Long, long ago, in a country far, far away… In the Netherlands, a young boy was quickly becoming enchanted by the Legend of Zelda franchise. Back then, it wasn’t a franchise yet, not even a series yet. There were two games in total. The Legend of Zelda, a game I owned, and Zelda II – Adventures of Link, a game often rented. Both games were, without a doubt, Zelda titles.
Take away everything you know about The Legend of Zelda now. There is no A Link to the Past. There is no Wind Waker. Be happy as you realize Tingle disappearing from your consciousness. There’s also no glorious Four Swords Purple Link. No timeless. No Navi telling you to listen.
All there is is two games on the NES. Let’s look at the similarities between the two.
- Hero in green garb
- Fighting two-legged pig-like creaturs called Moblins
- Fantasy setting with heroes of courage, a princess to be rescued, and an evil wizard named Ganon
- A sword that shoots magical beams at full health
- Dungeon exploration
- Focus on acquiring new items that allow you to explore new areas
- Collectible health upgrades
For all we knew back then, Link’s Adventure felt like natural enough continuation for the series. Sure it was different from the previous title, but so many games had sequels that were altogether different. Just look at Super Mario Bros and Super Mario Bros 2.
Before you bring up Donkey Donkey Picnic (which is a total secret that I am leaking on here because nobody knows about this yet), let’s remember one thing: most of us were oblivious to Donkey Donkey Picnic before the internet. In a lot of ways, Mario Bros 2 felt like a natural continuation of the Mario games. The first game was so minimal, they could’ve taken a sequel anywhere and still call it a Mario game.
If you explore both Super Mario Bros 1 and 2, there’s enough similarities there to put the two together.
- You get to play as Mario or Luigi, but now also as Toad and the Princess
- You jump on enemies to beat them, except now you get to throw them
- Instead of Warp Pipes, you go to bonus stages in Warp Vases, but the general idea is the same
- Lots of shortcuts, secrets
- They’re both platformers
The biggest difference is actually that Super Mario Bros 2 is a much vaster, bigger, more colorful game than the previous one.
Did Super Mario Bros 2 suck? Fuck no, Super Mario Bros 2 was an excellent game. In a lot of ways, it’s a much more replayable and fun game than the first installment in the series. Sure it’s different, but before internet critics started bashing the game for “not being a Mario game”, nobody cared how different it was from Super Mario Bros 1 and 3.
The same thing goes for Adventures of Link. A lot of the complaints that people have against the game, and trust me there’s a lot of complaints that people have about it, stem from playing it as a modern gamer with no frame of reference.
The game’s archaic, confusing, and difficult to figure out? Okay, play more games from the NES library, come back with an adventure game on that system that, without using any guides, any outside info, or any prior childhood experience doesn’t feel archaic, confusing, or overly difficult. I bid you good luck. Even the original Legend of Zelda is really hard to figure out without outside information.
Sure, you can figure out stuff sooner or later, but it’s likely to be later rather than sooner. Unless you already know where the first dungeon is in the first Legend of Zelda, I bid you good luck finding it. At least in Adventures of Link, the world map is structurally designed to push you towards the right areas from the start. Something that later Zelda titles became much better at doing.
One thing that I’ve always been fond of from Adventures of Link is the way it tried to make the battle system more dynamic. Compared to modern games it’s still fairly simple, but the 2D sidescrolling swordfighting introduced in that game was mindblowing to me as a kid. It created an effect back when it was released that, to me, hasn’t been recreated until Ocarina of Time made dynamic swordfighting a series staple.
A lot of Links moves in Super Smash Bros, as well as the background music in Hyrule Temple in Super Smash Bros Melee, suggests that, as much as fans love to forget about it, Nintendo will never forget the changes Nintendo tried to bring with Adventures of Link.
Mario Bros 2 and Adventures of Link aren’t the only black sheep second entries the internet likes to bash for trying something different though. Another classic case is Castlevania 2: Simon’s Revenge.
Personally, I’m not a big traditional Castlevania fan. I’ve played through all of the NES ones and my favorite will always be Castlevania 2. It tried to do something different, infusing this bigger adventure gaming style with towns and multiple dungeons into what the first game established. Some things worked, some things didn’t. A lot of the original ideas behind some of the less succesful endeavours were actually really good.
Like the idea of day and night. I wouldn’t be surprised if you took out the overly long text that introduces the change in time, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea, but as it is, even I will admit it’s pretty weak.
One thing that I find especially interesting in the case of Castlevania 2 is just how much of the concepts behind it would later on become the basis for one of the most beloved Castlevania titles: Symphony of the Night. Castlevania 2 introduced money and item shops, focused more on exploration, tried to focus less on action but more on exploration, all things that Symphony of the Night would excel at by taking a few (outright copying) Super Metroid.
Again, before the internet, I never heard any complaints about how different, or wrong any of these titles were when I was younger. And again, how fucking ludicrous is it to make a previously loved game a universally accepted and hated black sheep in a franchise by spouting bullshit on some shitty retro gaming show on the internet? The sad thing is that a large amount of viewers of retro gaming videos on the internet don’t know shit about retro gaming. If they did, they wouldn’t need to watch all these informative videos to tell them what these games are. They’d know. They’d have played them. Heck, they might still be playing them.
But no, some idiot on the internet who bought his collection off of eBay recently and is playing through these games with a modern preconception of what these games are supposed to be like is telling us what the popular opinion was of games based on their own sole opinion. And sadly, people buy into it.
I’ll make you a deal. Next time some fuckwit on the internet tells you how to feel about a retro game, look up when the game was made on Wikipedia. I then give you full permission to get an emulator and matching ROM files and play both the title in question, and the games that came before it. Then try to remember that any advancements in the franchise later on didn’t exist when this was released. Make your own conclusions based on that.
Go play some retro games.
They’re a lot more fun than a lot of self-proclaimed retro gamers will tell you.