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.
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.
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.
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.