playable characters (NPCs), most of whom offer hints about where to go next, ask for specific items to be brought to them as part of the elaborate trading sequence, or comment on the events happening in the game or on the island in general. Some will actually follow you around, which becomes necessary to enter specific dungeons; a blue-hued rooster will follow you and allow you to fly over gaps to reach the Eagle’s Tower, for example, a ghost will start to follow you and eventually gift you an empty bottle, and Link’s saviour, Marin, will accompany him to move a walrus out of the way and let him access Yarna Desert. Not all NPCs are entirely harmless, though; attack Cukkos or dogs and they’ll hit you back, you’ll need to use a Chain Chomp to navigate through the Gopongo Swamp, and the shopkeeper will electrocute you to death and you’ll be branded a “THIEF” for the rest of the game if you steal from him. As mentioned, Link’s health is measured in hearts; as you explore, you may find Heart Pieces hidden in caves, buried underground, under water, or generally strewn around the environment. Collect four of these, and your maximum health will be refilled, and you’ll automatically gain an extra heart after defeating each dungeon’s Nightmare boss. Unlike a number of other Zelda games, players don’t need to worry about a magic gauge in Link’s Awakening; instead, there’s a greater emphasis on collecting Rupees, the currency in the Zelda franchise, in order to purchase additional items, objects for the trading sequence, and even collectibles such as Heart Pieces. Rupees are primarily found by slashing grass, defeating enemies, digging in the ground, and opening treasure chests and Link appears to be able to hold 9999 Rupees, so you don’t need to worry about upgrading his wallet or anything. I tend to spend my time in Zelda games furiously swiping at grass and defeating onscreen enemies, so I’m used to collecting as many Rupees as possible, but other players may find it a bit tedious, though it’s absolutely necessary if you want to progress because you need the shovel and the bow in order to access later areas and you’ll never collect everything the game has to offer without paying money for some of them first.

Koholint Island is huge and full of pick-ups, warps, NPCs, and enemies.

You can jump to the equipment subscreen at any time with the + button; here, you can view key items you’ve collected and assign two items from your inventory to the X and Y buttons, save or load your game, or flick over to the map screen (which can also be accessed with -) to plot a route to your next destination. The map is initially shrouded in fog but more of it is revealed as you explore, and you can use pins in to set reminders for yourself; Link can also review “memories” from this screen, which allow you to re-read advice from the mysterious Owl and certain previous conversations so you know where you’ve been and get some idea of where to go next. The Owl will appear in key areas across the overworld offering hints and encouragement, and you can call Ulrira in Mabe Village for further hints, but you’re basically free to explore at your leisure. You won’t be able to access certain areas without weapons or items from dungeons, though, and generally you need to tackle the dungeons in a specific order so that you can access the next, but your journey across Koholint Island eventually gets easier as you defeat the Nightmare bosses. Initially, you won’t be able to lift rocks, clear gaps, or swim, for example, but you’ll acquire the tools necessary to overcome these obstacles in the dungeons; similarly, you can activate fast travel warp points and, later, learn a song for your ocarina that will enable you to use these freely.

Dungeons are filled with puzzles, some simple like pushing blocks and others more frustrating.

Still, the game doesn’t make too much of an effort to hold your hand and it can be tricky to figure out where to go next, meaning that you have to be a little proactive to figure things out and experiment a bit. This is especially true in the game’s dungeons, which can be quite labyrinthine and see you travelling between different floors and acquiring small keys to unlock doors. Each dungeon has a compass and a map that will greatly assist with your progress; these allow you to see all possible routes and even indicate when there’s a chest or item in a room, but they’re often locked behind a series of puzzles. These may be as simple as stepping or pushing a block on a switch, pulling a pulley, pushing blocks together, or defeating all onscreen enemies but they get tougher as the game progresses. Sometimes you’ll have to defeat enemies in a specific order, or guide a pathmaker around to create temporary paths, or pick up and throw a weighted ball into columns, or toss some chess pieces in just the right way so they land in specific spots (a very frustrating mechanic, for sure). Sometimes, rooms and hidden passageways are hidden behind breakable walls (which must be exploded with bombs) or rocks (which must be lifted up) both in dungeons and on the overworld; other times, you’ll need to hunt down specific items or work through a looping maze in the right order, and you can even increase the game’s challenge by playing in “Hero” mode from the file select screen (which sees you taking twice as much damage and losing the benefit of enemies dropping hearts).

Graphics and Sound:
Honestly, screenshots do not do this game justice; the plastic figurine look used to bring this world to life is absolutely amazing and I find it such an adorable, whimsical stylistic choice that really makes everything vivid and charming to behold. The soundtrack is equally imaginative, composed primarily of woodwind instruments and flutes and such, and adds a lot of appeal to the game and even features a bit of the classic chip-tune music in the credits, which was a nice touch. You know things are kicking up a notch after Link acquires his sword and Koji Kondo’s iconic Zelda theme kicks in, but each area is brought to life as much by the music as the attractive visual style of the game and all of the characters and models are full of visual quirks and charming little animations that just make the game a joy to play and look at.

The game’s visual style and variety is charming and gorgeous, and it even includes some anime cutscenes.

Koholint Island is quite a large area for Link to explore and full of many of the usual Zelda environments and trappings; he begins in a quiet little village and journeys to a desert, a crumbling tower, a boulder-strewn mountain top, and a desolate swamp while traversing a vast field peppered with enemies, obstacles, and such sights as a graveyard, bridges, a castle, and a foggy forest. Contrary to the original title, and other top-down Zelda titles at the time, the entire overworld is connected without any screen transitions unless you enter a building or cave, which really helps speed traversal up and makes the world feel interconnected and alive. Some NPCs will relocate as the story progresses, which is fun, and you’ll often be required to take the long way around to reach some of the dungeons (especially in the first instance), though the interiors of the dungeons are often somewhat interchangeable. This isn’t always the case, of course; Bottle Grotto (fittingly) contains a lot of bottles), Catfish’s Maw and Angler’s Tunnel veer more towards water elements and puzzles, and Turtle Rock features and abundance of lava, and you’ll notice more and more maze-like elements as the difficulty of the dungeons progresses. Every dungeon also features at least one 2.5D sidescrolling area that sees you using ladders, moving platforms, and the Roc’s Feather to hop around in short platforming sections and the game is opened and ended by some beautiful (if very brief) anime cutscenes, and while there is no voice acting, sound bites and voice clips accompany both Link’s attacks and reactions and the in-game text boxes.

Enemies and Bosses:
Koholint Island is inhabited by a number of recognisable Zelda enemies and traps that will constantly try to impede Link’s quest; you’ll encounter stone-spitting Octorocs, spider-like Tektites, and annoying Zora’s will pop out of water to fire projectiles at you. Zols often appear in dungeons, with the red variants multiplying with each hit, bat-like Keese and the snake-like Ropes often appear in caves, and you’ll even encounter a number of enemies that can’t be traditionally bested. Most of your enemies can be dispatched with just one swipe of your sword, but others require a bit more strategy: the Moblins and Darknuts will defend against your attacks with their shields and must be stunned by deflecting their sword swipes, Spiny Beetles and Helmasaurs must have their rocks and masks removed to better attack them, and the Pols Voice can’t be damaged by your sword at all. Oddly, Link’s Awakening contains a number of enemies from the Super Mario franchise (Various, 1983 to present): Thwomps, Bob-ombs, Goombas, and Shy Guys are all over the place, and you’ll even come across an evil version of Kirby!

A number of mini bosses must be defeated to activate warp points ad acquire new weapons.

Each dungeon, and certain other areas in the game, features at least one mini boss; defeating these will activate a warp point in the dungeon and often leads to you acquiring the weapon or item necessary to defeating the Nightmare boss. These range from larger versions of regular enemies, such as the Moblin Chief and Armos Knight, and familiar Zelda enemies like the Master Stalfos (who must be damaged with bombs when reduced to a pile of bones) and Gohma (who can only be damaged by firing arrows into their open eyes. The most recurring of these is the golem-like Hinox, which will grapple you or throw bombs your way, but are easily defeated with your trusty sword, and you’ll sometimes have to battle more than one in the later dungeons. Often, these require a little more strategy than the average enemy; you need to jump over the Spike Roller’s spiked pole to get to him, toss bombs into the Dodongo Snakes’ mouths, and can only defeat Rover by throwing its weighted ball back at it, but you’re usually rewarded with a life-restoring fairy for your efforts (to say nothing of the extra weapons).

After a simple first boss, you’ll need to use Link’s new weapons and be adaptable to triumph.

Each dungeon contains a magical instrument that is guarded by one of eight Nightmares; often, the key to defeating the Nightmare will lie in the weapon you acquire in that dungeon, and each one gets progressively difficult as you journey on. The first boss, Moldorm, is a walk in the park: this worm-like creature randomly pulsates around the enclosed arena and can only be hurt by hitting the glowing weak spot on its tail, which will send it into a frenzy and cause it to become more and more aggressive as the fight progresses. In the Bottle Grotto, you’ll battle the clown-like Genie, who tosses fireballs at you and hides in his bottle to avoid your attacks. You’ll need to grab the bottle and throw it against the wall to crack and, eventually break it, then swipe at Genie when it becomes corporeal to finish it off. The Slime Eye at the end of Key Cavern requires use of the Pegasus Boots to split it in two so you can swipe at its eye, but the two gooey monsters will drop down from the ceiling to either land on you or stun you with a shockwave, making them tricky to land a hit on at times. The fearsome Angler Fish is fought in a 2.5D perspective and underwater, meaning that your movements are as limited as your attack options; you’ll need to swim your way past the debris it drops from the ceiling, fending off its smaller minions as you try and swipe at the glowing tendril on its head.

Bosses get increasingly tougher as the game progresses but are generally not too challenging.

Probably one of the more difficult bosses for me was the Slime Eel; this fight is complicated by a mace-like tentacle in the middle of the stage that you must jump over as you try and snag the boss’s head with your hookshot and expose its weak spot. Facade can also be a bit tricky; this gigantic face leers at you from the floor and causes tiles and pots to fly at you from all around the room and can only be damaged by placing bombs on it while watching for the holes it causes to form in the arena. When you finally manage to reach the top of Eagle’s Tower (easily one of the game’s more obtuse and annoying dungeons), you’ll battle the Evil Eagle; this giant bird hovers just out of reach and tries to skewer you with feathers, charges at you with its beak, and flaps its wings to try and force you from the platform and to the spikes below. Thankfully, it’s easy enough to shield against his attacks and toss your boomerang up at him, or fire off arrows and swipe at him as he flies past trying to attack you. The final dungeon is guarded by  Hot Head, an anthropomorphic fireball that emerges from a lava pit to blast molten rock at you, and which can only be damaged with the Magic Rod. Once you’ve blasted away its outer shell, it’ll bounce all around the arena trying to pummel you to death, but is easily finished off if you keep your wits about you.

The game’s final boss assumes many forms, with some representing the game’s toughest challenge.

Once you’ve acquired all of the magical instruments, you can scale Mount Tamaranch to play the “Ballad of the Wind Fish” on your ocarina and gain access to the Wind Fish’s Egg; however, this final dungeon is a looping maze that you’ll never be able to navigate without completing the trading sequence and acquiring the magnifying glass to read a book in the Mabe Village library that has directions to the final boss. Shadow Nightmares is easily, and fittingly, the toughest boss in the game and boasts six distinct forms: the first is a giant Zol that bounces and materialises around the arena and can only be damaged by sprinkling Magic Powder on it. Next, the boss assumes the form of Araghim from A Link to the Past and is battled in very much the same way; Araghim teleports around and fires two types of projectiles at you, one that explodes in your face and one a fireball that can be smacked back to damage him. Afterwards, the boss becomes a shadow version of Moldorm, which is a bit of a let-down, but it more than makes up for it by assuming the form of Ganon! Hands down the hardest fight in the game, Ganon twirls his trident and fires flaming bats at you before tossing his trident your way, giving you a very limited window to loop around behind him or charge into him with your sword. The next form is simply a Lanmola that cannot be damaged by your sword but only needs to be hit once with another weapon to force the boss into its final, truest form: Dethl. A large, shadow, pulsating mass sporting two mace-like tentacles, Dethl isn’t really too difficult to defeat; simply jump over its arms and fire arrows into its big green eye when it opens and the Shadow Nightmares will finally be destroyed, the Wind Fish will awaken, and Koholint Island will disappear forever.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As mentioned, it doesn’t take too long for Link to reacquire his traditional sword and shield, and as you progress through the game’s dungeons you’ll acquire a number of recognisable weapons and items to add to Link’s arsenal, such as the Power Bracelet to lift items (and the Powerful Bracelet to lift even larger items), the hookshot to stun enemies from a distance and cross certain gaps using stones and other specific parts of the environment, bombs to blast open walls and defeat groups of enemies, bottles to store life-restoring fairies, and an ocarina that is useful for accessing certain areas, warping across the map, and accessing the final boss.

Link can acquire some familiar weapons and even pick-up temporary power-ups.

Other pivotal items include the shovel (which is necessary for digging up collectibles), the traditional boomerang (which can only be acquired through the trading sequence), and the bow (which must be purchased). Magic Powder allows you to damage certain enemies and light fires (but becomes completely redundant once you acquire the Magic Rod), you can fire bomb arrows by equipping the bow and the bombs at the same times, the Mirror Shield lets you reflect lasers and certain projectiles, and the Roc’s Feather allows you to jump. The Pegasus Boots let you charge ahead (and can be used in conjunction with the Roc’s Feather to clear longer gaps), the flippers let you swim and dive under water, and you can sometimes find Secret Medicine to restore your health upon death. Additionally, you’ll sometimes come across temporary power-ups: the Guardian Acorn and Piece of Power will temporarily reduce the amount of damage you take and increase your attack power, respectively, which can be super useful in certain situations.

Additional Features:
There are thirty-two pieces of heart to find scattered throughout Koholint Island’s overworld, which will increase your health up to twenty hearts; sometimes you’ll dig these up or knock them out of trees, other times you can buy or find them in hidden caves or under water and such, and other times you can play for them in mini games. These include a mechanical claw game and a fishing game, both found in Mabe Village and costing you some Rupees to play; manoeuvring the claw and landing a big fish can be a bit tricky, but it’ll grant you an extra bottle, Heart Piece, ammo and Rupees, items for the trading sequence and a number of Secret Seashells. There are fifty Secret Seashells to find, and it’s well worth your time seeking them out with your shovel, lifting rocks, and exploring with your different weapons and items as they can be cashed in at the Seashell Mansion to gift you with a sensor that alerts you when they’re closer and a more powerful sword that fires out an energy beam when your hearts are full. As alluded to, there’s a lengthy trading sequence that’s necessary to acquire the boomerang and navigate to the final boss; this sees you acquiring specific key items (such as bananas, a Yoshi doll, and a magnifying lens) and bringing them to specific NPCs to swap for another item, which is a fun little distraction that gives you an excuse to talk to as many characters as possible.

Search for Seashells, switch to a new tunic, and create your own dungeons!

There are also figurines to collect and place on certain stands in houses (though I was only able to find two) and the Color Dungeon from the GameBoy Color version is also present. This optional, additional dungeon can be missed but it’s well worth your time seeking out as, once you best its enemies and puzzles, and defeat the gigantic Hardhit Beetle, you’ll be able to pick from either a blue or red runic to increase your defence or attack power, respectively (personally, I chose the red tunic as I’m a more offensive player). Finally, there’s a new addition to the game in the form of Chamber Stones; these must be brought to Dampé, who will challenge you to create custom dungeons by mixing and matching rooms, puzzles, sub-bosses, and bosses from the game’s existing dungeons. Each time you beat a regular dungeon, and Dampé’s tutorials, you’ll gain additional Chamber Stones, +Effect Panels, and collectibles and it’s quite a fun little addition since you can create your own dungeons to play through and challenge others to complete.

The Summary:
Even after all this time, I still adore The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening; it was the first Zelda game I ever played and owned, and I used to enjoy playing through it on the old GameBoy brick even before I picked up the Virtual Console version of the GameBoy Color deluxe version, so I was super excited to hear that it was being completely rebuilt for the Nintendo Switch. This new version is everything the original game was but rendered in such gorgeous detail that it’s so much more than just a throwback to a simpler time of Zelda videogames; the plastic figurine aesthetic is charming and whimsical and I’d love to see it evoked for future recreations of older Zelda titles, and it may very well be the most visually appealing game I’ve played on the Nintendo Switch so far (and yes, that includes it’s bigger and more expansive cousin). It’s amazing how big Link’s Awakening is; it definitely feels like there’s more in this version of the game, but the developers didn’t add any new dungeons or areas or anything (which is a bit of a shame, to be honest). It’s just that big of a game, which just makes the original seem even more impressive in hindsight. There’s loads to do and keep you busy here, from backtracking to previous areas, to hunting down collectibles, to completing the trading sequence and, of course, tackling the game’s dungeons, and the game is just the right level of challenge; some puzzles and dungeons are trickier and tougher than others, but that’s par for the course of a Zelda title. Honestly, it’s worth picking up for the gorgeous graphical style and music as much as the engaging, classic Zelda gameplay and I can only hope that Nintendo revisit some of Link’s earlier adventures in the same way going forward.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Have you played this new version of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening? How do you feel it compares to the original and its colourised counterpart and where would you rank it amongst all the other Zelda titles, specifically the 2D adventures? Were you a fan of the more surreal narrative elements in the game, and the difficulty and challenge it offered? Which of the dungeons and Nightmares was your most, or least, favourite? Were you able to navigate the Wind Fish’s Egg without directions? Did you ever steal from the shopkeeper? Were you able to find all of the Secret Seashells? Which Zelda game is your favourite and how are you celebrating the franchise today? Whatever your thoughts on Link’s Awakening, sign up to leave a comment below, or let me know on my social media.

Game Corner [Zelda Day]: The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo 3DS)


On 21 February 1986, The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo EAD, 1986) was first released in Japan. The creation of legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, The Legend of Zelda launched one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises, with its silent protagonist, Link, and his vast fantasy world of sword and sorcery not only enduring over time but constantly evolving and improving as the series progressed.


Released: 7 June 2011
Originally Released: 21 February 1986
Developer: Nintendo
Original Developer: Nintendo EAD
Also Available For: Family Computer Disk System (Famicom), Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U

The Background:
The Legend of Zelda was created by designer Shigeru Miyamoto (the man responsible for Nintendo’s popular mascot, Super Mario) and Takashi Tezuka; in fact, Zelda and Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo EAD, 1985) were developed simultaneously and so, to separate the two games, Zelda was purposely made far less linear and based around both exploration and experimentation, with Miyamoto drawing inspiration from his childhood love of exploring forests and caves. Although players are free to name the game’s protagonist, he was dubbed “Link” to suggest an emotional “link” between the player and their avatar and his story was framed as a “coming of age” tale that would allow the player to grow alongside their silent, but by no means less iconic, game character. The Legend of Zelda was hugely successful for Nintendo, with the game selling well over 6.5 million copies and Nintendo even commissioned a special gold cartridge variant for its North American release. The game was met with universal praise during its release and is still regarded as one of the greatest adventure game of all time. Although I was aware of the franchise thanks to the much-maligned animated series, being a SEGA kid growing up I didn’t play a Zelda title from start to finish until I got The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (ibid, 1993). This was enough to hook me on the franchise, however, which grew to a deep affection thanks, of course, to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (ibid, 1998). The original title, though, had always eluded me so, with this year marking the game’s thirty-fifth anniversary, I figured now was as good a time as any to sit down and give it a go.

The Plot:
The peaceful kingdom of Hyrule is suddenly invaded by the malevolent Ganon (or “Gannon”, as he’s referred to in-game) and his monstrous army. Having already stolen the Triforce of Power, one part of the legendary Triforce, he kidnaps Princess Zelda to acquire the Triforce of Wisdom. However, after she separates the Triforce of Wisdom into eight fragments, it’s up to Link, a plucky young boy from the forest, to journey across the land, recover the Triforce fragments, and put an end to Ganon’s dreams of world conquest.

Gameplay:
The Legend of Zelda is a 2D, top-down action/adventure game set in the fantasy land of Hyrule. One of the few NES titles to feature a battery back-up save feature, players can create one of three save files and save their progress whenever they die in the game, which is a necessary feature given how large the game is. Unlike the majority of Zelda games, though, the name you give to your save file isn’t reflected in-game; when you rescue Princess Zelda at the game’s conclusion, she refers to you as “Link” no matter what you title your save file, making this original adventure one of only a handful of Zelda titles to actually use that name to refer to its green-garbed protagonist.

Defeat enemies with your trusty sword, which shoots out beams when you’re at full health.

Once you’ve created your save file, you are immediately dropped into Hyrule and left to fend for yourself. Link moves in a grid-like pattern across the map and comes complete with a shield that will block most enemy projectiles as long as he is facing them. If you enter the cave at the top of the game’s first screen, you’ll acquire a sword, allowing you to dispatch most enemies in one of two ways: the first is a tried-and-tested sword swipe and the second is an energy bolt that fires from your sword as long as you are at full health, which really helps to clear the screen of enemies from a safe distance. Defeated enemies may occasionally drop hearts or fairies to refill your health, bombs to allow you to deal explosive damage to enemies and uncover secret passageways, or Rupees (or “Rupies”/”Rubies”), the in-game currency. Link can hold a maximum of 255 Rupees and will sporadically stumble across merchants hidden in dungeons or caves who will sell him a variety of items, weapons, and power-ups.

The majority of Hyrule and the game’s dungeons are accessible right from the start.

As you might expect from a Zelda title, the game’s overworld is pretty expansive, covering forests, mountains, and beachfronts. A mini map is present in the top-left of the game’s heads-up display (HUD) but, out in the overworld, is next to useless since all you can see is a little green dot (representing you) on a blank, grey background. In dungeons, you can collect a Dungeon Map to make navigation a lot easier but, again, it’s not as helpful as it could be since there’s no distinction between floors, meaning it’s very easy to get lost or turned around or to wander around Hyrule with no idea of where you are or need to go. Your goal in the game is to visit eight dungeons (referred to in the game as “Levels”) and retrieve the eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom; you can track your progress towards this goal from the game’s inventory menu and non-playable characters (NPCs) can offer you (extremely) vague hints about how to progress but, otherwise, much of the game’s adventure is in your hands. As a result, pretty much the entirety of Hyrule is available for you to explore and visit as long as you have, at least, some bombs available to you. This means that it’s very easy to wander around the overworld and stumble into the game’s harder dungeons before you’re ready, which can add an additional layer of challenge to the game if you’re brave enough to attempt to tackle these tougher levels out of sequence. It also means that you can acquire some of the game’s more powerful and useful weapons early, at the very least, though some can be useless without others (I, for example, acquired the Book of Magic long before I got the Magic Rod, making said book all but useless).

Zelda‘s dungeons are largely indistinguishable beyond their colour palette and enemy placements.

Given that I played through 90% of this game blind and without a guide, I have to say that that this is all-but-inevitable as, while the game’s first two dungeons are easily found almost right next to each other, it’s entirely up to you to explore your surroundings so it’s pretty easy to stumble into the harder levels when you only have three of four hearts in your health bar. As big as Hyrule is, though, many of the dungeons are actually quite small; inside, you’ll be tasked with defeating enemies and solving very (very) simple puzzles (generally as taxing as pushing a certain block or bombing a certain wall) to open doors, or collect keys to open doors, grabbing a new weapon or item, Dungeon Map and Compass to aid with your navigation within the dungeon, and then defeating a boss to extend your health bar and retrieve a piece of the Triforce of Wisdom. One interesting feature I was surprised to see was that you can carry keys from one dungeon to another, which can give you an edge with the game’s harder dungeons and allow you to take shortcuts here and there. Gameplay follows a very simple formula from start to finish: explore the immediate area, uncover secrets, find a dungeon, and retrieve a piece of the Triforce of Wisdom. The only time the gameplay is changed up is when you descend down hidden staircases inside the dungeons and enter a short 2D area where the level’s weapon or key item can be found. Otherwise, gameplay variety comes from utilising different weapons to battle enemies and bosses or factoring in the erratic patterns of the game’s enemies, who like to attack in something resembling a co-ordinated effort or en masse, requiring both some strategy on your part and a healthy supply of hearts in order to survive the damage put out by the game’s later enemies. As a result, Zelda’s difficulty is, largely, up to you; if you clear Level-1 and then stumble into Level-8, it’s probably best to leave that later dungeon and seek out Level-2 to 3 to give yourself a better chance of success.

Graphics and Sound:
The Legend of Zelda is a very basic 2D adventure; like Super Mario Bros. and many videogames of that era, the graphics are extremely simplistic and, largely, require quite a bit of imagination and suspension of disbelief on the part of the player. Link is immediately and instantly recognisable against the game’s many different backgrounds and compared to the enemy sprites thanks to his green tunic and cute little sword and shield but, obviously, you’re not going to see many frames of animation or layers of detail in this game. Additionally, I found that the game struggled a bit when there were a lot of sprites onscreen and/or sounds playing at the same time; the iconic Zelda theme plays constantly on the overworld and, when Link is low of health, the game emits a constant beeping to inform you and enemies make little noises when they shoot at you or are destroyed and all of these sounds can blend into each other and the game slows down noticeably when a hoard of Lynels incessantly shoot projectiles at you.

Though limited by the hardware of the time, Zelda is a vast and ambitious adventure.

Despite the game’s limited graphical capabilities, Hyrule is surprisingly vast, varied, and detailed at times; the entire land is surrounded by sea that you cannot cross and made up of forests, mountains, beaches, and icy regions. You’ll have to navigate a series of repeating, identical screens in a maze-like puzzle, dodge boulders as they rain down from Death Mountain, explore a haunted graveyard, cross the water using a raft, enter a waterfall, descend into caves, and cross beaches while Leevers randomly pop out at you as you explore looking for merchants, additional items and weapons, and the elusive dungeon entrances. Dungeons are generally recognisable in the overworld but, sometimes, you’ll enter what appears to be a dungeon only to find a merchant or other NCP. When you do find a dungeon, you’ll be treated to a different in-game tune, which is refreshing, but will find that most dungeons are aesthetically very similar just with a different colour palette. Dungeons get progressively bigger as you progress, though, and are filled with more enemies; you’ll also find that you’re required to visit different floors using staircases and bomb walls more frequently to access different areas and properly progress, which adds an additional layer of challenge to the game. Each dungeon also has its own unique layout and appearance as seen on the map screen to help distinguish them but, for the most part, they’re quite similar and not themed around elements like later Zelda dungeons would be.

Zelda uses text and (very) simple and vague dialogue to convey its plot and your objective.

For an adventure game, The Legend of Zelda is extremely light on story and dialogue; the game’s story is told through some text when you wait around on the title screen but, beyond that, you’ll need to read the game’s instruction manual to learn more about the plot and the lore of Hyrule since the NPCs offer only cryptic clues and vague statements. Dialogue and character interaction is practically non-existent in The Legend of Zelda, which I find a bit surprising given how prominent it would become in the series and how heavy it featured in more traditional role-playing games (RPGs) released around the same time, such as Final Fantasy (Square, 1987). However, given the amount of grammatical errors and incongruous dialogue contained within the first Zelda this is, perhaps, a good thing; it also means that the onus is on the player to explore every nook and cranny and to experiment with every weapon on every screen on the game to uncover secrets and new areas, placing an emphasis on exploration and player immersion rather than hand-holding.

Enemies and Bosses:
Link will have to contend with a wide variety of enemies on his grand quest; the overworld is alive with numerous enemies, some of which are specific to certain areas and each of which presents a different challenge thanks to their attack patterns and difficulty. It’s very rare that you’ll take on just one or two enemies at a time and, generally, you’ll have to battle about four or five at once and often a mixture of different enemies, requiring a certain amount of strategy on your part as you can’t always take the direct approach in battle. One of the most common enemies in the game are the Octorocs (octopus-like creatures that spit projectiles at you), Peahats (bulbous vegetation that hover in the air and can only be destroyed when briefly stationary), Tektites (spider-like enemies that hop around the screen), aforementioned Leevers (spiked globs that burrow in and out of sand), and the Keese (bats that flutter around the screen). While you’ll encounter different coloured variants of most of these (and other enemies) that are tougher, these are the most common enemies and are easily dispatched with one sword swing.

Zelda‘s tougher enemies can be a real headache thanks to their numbers and attack patterns.

As you progress, though, you’ll encounter far more formidable enemies: Moblins launch spears at you, Goriyas toss boomerangs your way, Ropes (why they’re not called “snakes” is beyond me) charge at you head-first, and Wallmasters will drag you back to the first screen of the dungeon you’re in if you’re not careful. Some of the game’s toughest and most annoying enemies include the Wizzrobes (who constantly teleport around the screen, often directly into where you’re walking, and fire energy bolts that can easily drain your health if you’re caught in a crossfire), Darknuts (who can only be attacked from behind and wander around in an unpredictable pattern), and the aforementioned Lynels. You’ll also have to be careful about getting too close to seemingly harmless Armos statues in case they spring to life, avoid getting eaten by a Like-Like lest it take away your shield upgrade, and make sure you have plenty of health or arrows to make battling the Poe’s Voice that much easier.

The Dodongo might be pretty pathetic but the Manhandla was a pain in my ass!

The game features nine dungeons to explore, which means nine bosses to contend with; make sure you familiarise yourself with each of these bosses, though, as you’ll encounter all of them on multiple occasions as sub-bosses in the game’s later dungeons. Technically, you can battle them in whatever order you like as long as you’re tough enough to survive the dungeon and their damage output but it’s best to try and take them on in sequential order to give yourself the best chance at success. This means that the first boss you fight should be Aquamentus, a horned dragon that spits out three projectiles that you must dodge between. This boss is fought in Level-1 and Level-7 and is made all the easier if you have the energy to use your sword beam or ammo enough to shoot arrows at it, which will make short work of it. The Dodongo, in comparison, is a pretty pathetic excuse for a boss; it lumbers around the screen doing little to nothing and is easily dispatched by placing bombs before its mouth. Later on, you’ll have to contend with three of these at once but, since they don’t make any effort to attack you, they’re easily the weakest of all the game’s bosses. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the Manhandla boss; this piranha-like bastard was the bane of my life since it popped up three times throughout the quest. It slowly bounces around the arena firing projectiles at you and is very tricky to hit thanks to the limited reach of Link’s depowered sword and Link’s restricted range of movement; it’s much faster and more efficient to use bombs to deal massive, successive damage to the Mandhandla but be wary as, the more parts of it you destroy, the faster its movements become.

Bosses range from frustratingly awkward to ridiculously easy depending on how equipped you are.

One of the toughest bosses in the game, for me, was the multi-headed dragon Gleeok; this monstrosity sports two, three, or four heads, spits projectiles towards you that are difficult to avoid, and is only able to be damaged by awkwardly slashing at its neck or, more effectively, shooting arrows at it. Be careful, though, as when the Gleeok’s heads are severed they will float around the arena shooting projectiles at you and cannot be harmed. Compared to Gleeok, Digdogger and Gohma are a walk in the park, especially once you have acquired the recorder and the bow; Digdogger is completely invulnerable until you play the recorder and reduce it down to its core but, once you do, you can just whack it until it’s defeated. Similarly, Gohma can be a bit of a pain with its sporadic movements and projectiles but a few well-timed shots to its exposed eye will put it away without any real issues; the most difficult thing about many of these bosses is having enough health, the right weapons, and being able to navigate the arena when projectiles are being fired at you from both the boss and the nearby statues.

Despite his fearsome appearance, Ganon is quite a pushover once he’s out in the open.

Of course, the main objective of the game is to assemble the eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom, battle through Level-9 (which is accessed by bombing a specific rock formation on Death Mountain and features swarms of the game’s toughest enemies and a new sub-boss, the Patra, which can only be destroyed after first taking care of the tiny little eyes it shields itself with), and confront the evil Ganon. For the final boss of the game, Ganon isn’t that much of a challenge; he turns invisible and fires a series of projectiles at you, forcing you to swipe somewhat blindly around the screen until you hit him. Land four this and he appears in all his monstrous glory…and is easily destroyed with one hit from a Silver Arrow for a disappointingly anticlimactic end to the game.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Link begins the game with three hearts’ worth of health which, very quickly proves to be far too little to get past the game’s tougher enemies and dungeons. Fortunately, every time you defeat a dungeon boss, you expand your maximum hearts by one and can find additional Heart Containers hidden on the overworld or for sale from certain merchants, which will increase it to twenty units. Certain weapons also have similar limitations; for the majority of the game, you can only carry six bombs at a time until stumbling across a merchant who will allow you to carry double that amount (…for a small fee), the only way to get arrows is to buy them, and your usage of the Red Candle is restricted. Thankfully, the Blue Candle and Magic Rod are not so restricted, allowing you to light up dark areas and deal damage to enemies (but watch out because the flame you conjure can also hurt you!)

A number of key items and upgrades will vastly improve your chances at success.

As you might expect from a Zelda title, Link has access to a decent variety of weapons and items: enemies sometimes drop a clock (which causes enemies to freeze in place and gifts Link with invincibility for a brief period), the boomerang allows him to attack from a distance, the stepladder lets him cross one tile of water, the raft allows him to drift across water at certain points on the map, and he can also find a Power Bracelet to move blocks and upgrades for his sword and shield to block more projectiles and deal additional damage. Eventually, you’ll also be able to purchase health-restoring medicines and other expensive items to aid your quest: one such item is a Magic Key that renders all other temporary keys redundant and a piece of food to get past Goriyas (though you’d never know that you need to use this item). You can also buy a Blue Ring and find a Red Ring, both of which significantly reduce the amount of damage you take while also changing Link’s tunic to blue and red, respectively.

Additional Features:
Whereas later Zelda titles placed significant emphasis on a variety of side quests, I only really came across one in this first title (barring the hidden Heart Containers on the overworld) which involved taking a letter from one NPC to another to be able to purchase medicines. After finishing the game, you will unlock the “Second Quest”, which replaces your save file sprite to one of Link holding his sword aloft and overwrites your save file from the beginning but mixes up the locations of dungeons, enemies, and items and also increases the difficulty of the game’s enemies. You can, however, jump straight into this mode by naming for save file “ZELDA” and also make frequent, fragrant, and continuous use of the 3DS version’s save state ability to make beating this difficult and finicky first Zelda title much less of a headache.

The Summary:
After years of hearing so much hype about how good The Legend of Zelda is and having experienced a number of 2D and 3D Zelda titles, I was excited to finally experience the first in the series and, for the most part, The Legend of Zelda lived up to the hype. It’s definitely a product of its time and suffer somewhat from the limitations of the NES hardware and the simplistic graphics, gameplay, and sound but it’s still an ambitious little action/adventure title that was both offering something unique at a time largely dominated by space shooters and platformers. Everything on offer in The Legend of Zelda was expanded upon and improved as the series progressed but, for this first entry, the player is required to utilise a lot of exploration, experimentation, and utilise the bare minimum of information to find the pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom. I went in mostly blind and did okay, for the most part, and only had to turn to a guide for the last two dungeons and to track down a couple of the game’s more elusive items so it’s definitely do-able but the game is handicapped somewhat by this format since it’s very easy to just get lost and end up wandering around in circles or being absolutely bludgeoned by the game’s tougher enemies. Honestly, I have nothing but respect for those who managed to get through this game back in the day without the benefit of save states since it’s a deceptively tough title, one that I’m sure kept many kids busy for many hours or even days with its vast landscape and tricky bosses.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on The Legend of Zelda? Did you own this on the NES back in the day or did you, perhaps, discover it later on a different console? How do you feel it holds up these days, especially against later Zelda titles? Which Zelda game, character, or dungeon is your favourite and why? Would you like to see a return to the top-down style of gameplay for Zelda or do you prefer to more action-orientated, open world approach? How are you celebrating The Legend of Zelda’s debut today? Whatever your thoughts, memories, or opinions of The Legend of Zelda, and the Zelda franchise overall, feel free to drop a comment below and check in next Sunday for more Zelda content.