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The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo NES) Review
Review by 
9.16/10 from 81 user ratings
After all these years, I've finally pulled Zelda out of that dungeon on Death Mountain. That means my Save the Princess count finally goes from 1-1 to 2-0.

I started this as an entry in the Finished Pile but, since I can't seem to write only a few words about anything, I thought I'd go ahead and turn it into a full-blown review. In honor of the Finished Pile, I'll kick off this way:

Playtime: 25 Years

Really finished?: Finished the first quest. Not sure how important it is to my credibility as a gamer to finish the second one. Though I think I'll eventually do that, anyway, because I love this game so much.

Thoughts: I've mentioned before how this commercial turned me completely away from playing The Legend of Zelda as a kid:

Media Message: "Seriously, kids, don't play this terrible game. P-P-Peahats."

That's no lie. I really did see this commercial, which was played in my area a lot more than the famous Zelda rap one, and was completely confounded by it. This guy is screaming the name of all the enemies in the game, but my childish brain somehow misunderstood it to mean that he was shouting different "modes" of play. Basically I thought Zelda was some kind of mini-game collection, similar to how the old Atari games had multiple modes on one cart. You know, you'd pop Zelda in and play some "Leevers". When you get bored with playing "Leevers", hit reset and play some "Octorocks". You want a mini-game where you pee in a hat? We've got it. The whole thing looked like a step backwards to me after playing Super Mario Bros.

I'm not positive how long I kept that misconception, but it was quite a while. I remember a kid at school flashing his gold cartridge of Zelda II and wondering who the crap this guy "Link" was supposed to be. What happened to Zelda? I do remember seeing a pull-out map of some kind, but I can't remember what I thought about it. I didn't have a subscription to Nintendo Power and my two best friends were SEGA Master System and Atari 7800 kids. Poor guys.

It was probably the cartoon show that set me straight. But, unlike a lot of people who looked forward to Fridays, I always felt like the Zelda cartoon was hijacking the Mario show. It didn't help that I found Link's "Excuse Me, Princess" antics annoying, even back then.

Excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me, Princess,
while I make the hero of one of Nintendo's most important franchises
look like a total jackass every week.

So it's like my introduction to Zelda couldn't have been worse. I never played the actual game, which I'm fairly certain I would have loved. It's not like I didn't play adventure games. I was already playing the King's Quest series. I loved Kid Icarus. I put a lot of time into Dragon Warrior. A few years later, when I got a Genesis, one of my favorite games was Sword of Vermillion. I remember telling my friend Johnny (the Atari kid) that it fixed the things I didn't like about Dragon Warrior. Mainly, that there was an active combat system rather than a boring, menu-driven, turn-based one. And I remember him saying, "Oh, so you like games more like Zelda". I was flummoxed by that because, up to that point, I still wasn't totally clear about how Zelda worked. All I knew about the actual game was that you had to have some huge map from a back issue of Nintendo Power - one that you couldn't get anymore.

Time marched on. By that point I'd switched to SEGA and then, confounded again by all the terrible consoles on the market in the mid-90s, I skipped out on gaming for the entire PS1/N64 generation. But the poor, unloved 'Cube brought me back. By then I was aware of the place Zelda had in gaming history. I knew that I'd missed out on something special. So I picked up Wind Waker and had my mind fully blown.

For me, this badassery is Zelda:

Also this:

So all that memoir crap up there was a long way to say that, yes, despite being a big Nintendo fan, I somehow missed out on playing a lot of Zelda games. In the last 7 or 8 years I've gone back and played a number of them - Ocarina of Time, Minish Cap, Link's Awakening, Twilight Princess, etc. and I'd already made serious headway on the original Legend of Zelda years ago. But I'd never finished it. Looks like I got bogged down by all the Wizzrobes in Dungeon 6 and just moved on to other things. But my affection for the game wasn't dampened and it has stayed on my To Do list all this time. But since someone around here challenged me to it earlier this week, I went ahead and wrapped the game up over the last few days. (Thank God my save file was still there.)

What are my feelings about The Legend of Zelda as an unsentimental adult playing it 25 years after release? It's certainly one of the greatest games ever made. Even by modern standards, there's a lot of fun to be had. It's a wonder rocket of an 8-bit game, but also just a great game, full stop.

I know most of you are intimately familiar with The Legend of Zelda, so I won't get too detailed about the story or how the game works. That'd be unnecessary. Simply put, it's a classic Nintendo "Save the Princess" story that enables a well-designed adventure game full of hidden secrets, active combat and plenty of 8-bit dungeon goodness.

Lots of lonely old men in caves, too. Struck a chord.

I found the fundamental play mechanics to be solid and enjoyable throughout. If they're a little stiff, I'm willing to forgive that, considering this did release in 1986, after all. If you sort the Wikipedia list of NES games by year, Zelda is hardly the worst offender in the control department amongst games released around the same time. So while I can easily imagine controls for Link that are more smooth than they are, I didn't find myself particularly frustrated by what made it into the game. Control ends up being an almost negligible complaint for me.

The adventuring itself is first rate. The Overworld map is absolutely huge, teeming with life and full of puzzles and weird little quirks. It's satisfying to pick up an item, like the stepladder, and know immediately that you can use it to get that one heart container that you saw just out of reach a few days back. It's funny to meet all these weird characters hiding out in hidden caves, ready to give you rupees or help you gamble them away. Like Metroid, it's also exciting to come across areas that you can tell, just by the difficulty of the enemies, you aren't ready for. I found myself running like a madman through certain sections of the game just because I wanted to get an idea of the scope of the map. It was all good phun.

If there is a possible major weakness, it's that many of the secrets are so well hidden that I'd say they're nearly impossible to find without consulting a guide of some sort. In the 80s, a lot of adventure games seemed designed to sell hint books or magazine subscriptions and Zelda seems to fall in that category. I'm sure someone will appear in the thread claiming to have found every secret in the game without any kind of guide, but I think most people would admit they had to, at the very least, talk it over with a knowledgeable friend.

Yeah, or maybe you just aren't taking your medication again, Pops.

However, I'm aware that some of this obscurity was by design. Miyamoto has mentioned that part of the Zelda experience was supposed to be talking about the game with other players and swapping tips and discoveries. I can respect that.

I'm also aware that The Legend of Zelda originally came with a thick, detailed, full-color instruction manual, which I don't personally own. Even on the title screen, there's a reference to consult the manual, so it's clear that the manual was considered more important to Zelda than your usual NES game. This was a premium package where everything included in the box was supposed to be part of the experience.

But since I didn't have the manual, I did what all lazy gamers in 2011 do: I sometimes checked the Internet when I got stuck. I tried to keep that to a minimum because, frankly, it isn't a lot of fun to follow a guide step by step. But toward the end I started to think it'd be worth it to find out what the heck all these items did and where the ones I hadn't already found were hidden. Turns out there were a number of items I'd missed, which was making the game a bit harder on me than it needed to be.

Look familiar, Mr. Awesome Gamer?

So my advice to players in 2011 is to feel no guilt about using guides when you get badly stuck, but be sure to use them sparingly. Anyone who could decode the location of the Magic Sword using only the messages contained in the game should be working at Scotland Yard, but it was a thrill to discover the location of the 7th and 8th dungeons without any hints. I liked finding Ganon on my own and figuring out how to defeat him in that last battle without reading a cheat sheet. And, yet, I'm also glad that I used a guide to scrounge up some of the items I couldn't find. Even backtracking into dungeons I'd already played to get the Magic Key or the bomb upgrades was fun, even when I knew exactly where to go and which wall to bomb to find them. I suspect a lot of 80s kids felt the same way when they used Nintendo Power tips to complete the game.

Speaking of dungeons, here's an aside: I've never really heard this mentioned anywhere before, but I started to feel, toward the end, that The Legend of Zelda just might be a generational evolution of Pac-Man. Seriously. The dungeons, in particular, started to remind me of the mazes the Pacster runs around in, only here the maze is multi-screen and more about discovery than endurance. You're largely concerned with collecting power ups and each screen contains multiple baddies - often four - whose behavior is somewhat random and somewhat predictable. The blue and orange Wizzrobes, in particular, started to remind me of all those killer ghosts. It's not a perfect analogy - one's a point scoring arcade game and the other is a long-form adventure game - but I'd never heard the similarities mentioned before and thought it was worth bringing up. I wonder if Miyamoto and Co thought about Pac-Man while working on Zelda.

Anyway, in sum, The Legend of Zelda managed to charm me even all these years later. It felt like an accomplishment to finally be able to say I'd completed it, and that's more because the game is so good than anything else. But I was also aware that I could never really have any self-respect as a gamer if I'd never finished this game. It was worth it on both counts. The Legend of Zelda is still a great game, worth getting enthusiastic about even all these years later.

Now, on to Adventure of Link. See you in another 25 years.

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 Excellent  9.7 / 10
08/07/11, 02:22   Edited:  08/07/11, 02:55
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Very nice review. You brought me back with the commercial. I think I was left with my mouth open the first time I saw that as a kid.

Also, your last pic is proof the GTA copied from Zelda. She totally refills your health while you're inside her....house.

Posted by 
 on: 08/09/11, 07:03
For me, that commercial was like the atomic bomb that blew up my chance to enjoy Zelda for 15 years. That's no exaggeration. If I'd just had exposure to it some other way, I might not have gone with SEGA the next generation. I might have played everything from Super Metroid to Yoshi's Island a decade earlier. But thanks to that screaming butthole, I ended up playing ESWAT and a crappy looking version of Street Fighter II.

What makes it doubly sad is that Nintendo actually had a lot of really great commercials in the 80s and, especially, the early 90s. So it's not like they got it wrong all the time. Why couldn't they have screwed up a Power Pad commercial instead of the two Zelda ones?

Posted by 
 on: 08/09/11, 07:15   Edited:  08/09/11, 07:16
Hah! That was back when NoA didn't know what they were doing. Oh wait...

I remember all of their marketing for the SNES being super cheesy but really fun at the same time. Much like Nintendo Week on the Nintendo Channel now. Play it Loud!

Posted by 
 on: 08/09/11, 07:18   Edited:  08/09/11, 07:19
Seriously those Zelda commercials aren't the worst things Nintendo ever did. Behold....

I can't imagine how many people were turned off by that one.

And they did get better for Zelda commercials:

Though the Japanese one.........

Posted by 
 on: 08/09/11, 07:36   Edited:  08/09/11, 07:36

Ooooh, is that the Famicom version of the Temple music?

Off to Youtube!

Posted by 
 on: 08/09/11, 08:03
Wow. Yeah, I'd never seen that Yoshi's Island one before. Obviously they cribbed that gag straight from Monty Python, which is an odd choice considering it's still held up as probably the most disgusting and tasteless thing Python ever did. It's probably a worse commercial, in some ways. Reminds me of that awful Boogerman one I used on the Boogercast.

But the thing is, everyone who had a Super Nintendo already knew who Yoshi was and what Super Mario World meant. They'd be disgusted by that commercial, but not confused. In contrast, I had no idea what Zelda was because the series hadn't been established yet, and those Zelda commercials didn't adequately explain it in a way I could easily understand. I mean, obviously I was in a very small minority there, because most of you guys played it. But it made all the difference in the world for me, personally.

And I still think the worst Nintendo commercial of all time is "Clean Is Better Than Dirty". **bristles**

Posted by 
 on: 08/09/11, 08:07

Funny because I thought and still think that that commercial was rather funny.

Posted by 
 on: 08/09/11, 08:15
I get that there's a layer of irony to it, but I think it fails both as an earnest commercial and as a (ho ho) ironic commercial. Just my personal view of it, though.

Posted by 
 on: 08/09/11, 08:18

That Yoshi's Island commercial is just as disgusting as the ads they ran in their own Nintendo Power magazine. If I go back and look through my older issues, I'll find stuff like: a jar full of toenail clippings, Star Fox barf bag, a huge nasty school-cafeteria meat loaf, and so on. It was "the thing" back then I suppose!

Posted by 
 on: 08/09/11, 18:57

Huh...reminds me that the AVGN made reference to those in his Nintendo Power Magazine review, too. Those exact same images.

Posted by 
 on: 08/09/11, 20:24
That doesn't change the fact that Roy's absolutely right. The commercial is reminiscent of those print ads. What was up with Nintendo's ad people during that period?

Posted by 
 on: 08/09/11, 20:34
@kriswright Finally finished reading your review. It really made my day today at Jury Duty go by faster. Thanks for that! By the way, congrats on finally finishing the game! I felt the same way when I finally finished a Pokemon game. It only took me about ten years to do it, compared to your 25.

Are you going to play Zelda II now? If you are, prepare yourself. It is far more difficult than the first one. It starts off easy enough but then the difficulty ramps up really fast when you have to go to Death Mountain early in the game.

Posted by 
 on: 08/10/11, 07:54
Glad you enjoyed it!

I think I'm going to skip Adventure of Link for now. I mean, I've had it for years and I've played a little of it already. I know how it plays and all about its reputation as a killer. It's a pretty unusual game and not really something I'm interested in getting into right away. Not while I've still got A Link to the Past and Majora's Mask to play. Those take precedence, for now.

My wife's going to be out of town this weekend, so I'm considering just jumping feet first into A Link to the Past. Eat pizza and donuts all weekend and play Zelda, like some kind of sad bachelor. But since I know next to nothing about aLttP, apart from its reputation as one of the greatest Zeldas, it should be fun and enlightening.

Posted by 
 on: 08/10/11, 08:15   Edited:  08/10/11, 08:17
It's been so long since I've played A Link to the Past. I'm pretty sure I've played every other Zelda game at least once since then. I remember almost nothing about it. Is it really that great? I don't know!

You should play Adventure of Link! It's easier than the first game, don't be fooled!

Posted by 
 on: 08/10/11, 08:38

Lies.Filthy lies.

Posted by 
 on: 08/10/11, 09:36
kriswright said:
My wife's going to be out of town this weekend, so I'm considering just jumping feet first into A Link to the Past. Eat pizza and donuts all weekend and play Zelda, like some kind of sad bachelor.
Well well well, now your true opinion of me comes out.

Good review, by the way.

Posted by 
 on: 08/11/11, 04:54
I said sad bachelor, not rad bachelor.

Posted by 
 on: 08/11/11, 04:57

ALTTP and MM are much better games than Zelda II. I agree that you would do well by playing them first.

Posted by 
 on: 08/11/11, 05:08

Everyone would do well by playing MM.

*points in vague direction of Majora's Mask Club*

Posted by 
 on: 08/11/11, 05:39
sirmastersephiroth said:

ALTTP and MM are much better games than Zelda II. I agree that you would do well by playing them first.

Zelda II > Majora's Mask.

Posted by 
 on: 08/11/11, 06:21
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