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. 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?

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

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

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

  6. 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.)


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