May 3, 2011

Games for Gameless Situations: The Legend of Zelda Series

Nin­ten­do is great at mak­ing games that are aimed at chil­dren but fun for all ages. Mario titles are numer­ous, and almost all of  them are very good. How­ev­er, Nin­ten­do them­selves rarely dab­ble in the swords and sor­cery fan­ta­sy world, pre­fer­ring com­plete­ly orig­i­nal worlds of their own inven­tion. The one per­ma­nent foothold they have in a world that’s sim­i­lar to, but still far from the fan­ta­sy norm is The Leg­end of Zel­da, the one series that makes a dude wear­ing white tights and a green dress tunic look total­ly badass.

^ You could be Link for Hal­loween, and for the oth­er days of the year your sis­ter had a nice 2‑piece out­fit.
Now, these days hand­held Zel­da plays a lit­tle dif­fer­ent­ly than con­sole Zel­da. Even with 3D, the new hand­held titles stick to the top-down cam­era angle that has all but been abol­ished on con­soles. In case you’ve nev­er played a hand­held Zel­da game (and I pity you if you haven’t), I’ll sum it up for you. You are Link, the above pic­tured guy with the green dress tunic and the pointy hat. You usu­al­ly live in the land of Hyrule. Bad things hap­pen, so you take a sword in hand (left hand) and save Princess Zel­da. Along the way you have to go in dun­geons to retrieve cer­tain arti­facts, and you get some new piece of equip­ment in each dun­geon that helps you along the way. The Zel­da games real­ly have no set time­line (some games have sequels, but most are just loose­ly relat­ed.), so you can get max­i­mum enjoy­ment out of any ran­dom game you choose. I’ll go through the hand­held games in chrono­log­i­cal order of release.

Link’s Awak­en­ing was released in 1993 for the Game­Boy. This was the first game that did­n’t have Zel­da in it what­so­ev­er. The sto­ry begins with Link becom­ing ship­wrecked and awak­en­ing on Koholint Island, and the objec­tive of the game is to awak­en the Wind Fish so that he can return home to Hyrule. I’m just going to go ahead and go down on the record by say­ing that this had one of the best plots of any Zel­da game, ever. It’s real­ly mind-blow­ing, and makes you think. Game­play is pret­ty straight­for­ward Zel­da, with a num­ber of lit­tle east­er eggs and sid­e­quests. It was lat­er re-released in 1998 on the Game­Boy Col­or as Link’s Awak­en­ing DX, throw­ing in an all new “Col­or Dun­geon” and a fea­ture that is com­pat­i­ble with the Game­Boy print­er.

^Back in MY day, COLOR was a gim­mick!
There is plen­ty of play­time in this game, and it can get pret­ty dif­fi­cult at times. The art, as you can see above, is very basic, but for a text-dri­ven game such as this, it works per­fect­ly. Over­all, it’s a great adven­ture, which is what Zel­da games are all about.

The next “game” released for the Game­Boy Col­or came in two parts: Ora­cle of Ages and Ora­cle of Sea­sons in 2001. While they can both be played inde­pen­dent­ly, the game can be altered based on a series of pass­words at the end of the oth­er to change it into a “sequel”. To ful­ly expe­ri­ence both games, you have to play through them first with­out the pass­words, and then play through a sec­ond time with the pass­words at the end of the oth­er game. Ages requires more puz­zle-relat­ed think­ing, and Sea­sons requires more reflex-based com­bat. The art style was the same as Link’s Awak­en­ing DX, and these two kept a lot of game­play mechan­ics from their pre­de­ces­sor. These two games also have phe­nom­e­nal plots, and have enough play­time to get you through even the lamest forced vaca­tions.

^Note the scratch marks. These games are made for the road. Specif­i­cal­ly the back seat of a mini­van on its way to vis­it grand­ma in Louisiana.
The Game­Boy Col­or boasts three excel­lent games. So, what comes next on the Game­boy Advance? Let’s just call it “the epit­o­me of what you SHOULD do with a remake.”

^Did that just say mul­ti­play­er? WUT?
First off, let me talk about A Link to the Past. The sole Zel­da game to appear on the Super Nin­ten­do, A Link to the Past was an enor­mous game. There are no few­er than twelve indi­vid­ual dun­geons in this game, which makes it one of the longest Zel­da games in terms of dun­geon con­tent. This was one of those “more than per­fect” games that is expe­ri­enced, not played. So how did they improve on this game? They left it alone for the most part, except adding extra sword moves as a reward for play­ing Four Swords, and a bonus dun­geon called “Palace of the Four Sword” once both games have been beat­en. While this does­n’t change the game too much, it’s nice to see some addi­tion­al con­tent.

^You must con­struct addi­tion­al con­tent.
Four Swords is a bit of an odd bird. For one, mul­ti­play­er Zel­da? It’s a cool idea that requires group think­ing to solve, but lack of link cable-age was a large prob­lem back in the pre-wire­less days. The game itself is intend­ed only as a side dish of pota­toes to the mas­sive filet min­gon that is Link to the Past, and as such, can’t be judged too harsh­ly. There’s a finite amount of space on a GBA car­tridge, and the guys that made this real­ly pushed it to the max­i­mum. The art is a true tes­ta­ment to what the GBA could put out. You don’t need four peo­ple to play this game, two is per­fect­ly suf­fi­cient, and real­ly encour­aged. Dun­geons fol­low sim­i­lar pat­terns, but are laid out ran­dom­ly each time. There’s a bit of a com­pet­i­tive aspect to this game (he who ends the dun­geon with the most rupees wins), but in all actu­al­i­ty, it’s more of a coop­er­a­tive deal. A full mul­ti­play­er game for the Game­cube was lat­er released star­ring the four Links, but was­n’t wide­ly applaud­ed. Mul­ti­play­er Zel­da real­ly seems to defeat the pur­pose of Zel­da.

The Min­ish Cap came out in 2005 (04 over­seas). This game fea­tured the same art as Four Swords, and explained in fur­ther detail the ori­gins of The Four Sword (which turns one Link into four), Vaati (the ene­my in Four Swords), and Link’s pointy green hat. This game was good, and had some inter­est­ing mechan­ics (the abil­i­ty to shrink), but I real­ly did­n’t feel as moved by it as some of the pre­vi­ous titles. This was more of a “Star Wars Episode III”, sort of con­nect­ing every­thing togeth­er. Anoth­er thing I noticed about Min­ish Cap is that it was way short­er, with the dun­geons less elab­o­rate. It’s good for a week­end, but not some­thing I’m real­ly itch­ing to play again.

Phan­tom Hour­glass was the first Leg­end of Zel­da game for DS, and one of the few direct sequels in the entire fran­chise. This game takes place imme­di­ate­ly after the events of Wind Wak­er, and cen­tral­izes around get­ting Zelda/Tetra unpet­ri­fied (man, she has a knack for being turned to stone). You have to col­lect mag­i­cal sand for the Phan­tom Hour­glass in order to go deep­er into one enor­mous cen­tral dun­geon, the Tem­ple of the Ocean King. This is anoth­er quirky game. For one, most of your con­trol is touch­screen based. This is nowhere near as bad as it seems. The world is 3D when­ev­er you are out boat­ing, but on land you go to a “2.5D” top down per­spec­tive. There are quite a few dun­geons in this game, but they are short and unmem­o­rable com­pared to the afore­men­tioned tem­ple. You find your­self doing “speed runs” of this dun­geon in order to save time, delve deep­er, and fig­ure out what to do next. One thing that real­ly enraged me were areas that required yelling at the mic in order to con­tin­ue the game. You look like an ass if you do this in pub­lic. This game isn’t bad, per se, but it’s def­i­nite­ly a depar­ture from the usu­al Zel­da. Also, there’s a real­ly weird CTF-esque mul­ti­play­er. It’s too hard to explain, and was­n’t real­ly enjoy­able.

^All aboard the train of wut.
Spir­it Tracks. Oh, Spir­it Tracks. I’m not quite sure who this seemed like a good idea to. Allow me to first state that Spir­it Tracks is a good game. I’ve yet to play a bad Zel­da game (yes, I’ve played Adven­ture of Link). But this game con­fused me so much that I sat in the clos­et and cried for a few hours. What are trains doing in Zel­da? Are we tak­ing a steam­punkey turn for the Final Fan­ta­sy here? Of all the pro­fes­sions to give Link, a train engi­neer? Christ. Any­ways, this game’s pret­ty much dead in line with Phan­tom Hour­glass as far as game­play goes, only instead of a boat, you have a, erm, train. K. Zel­da’s spir­it (dur­ing a game-long out-of-body expe­ri­ence) is capa­ble of pos­sess­ing Phan­tom Guardians (the most stereo­typ­i­cal-sound­ing dun­geon ene­my EVER), and you often­times must switch between Link and Zel­da to solve puz­zles. There are more mic-blowey things to make you look like a total retard, so don’t wor­ry.
Because all of these games are dif­fer­ent, I’m just gonna give them a sol­id out-of-ten score, rather than bore you with eight pages of char­ac­ter-sheet-like cal­cu­la­tions.
Link’s Awak­en­ing, Ora­cle of Seasons/Ages: 10/10- Some might dis­agree, but I real­ly thought these games were great. They weren’t just “hand­held ports”, but full Zel­da games in their own right. Con­trol was famil­iar and effort­less. Plot­line was well-thought-out and immer­sive. They real­ly felt like adven­tures. Stock up on AA bat­ter­ies, and get these games. And a Worm­light (I will nev­er cease to sing the prais­es of the Worm­light).
Link to the Past/Four Swords: 9.5/10- It’s a remake, so it’s not a total­ly new expe­ri­ence. How­ev­er, the Four Swords game put an inter­est­ing spin on things, and pro­vid­ed new exper­i­men­ta­tion options. I’m not going to tell you to run out and buy this game (You should already have Link to the Past on your SNES, and if you own nei­ther, you need to seri­ous­ly re-exam­ine your life), but if you can find some peo­ple who have it stashed away in their clos­ets, it’s fun enough. If you want a game to buy games and Game­boys and link cables and worm­lights for, see my oth­er arti­cle on Poké­mon.
Min­ish Cap:7.8/10- This game would be tru­ly great if it weren’t for its brethren. Sort of like how I was the best gamer on Earth before I dis­cov­ered online mul­ti­play­er. It’s pret­ty good, but it lacks (tri)force in a series filled with tru­ly epic games. If you see it at your local Gamestop, buy it, and then prompt­ly slap your­self for vis­it­ing your local Gamestop (more to come about that lat­er.)
Phan­tom Hourglass/Spirit Tracks: 7/10- This is just too weird. It’s okay for Mario to do all these things because he’s Mario. Mar­i­o’s the defin­i­tive four-year old dream. When he grew up he saved princess­es and drove go-karts and was a doc­tor and went to space. Link’s a more refined man, er, boy, er, cross­dress­er of ambigu­ous age. He enjoys fish­ing and shoot­ing tar­gets, and saves Princess Zel­da when­ev­er her hor­ri­ble luck kicks in. The occu­pa­tion switch­es bug me a bit, and the choice of hav­ing one large cen­tral dun­geon bugs me a lot. But worst is the micro­phone. The only games that should have micro­phone usage nec­es­sary should be games cen­tral­iz­ing around using a micro­phone (karaoke games, lan­guage learn­ing games, let’s test every gim­mick our hard­ware can pro­vide with minigames games).
So, what’s on the hori­zon in tak­ing the small green dress tunic wear­ing fel­low with us? Oca­ri­na of Time, arguably the great­est Zel­da title ever, will be com­ing to the 3DS. How will it be? I’ll be the first to let you know (or like­ly the sec­ond or third, I’m not big enough to have pre­view priv­i­leges yet) when it releas­es. In the mean­time, tell me what you think. How do you feel about these games? Tell me in the com­ment sec­tion below!


  1. DrPixel - May 3, 2011 10:51 pm

    I loved every Zel­da game I’ve played… ^_^ It all start­ed when I was 5 and I began to play Oca­ri­na of Time and Majo­ra’s Mask lit­er­al­ly one after anoth­er on my N64. I seri­ous­ly would play one game for 30 min­utes then turn it off, switch car­tridges, and play the next game for 30 min­utes. Ah, good times. In recent years I’ve been kin­da “meh”, just play­ing a few of the games here and there when­ev­er I feel like it. Def­i­nite­ly my favorite Zel­da game of all time would be Link’s Awak­en­ing though. It still rules out as the clas­sic, awe­some Zel­da game that we’ve all known to come and love. (Except for the Oca­ri­na of Time fanboys/fangirls.)

  2. rodzhek - May 4, 2011 5:37 am

    Wow, wall of text…so I’ll just say: “Awe­some arti­cle! Keep up the good work!” 😀

  3. AiR - May 4, 2011 1:35 pm

    Its fun­ny you post this cuz I had recent­ly down­loaded an snes emu­la­tor to be able to play zelda:alttp pret­ty fun game.

  4. gamecultist - May 5, 2011 11:34 am

    Nice arti­cle, I’m a huge fan of the Zel­da series. I ranked Oca­ri­na of Time on num­ber 1 n my top 100.
    Glad you made a good sol­id overview of the games!

  5. ScrotusKilmystr - May 6, 2011 10:50 am

    great arti­cle! nice to see some of the fill­ing for the Zel­da’s I haven’t played
    and Zel­da also sparked the only fun­ny char­ac­ter on g4 Drunk Link!

  6. Marylee - August 26, 2011 10:39 am

    Look­ing through your site a thought occurred in my opin­ion. I’ll tell an indi­vid­ual hon­est­ly that today you’ll find so many MMORPGs that I do not know what is the very best play. Again and just as before pro­duced some new game and it’s hard to fig­ure out what lev­el they rep­re­sent. Obvi­ous­ly as a major fan of all these games have their own favorites, but these are sim­ply old games that are already avail­able on the mar­ket for sev­er­al years. I would want to try some­thing brand-new. Do you include any ideas?


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