Link to the Past: how Zelda II (NES) saved my relationship with videogames

It was December 8th, 2006. Not only was it the launch day of Nintendo’s Wii, it was also that of the best Zelda title ever made. My pre-ordered copy was waiting for me in the local game shop. I could barely contain my excitement. Although, because it was technically a Christmas present, I wasn’t allowed to play it until the 25th but that’s by the by. In fact, those extra days only heightened the anticipation…

You can imagine my fevered excitement when I actually played Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for the Wii (a full 17 days later). The intro was sumptuous; the graphics beautiful in widescreen; the characters well written; the motion controls… OK.

Before it all goes south, let me just say this - great intro.

Before it all goes south, it has to be said – Twilight Princess has a fantastic intro.

But before long I had the sense that the game was going through all the conventions set out in Ocarina of Time, only on a larger (and arguably less polished) scale, with extra padding and a lengthier running time. Perhaps what bothered me most were the first few hours of the game, with its interminable tutorial-like feel. Now I’m not saying all this to hate on Twilight Princess; it just so happened to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Twilight Princess put me off pre-orders and day one “insta-buys”, and thus a door closed on over ten years of the latest and greatest in gaming.

Funnily enough, where one Zelda closed a door, another Zelda game on the Wii opened a window. Whilst playing through Twilight Princess, I’d decided to try another game through the Wii’s Virtual Console service – Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. I was aware that Zelda II was a contentious entry in the overall series, thanks to its combination of side scrolling action stages and an RPG-like leveling system. Oh, and did I mention this game is famous for being super-hard? And pretty damn obscure too? No matter.

mm

*insert obligatory “I AM ERROR” reference here*

It wasn’t too far in when it dawned on me that I was having more fun with The Adventure of Link than Twilight Princess. Sure, Zelda II had flaws, that much was obvious. But the experience felt incredibly fresh to me, having been immersed in modern, 3D Zelda games from a young age. In short, I loved Zelda II, not in spite of the differences between it and later Zelda games, but because it ran so firmly against the later, well-established trends in the series. And, of course, it wasn’t just different to Zelda – it was different to almost every trend and convention in what was then, in 2006, modern gaming.

In retrospect it’s clear I was feeling a kind of fatigue, a disenchantment with modern gaming around the time of Twilight Princess’s release. And although I soldiered on with the Wii to an extent, in the years since then I’ve shied away from actively buying and playing new releases. Portal 2 in 2011 was probably the last time I bought a game within six months of its initial release, and I still haven’t played it to this day. Two years earlier, in 2009, Little King’s Story was probably the last game I bought on “day one”.

Thanks to the Virtual Console, I took my first serious forays into the NES library with games like Super Mario Bros 1 & 2 (aka The Lost Levels), Kid Icarus, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Ninja Gaiden, and Megaman 1 and 2, all of which made lasting impressions on me. Having come of age during the 32-bit era, I was only too familiar with the race towards immersive gameplay – marked by an obsession with more realistic graphics, bigger worlds to explore and ever more complicated controls. By comparison, I discovered that there was a kind of deceptively simple genius to many of these old games. The NES library above any other home console is testament to this, given it seems to be made up entirely of games with simple controls and mechanics that demand inhuman feats of skill and endurance on the part of the player! The advantages of a limited toolset seemed to have been forgotten in an overly complex modern gaming landscape; Twilight Princess could have done with some pruning.

Said every NES game ever made.

Said every NES game ever made.

If not for Zelda II then, I suspect I would’ve ducked out of gaming altogether, for some time at least. Strange as it may sound, that game fired my imagination in ways that modern games didn’t, seemingly couldn’t. The possibilities of that merciless game set me on the long windy path through gaming history I’m treading to this day – just like Link time traveling in various Zelda games! Without Zelda II (and its timely release on the Virtual Console service) it seems highly unlikely I’d be staring at a Sega Saturn, N64, Dreamcast, and PS2 under my TV, and without those I can’t imagine I’d have ever begun blogging about games at all. So, if you’re looking for someone, or something, to blame for the existence of Very Very Gaming, you need look no further than the black sheep of the Zelda series, Adventure of Link.

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10 comments

  1. hundstrasse

    I think ‘fatigue’ of modern games is a really relatable feeling. The ultra efficient design of some of those 8 bit titles is pretty special. I read this and was reminded of a Quora answer I read a while ago about efficient memory usage in the original Zelda – they used some pretty cool tricks to make the most of what they had to play with (I specifically like the interlocking maps!). Article is here if you’re interested : http://qr.ae/RUwqsE

    • veryverygaming

      Yes, thanks! Even not knowing anything about programming, that was a fascinating read. Fatigue is the right word because the demands that (modern) games make on players – a few hours of padding here, mandatory grinding in an RPG there – can add up to a insane amount of time invested just to beat single game. Now of course games are lots of fun, for the most part, so I don’t mean to whine. But sometimes you just need a break from gaming, in some form or another.

  2. Red Metal

    There is something appealing about turning on a game and being able to start playing in less than ten seconds, isn’t there? It’s not like with modern games where you have to sit through load times and the company logos flashing onscreen, which you can’t skip in most instances. I never understood why they feel the need to do the latter in particular. If it’s a case of video games trying to emulate films and the way they open, it’s yet another example of a non-interactive technique not translating well to one where human feedback is needed.

    • veryverygaming

      It’s a good point – dropping you straight in the action means a game doesn’t feel like it’s messing you around, or wasting your time! Perhaps, like films, the logos are a condition of licencing/funding agreements? You get to slap your company name all over the product in exchange for funding it or supplying tech. Nevertheless I completely agree. I seem to remember Burnout 2 for Gamecube having a lengthy opening like that, or perhaps I only remember because it was novel to me at the time 😛 I wonder what game has the longest, unskippable parade of logos…?

  3. moresleepneeded

    I found this article interesting. I have noticed differences between older games and more recent ones. Some of the aspects prioritised in later games are mentioned. Early games also appear to have a more prominent problem solving element, with the player encountering more and more difficult problems while completing the game and the player performing simple movements. Early games seem to focus much less on story and character development. Instead of long animated sequences describing a complex story and showing characters with personalities, older games just seem to consist of a character being controlled by the player to overcome a series of challenges. One thing I find more enjoyable about older Sonic games is that the main characters are silent, so it seems more like a problem solving exercise, rather than later games when the characters speak with children’s voices and they seem more like games intended for kids.

    • veryverygaming

      Yes, we’ve spoken about many examples where cutscenes and other more modern story techniques can feel out of step with the gameplay portions of a game. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with story in games, but it does have to be done correctly, and Sonic has had an especially rough time of it, whereas Mario games often have a story but somehow avoid feeling like they’re just aimed at kids.

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