When The Legend of Zelda first made its debut, gamers were treated to a truly special fantasy action-adventure experience. Then Zelda II: The Adventure of Link threw everyone a curveball and changed things up considerably. The game was most certainly an excellent title on the NES, but it was undoubtedly different from its predecessor. The launch of the series on the Super Nintendo would mean a return to its roots, focusing on what the first Zelda brought to the table and improving on it in every way imaginable.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was a return to form for the Zelda series. The isometric perspective from the first game was brought back, and the action RPG elements from Zelda II were stripped away for an experience that was more like what we see in Zelda games today. Link had a massive overworld to explore, and the most dungeons in any Zelda game to date. The story was solid, and the whole vibe of the game was incredibly grand. Then there was the whole Dark World that exuded a different feeling than the bright Light World. All of that goodness crammed into a 16-bit cart–that was the magic of A Link to the Past.
I never got the opportunity to play A Link to the Past when it first launched, but thanks to the Wii, I finally got the chance to play it when it was first made available on the Virtual Console back in 2007. I was super stoked to play it again recently, and I couldn't wait to revisit the world of Hyrule. I play a lot of indie games, and the art style and 16-bit music of A Link to the Past really appealed to me. I dare say I found these aspects of the game a lot more enjoyable now than I did when I first played the game, which says a lot because when I first played the game, I really loved the game's visual and audio presentation.
As far as overworld exploration goes, I found the design of A Link to the Past a lot more accessible and inviting than the first two games in the series. Your trusty map makes sure to point you in the right direction, and the whole thing isn't one big grid-based labyrinth. Instead, you have a pretty big overworld, but thanks to the talkative characters and landmarks, you usually know where to go next. Of course, the avid explorer can definitely look around and get the lay of the land.
The dungeons themselves are expertly designed, as well. From start to finish, the many dungeons that you visit on your quest get progressively tougher and longer, and they dish out stronger enemies and more punishing traps. Later dungeons can get a bit tricky to navigate, but persistence will get you through any tough spot. I wouldn't go so far as to say that A Link to the Past has the best dungeon design in the Zelda series, but it sure comes close.
A Link to the Past can easily take up to 15 hours to get through. The enthralling dungeons, the expansive overworld, and the extra side quests all make for a game that's really up to par to today's standards. These days, you're lucky if you find a game that can last you eight hours. At roughy 15 hours, A Link to the Past provides a lot of bang for your buck (the game is $8 on the Virtual Console).
If it isn't already clear, A Link to the Past is still a totally relevant title that most definitely holds up. The game is intricately designed, and while it certainly feels retro, it also feels more modern than the original Legend of Zelda and Zelda II. The colorful visuals and wonderful soundtrack only help the overall package. Yes, this looks and sounds like a SNES game, but it looks and sounds like a SNES game that fully took advantage of the technology at the time, rendering it not only playable, but completely recommendable for gamers who may have missed out on it before.
There's a reason A Link to the Past is a lot of gamers' favorite Zelda game. This is truly a special game. It's a game that was incredibly in its day, and it's still incredible today. Though Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker will always be my favorite Zelda games, the argument can easily be made that A Link to the Past holds up the most out of all the classic games in the series. Whether you agree with that assessment or not, there's no denying that this gem–this lovely, shining, brilliant gem–is one of the most memorable games ever made. And if you want the short answer, then yes, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past holds up in practically every way imaginable.
The Verdict: A Link to the Past was awesome when it first launched, and it still is. Play it. And if you already have, play it again.