Soapbox: Zelda's Magic Creates A Link Between Generations

Damien McFerran on how Nintendo's new 3DS Zelda has created a vital bond

More than two decades ago, an excitable 12 year-old boy huddled down in front of his Super Nintendo console armed with a copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Having witnessed the critical acclaim directed towards this new action RPG the youth expectantly flicked up the power switch and was subsequently transported to a mythical world which has since been burned into his very conciousness — so much so that the layout of this particular version of Hyrule is as familiar to him as the back of his hand.

Just in case you were wondering, the child of which I speak is me. Link to the Past was a hugely significant step in my journey as a gamer; it was my first experience of the franchise (I was a Sega fan in those early years, as were many European gamers) and I was totally overawed by the scope and brilliance of Link's first 16-bit outing. Here was a living, breathing game world packed with secrets and hidden paths to discover, as well as a robust quest, legions of monsters and a sprinkling of friendly faces to help you along the way. It's easily one of my all-time favourite video games, and I duly snapped up the Game Boy Advance update when it was released in 2002 and played it all over again. I've lost count of the number of times I've revisited the game, and I'm sure it's a title I'll continue to come back to even when I'm in my old age and my hands and eyes don't work properly any more — they'll have to wrestle that SNES pad out of my gnarled fingers.

The release of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is therefore a big deal for me; a sequel-of-sorts to the beloved 1991 outing, it takes place in the same world — and therefore my intimacy with the landscape really pays off. Walking through the 3DS adventure gives me an equal dose of nostalgia and excitement — excitement that can only come when experiencing some fresh and new.

However, I really get a kick out of sharing my love of the original game — and the Zelda series in general — with my family. I have a 5 year-old son who is slowly but surely becoming a dedicated gamer — much to the chagrin of my wife. For my part, I've tried to keep him away from games consoles, iPads and handheld systems as much as possible, which is easier said than done when you're involved with games and tech for a living. I'd rather he indulge in more creative pursuits at this stage, but I can't help but get caught up in his innocent excitement. A large part of that comes from the fact that unlike other games companies, Nintendo delivers an experience that seems to transcend generations. My son is enraptured by very much the same things that I adored back in the '90s; the feeling of exploration, the straightforward yet engrossing gameplay and the eye-catching, colourful visuals.

Back in 1991, A Link to the Past was just one of many games which boasted a bright and breezy 2D aesthetic, but today Nintendo's output stands in stark contrast to what we're seeing on rival systems. With a few exceptions — such as Knack on PS4 and Max: The Curse of Brotherhood on Xbox One — most of the launch games for the Xbox One and PS4 feature super-realistic visuals, which usually seems to mean a lack of colour and vibrancy. Realism appeals to an adult mind; as grown-ups, we're amazed at how far technology has come. However, my son isn't bothered that developers can now accurately replicate how paint looks like on a virtual sports car — in fact, he's totally disinterested in such features. His eye is caught by the sublime Super Mario 3D World, or the lush greens, browns and blues of the landscape in A Link Between Worlds — graphics which don't even attempt to be realistic, yet look a million times more enticing.

Nintendo's games carry long and illustrious legacies, which means it's easy for me to expose my son to vintage classics like Link to the Past, Link's Awakening, Super Mario Land and many more. Vastly underrated Wii U launch title Nintendo Land had a similar effect; my son didn't know what Pikmin or Metroid or F-Zero or Animal Crossing were, but he's since fallen in love with Pikmin 3, enjoyed F-Zero on the Wii U Virtual Console and picked fruit in New Leaf.

I love the fact that through Nintendo's game, I can share a bond with my child — a bond which simply wouldn't exist if I had decided to pledge my allegiance to either Sony or Microsoft. Of course, games like Forza 5 and Killzone: Shadow Fall have their place, and I'm not for one moment suggesting that we all spurn such experiences in order to play nothing but Zelda and Mario titles all day long. I'm just grateful for Nintendo's continued focus on catering for families while at the same time producing games which appeal to "core" players. Because of this, I'm able to bond with my son and take pleasure in the fact that he's enjoying the same journey that I did 20 years ago — right down to controlling the same characters.