Power Source: In Defense of A Classic

Disclaimer: The proceeding article is editorial content. The views expressed are those of the author and do not neccessarily reflect the official position of the Advanced Media Network.

You know, everyone claims to love it so much when Nintendo innovates. After all, it is what they are best at and the reason that most of us are such fans. Nintendo is always innovating, trying new things, and generally pushing the industry forward. Sometimes these things don’t exactly work out so great, as in the case of the Virtual Boy or e-Reader, but hey, at least they tried, right? While most of us are honest enough to recognize where Nintendo’s failures have been and mercilessly poke fun at these misfires, sometimes my beloved Nintendo takes some most undeserved hits from the gaming populace. It can be annoying when something you love is poorly regarded by the world at large. It is especially infuriating when said thing really is a great idea with quality execution and excellent potential for the future it was sadly denied. Okay, for me there are lots of things like this, but right now I’m talking about Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. I believe it’s high time this game got its due.

After Nintendo launched the very successful and highly-acclaimed Legend of Zelda for the NES, they wasted no time starting work on a sequel. They must have known ahead of time just how special this game and its successors would be considering it shipped in a shiny gold cartridge the first time around. As is common from the legendary Mr. Miyamoto, he wanted to do something different for the sequel to his epic. Offering new gameplay experiences is what he and his team were all about, after all. In reality, they took everything from the first game and added even more. An all-new game engine featuring side-scrolling action sequences was developed in conjunction with an overhead map. Link now had the ability to jump, use multiple sword techniques, and cast magic spells. It really was more of an action game than the first, but RPG elements like leveling up your character were introduced to retain the fantasy feel. With seven dungeons, several items, spells, and moves, plus side quests and puzzles, Miyamoto surely had another hit of epic proportions on his hands.

Well, he did have a hit, but only in the literal sense. It is clear that Nintendo didn’t really get what they wanted from Zelda II. The game sold millions of copies but was generally regarded as being weird, quirky, and not that good. It failed to sell as much as the original game in the series was highly criticized for being so drastically different. Wait a minute? Zelda II was hated because it was different? Don’t the loyal legions of Nintendo devotees crave things that are different and innovative? How could a game that was obviously very well made fail due to the sheer newness of the experience? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that I had this game and had loads of fun playing it as a kid. Yes, it was very difficult, but challenge is what’s missing from a lot of games, especially these days. To this day, I have only beat Zelda II one time and that was only about five years ago. Still, it saddens me to know that this great gaming experience has been relegated to be a footnote in Zelda history, and a not very fondly remembered one at that.

All my personal hang-ups aside, you may be wondering what this has to do with the Nintendo DS or anything else for that matter. Well, the DS is innovation, a physical representation of everything new and different in video games. It is a triumphant piece of technology that didn’t just stretch the borders of what we at the time knew, but broke through those borders into completely uncharted territory. It was a brave move on Nintendo’s part, but not an unprecedented one considering their history. If there is one thing Nintendo knows how to do, its take risks. The DS was certainly a risk, but a calculated one. It has worked out well, I’d say. So well, in fact, that it is spurring others in the industry to take more risks themselves, the exact outcome that Nintendo wanted. Before the DS we would never have games like Trauma Center: Under the Knife, especially not here in the US. Maybe these companies should be careful, especially in the American market. We can be resistant to change, as evinced by the reception of Zelda II. But wait, isn’t the DS doing incredibly well in both Japan and the States? Haven’t weird and quirky titles been selling quite well? Maybe people are just more receptive to crazy gadgets and oddball titles these days. Maybe, just maybe, Zelda II was ahead of its time.

I recently had an epiphany, the kind that I’m sure lots of gamers have while immersed in one pixilated adventure or another. I was actually playing Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, trying to finish it off before the DS version hit the shelves. Playing this or any of the GBA Castlevania titles (or Symphony of the Night for that matter) shows the gamer a radical departure from the “classic” Castlevania gameplay. There are multiple weapons and items to equip, magic spells to cast, and experience points to level up your character. The original Castlevania had none of these things. These additions seemed familiar to me too, like I’d seen them added to a game series before. That’s when it hit me: Zelda II! These new Castlevania games are to their series what The Adventure of Link is to The Legend of Zelda, yet these games are highly successful and much loved. Most of them are considered to be far superior to the original Castlevania.

So why is there no love for Zelda II? Maybe in 1988 people just weren’t ready for something like that. The jarring change wasn’t expected on the second game in the series, especially when it was on the same console. I see this as a positive. It really is amazing that a lot of games are just now catching up to what Miyamoto and Nintendo R&D 4 were doing almost two decades ago on 8-bit technology. Doing more with less is a unique skill that very few people posses. I guess that would make Miyamoto the MacGyver of video game programmers. It was one of those calculated risks that Nintendo is prone to taking, and in 1988 it just didn’t pan out. But gamers have grown quite a bit since then. We are now used to more fanciful things in our video games and don’t automatically shy away for anything the slightest bit different. We have had to evolve as the technology grew. Where people were once taken aback by a side-scrolling Zelda, we have lauded and embraced a fully three-dimensional Link in a game that was an immediate successor to the previous console title with the traditional top-down perspective So it really makes me wonder, would Zelda II The Adventure of Link be a successful and popular title today?

Well, I obviously think it would or I would hardly be bothering with all this, right? I can easily envision a modern version of Zelda II, and where else would it be but on the Nintendo DS? When the time comes to make Zelda DS I hope that Nintendo keeps the classic Adventure of Link in the forefront of their minds. I imagine a fully contiguous side-scrolling world, similar to the Castlevania titles, but seven times as large with towns, lakes, and dungeons. Sword moves like the upward and downward thrusts that originated in Zelda II would be at your disposal, along with upgradeable weapons and armor. Experience would be gathered as Stalfos and Iron Knuckles are slain, but this time you wouldn’t max out at level 8. Item management would of course be managed on the bottom screen, with touch activation. There could even be voice activated spells. The action would be fast, and the challenge would be brutal, and the world would be unmistakably Zelda. Using the power of the DS, the world would be rich and deep, with character models similar to the adventure mode of Super Smash Bros. Melee (Thanks to HAL for keeping the Zelda II torch burning). Of course, the classic music could be brought back to life, engaging a new generation with the orchestral tunes of Link’s sophomore adventure. Best of all, they could make this title a direct sequel to the first two Zelda titles, continuing the story of the first Link that we all knew and loved. (Editor’s Note: Oddly enough, it appears that an early prototype of Zelda III for the NES has recently surfaced in an Ebay auction. Once believed to be a hoax, the winner of the auction took several screenshots which appear to be authentic.) I can just imagine climbing Death Mountain on my DS and meeting up with Gannon for a final battle. With a blend of old school play mechanics and modern graphics and technology the DS really is the platform of choice for old-school revivals. This could be the best DS game yet and the best Zelda game ever.

Okay, so it is clear that I really love Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and it bothers me that it is widely regarded as the least of the Zelda series. I’ll probably take a lot of heat for this, but I really think it is one of the best! I just think that a lot of people never gave this game a chance. Now, if you are one of those people who just really doesn’t like the game, then I’m sorry for wasting your time. I’m not out to convince you that a game you hate is really great. But, if you’ve never played it or never taken it seriously, then I urge you to give it another chance. Pick up the Classic NES version for GBA or a cheap copy of the Collector’s Edition disc for Gamecube. You can even wait for the Revolution and download it for play with your fancy new controller. Either way, I want to see Zelda II given a chance at having a real legacy and maybe even a real future. Link’s new adventure for Nintendo DS is something I am surely ready for.

Brian Langlois is an editorial columnist for AMN. Readers can catch his columns regularly at Power Source with Brian Langlois on GCA and DSA.