Game Review

The Legend of Zelda Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Philip J Reed

A Link from the past

When The Legend of Zelda was released in 1986, it was at least as much an eye-opening experience for gamers as Super Mario Bros. had been. Whereas that game expanded and solidified the left-to-right nature of platformers for generations to come, The Legend of Zelda opened sprawling worlds before us, and allowed us to go wherever we pleased. It was a deliberately disorienting experience, and it's one that's still easy to appreciate today.

Previous games — notably Atari's Adventure — attempted to unfurl vast landscapes before our eyes, but it's The Legend of Zelda that most classic gamers remember most fondly, and that's for good reason: the game is, and always was, a masterpiece.

From the impressive spritework to the marvellously evocative music, it's clear from the moment the game starts that you're in for a treat. What you do after the game starts, though, is entirely up to you. The Legend of Zelda was an open world adventure before that term had any meaning. Of course there are paths that can only be accessed through item usage but, by and large, Hyrule is your oyster.

You control Link, who has been called upon to reassemble the Triforce of Wisdom, which has been split into eight pieces. He will also need to rescue the titular Princess Zelda, and slay the monstrous Ganon in order to rid the land of evil. And, once he does this, we assume that peace will reign forever. Ahem.

Control is simple: Link moves with a press of the D-Pad and A swings the sword, which is his primary weapon. Different items can be mapped to B by way of an innovative — for its time, of course — inventory screen, which grants Link an impressively large arsenal, and helped him to stand out among other gaming protagonists of his time.

Ideally you will complete each of the nine dungeons in sequence, but the lack of a proper map and some comically muddled hints from NPCs means you're likely to discover them out of turn. This might seen like a problem, but it's actually just a reflection of what gives The Legend of Zelda so much of its appeal: its versatility.

With so many options before you at all times — options which only increase in number each time you find a new item — you always have multiple ways to defeat enemies, evade traps and explore the world around you. While many players (particularly younger ones who are used to more specific guidance) are likely to be irritated by this openness, others will see it as an invitation to experiment, to learn by doing, and to hone their survival skills so that they'll be able to conquer whatever onslaught they stumble into next.

The game is so versatile, in fact, that sequence breaking and speed running have both become perennial pleasures, and no-sword and three-heart runs are self-imposed challenges that give even the best players a run for their money. Top this all off with a more difficult — and devious — second quest, and you have a game that's not only packed with gameplay, but bursting with so many possible ways to experience it.

Of course, being one of Nintendo's earliest masterworks, it's not free of glitches or quirks. The aforementioned hints are garbled by shoddy translation, and the lack of guidance or instruction can leave many important passages — and sometimes dungeons — almost impossible to find. Unlike sister game Metroid, a good portion of Link's items have limited ammunition, and so bombing every tile in the hopes that you'll find the way through is not always an option.

Fortunately the Wii U Virtual Console release features restore points, which can cut down on wasted ammunition and the unfortunate necessity of having to heal up and restock after death. Using them too frequently will — yes, will — affect your enjoyment of the game, but it's nice to have them there to keep the pace brisk and the frustrations to a minimum. There's also, of course, Miiverse, the community that can potentially answer any of the many questions the experience will throw up; it's up to you whether you want to figure things out the old-fashioned way, or use the current-day Nintendo Power of the system's web browser or Miiverse community.

Any quibbles one might have with The Legend of Zelda, however, are going to either be very minor ones, or a simple reflection of the fact that the game just isn't for them. It's relentless, it's cruel and it's regularly confounding. However it's also mysterious and beautiful, and every accomplishment you make in-game, no matter how small, is legitimately satisfying. We've had this game on the Virtual Console twice before, and it's already available on the go with the 3DS, but the Wii U is as good an option with its increased connectivity with the gaming community.


Despite some growing pains, The Legend of Zelda has aged surprisingly well. A brilliant soundtrack, creative visuals and masterfully layered adventure come together to provide a gaming experience so deep that players still haven't exhausted its majesty. It's unapologetic in its open world approach, however, and the lack of hand-holding might be off-putting to those that expect it. For anyone who works through that barrier, however, it's a game that's still rightfully legendary.

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User Comments (53)



unrandomsam said:

I prefer the Adventure of Link to this. (Just because A Link to The Past is the same type of thing but better). I prefer any of the GBC Zelda's also.



tchaten said:

I hear this version has the purple Ganon - which I guess is rare in the physical world.

I still need a guide for this game, but love the original Zelda



bizcuthammer said:

My issue with the first two Zelda games (I played both of them as a kid on my NES btw) is that once you've played future entries in the series, these two become incredibly outdated. Especially if you've played LttP or MC or even the Oracle games. The only enjoyment i get out of the original game now is based purely on nostalgia, not on gameplay. Though i do love hearing the 8-bit soundtrack.



GraveLordXD said:

I'd give it a 10 for its time it was the best thing around and still one of my favorite games of all time def in my top 3
Going from Atari to this blew my mind



Whopper744 said:

The start of my favorite gaming series. I've only beat Ganon in this game once years ago and I plan on doing it again with this version. I hope they bring Zelda 2 out soon again...2 is the only conosole Zelda I have never beat....not saying I wouldn't use a restore point here or there either when they do.



jman0625 said:

Hate This game its so outdated, for its time it was good but... Link to the Past is so much better and improved on every aspect of the gameplay.



DarkCoolEdge said:

I got it on the 3DS (ambassadors; barely got to play it back in the day) and I 've gotta say it has aged poorly, it is outdated unlike Super Mario Bros. I wanted to finish it so that I have beaten all Zelda (still working on it) but it's not worth it. There are better games to play. I believe this is only fun nowadays if nostalgia is on your side, too bad it's not in mine.



Nintenjoe64 said:

I downloaded this last night. I only ever borrowed this game when I was a kid so a gamepad version will be a nice addition to my Wii U's NES collection. Need to complete it before Majora's Mask or Link to the Past is available on Wii U otherwise I just won't play it. I think I only have Zelda 2 and Mario 1 and 3 left to download and that's no more NES games on Wii U for me.

I am not sure how this games gets an 8 and SF2:World Warrior gets a 7....... the chances of anyone wanting to play this ahead of Streetfighter 2 are mighty slim.



suburban_sensei said:

When I had an Ambassador 3DS, I played this a bit, after years of never playing it. Zelda is one of my favorite series, so I am a bit dissapointed in myself for never completing Zelda 1 or 2, so I will make a point to play and beat them both this generation.



Haywired said:

To be fair, I suppose this review is referring to this specific re-release (which I imagine only comes with a digital version of the original instructional manual and not the additional map), but if not, then this is yet another review that completely misremembers the game... The original NES/Famicom Zelda did come with a map!


It highlighted the locations of all the dungeons and the order of the first four. It may not have been in-game, but coming with the cartridge, it was as much a part of the game as anything else. I don't know why Nintendo doesn't include a digital version of this with the VC versions (maybe they too have forgotten...)

It's annoying because nowadays people get an inaccurate impression of the game: newcomers think it's insanely hard and obscure and badly designed (wrongly) and posturing "hardcore" douchebags use it as an example of how video games in their day were so much tougher and had no help or hand-holding and hence made them so much cooler than everyone nowadays (wrongly).



element187 said:

@bizcuthammer I loved the first two entries as a kid as well, and I still enjoy playing them..

Adventures of Link was just properly difficult. Its what all Zelda games should be. Unforgivingly difficult.

I feel ya on the nostaglia, I purchased this last night, and left the title screen on in the background as I played around on the iPad... love the opening music.



element187 said:

@Joshers744 Best part of Zelda II is the RPG's elements mixed with real time combat.... To me that was so mindblowing about the game.... and it was properly difficult..... thankfully the punishment for death wasn't too severe.



Relias said:

One of the best Zelda's ever period... Zelda 2 was not that great.. and Link to the past.. convinced me that Zelda had lost it's magic.. but Link's Awakening brought me back... and I stayed around.. there has been ups and downs in the series.. but this is . one of the best.. and most magical Zelda's ever made.. that being said.. how many re releases does this need?? Can we get a Pokemon on Wii U please?? the actual original Red and Blue ... that would be awesome too..



sleepinglion said:

I loved the oldies, but nostalgia is on my side as I grew up with them when they were first released. Sadly, Nintendo didn't run the $1 price through for me at checkout and I was billed 4.99 for a game I've already bought 4 times =)
It's always been a blast for me to play but it is very hard to separate my nostalgia from the early games themselves as I also loved Zelda II and Link's Awakening. The first Zelda I totally went nuts for was A Link to the Past, though. Back in the days of no internet/online FAQs I remember trading my snack at school for a tip on what to do with the ghost kid who plays the flute in the meadow!



Kirk said:

The game is good but what I noticed is that player movement and combat are actually quite clunky and fiddly at times.

That would have always been the case but we simply accepted it back in the day because we didn't really know any better. In fact, relative to other similar games of the time it was ahead of the curve in most ways, so the praise it got was entirely justified.

Now however I don't think it holds up quite as well in terms of the basic movement and combat for example.

Other that is still pretty dang great though for what it is and in it's own simple 8bit way.



KeeperBvK said:


The map doesn't help with all of the presumably random locations you're supposed to use a certain item at. Especially the places you're supposed to lit with the candle are basically impossible to find without excessive trial and error if you're only using the map that came with the game.



Haywired said:

Oh yeah totally, I don't deny that it's still very hard and obscure (I struggle with it). But the way history has been rewritten to say that this game had no map, help, guidance, etc. to the point of being almost impossible is inaccurate and unfair on it.



Darknyht said:

I remember still stumbling upon the second quest when I decided to name the three games Link, Zelda, and Ganon. Being shocked that Zelda Link held up a sword and the game played completely differently.

The toughest part in No-Sword challenge was knowing what to use on the different enemies. My first move in No-Sword is to round up the hidden Gems that you can access so that you can purchase the candle. From there is it simply a matter of patience.

If I remember correctly, the walls of that could be bombed in the dungeons made a weird sound. On the overworld, I always said the goblins were just trying to stop the terrorist arsonist/mad bomber. Heck I think the game even punished you occasionally for that tactic too.



retro_player_22 said:

With the quick save feature available for this game you could basically cheat yourself into getting all 255 rupees in just one quick run.



majorgamer said:

I am amazed that I in the minority here. I think that this game has aged extremely well. Of course, this re-release misses some of the key features of the original store-bought package. There was a true experience to have in buying this gold box with a hole cut in it so you can see the gold cartridge inside. The game came out in a time where there were no in-game tutorials, so you had to read the guide to figure out what to do and there is so much info packed into that guide like ALL of the items and creatures you will face as well as an overworld map to the first dungeon and clues to the shapes of the maps of the other dungeons.

There are a couple of puzzles that are so devious but not impossible. This is a true quest, and if you use a bit of logic and explore every possible nook and cranny, you will find answers to everything you need to complete the game. It is an adventure of the purest form.

Games today have become so complex with dozens of items with new powers, that a game like this with its simple tool-set and relatively small overworld map it is easy to see why it was essential to make the puzzles so difficult and the clues so vague. This game came out in a time when guides were scarce and rarely came out with the game, so you had to talk to one another to get the answers if you couldn't figure out the solutions. It was a matter of pride to be the first one to figure out where dungeon level 6 was or what the heck Grumble, Grumble wanted.

That was the golden age of video games...when everyone realized that games could be so much more than just clearing enemies to get to the next stage. It is not true open-world gaming, but like metroid, it is a free-form guided tour that blossoms into an open world full of secrets and treasure in every corner.

It can be work at times, but ultimately it is that work that brings such pride to getting the next item realizing you have just opened more areas to explore and new ways to find treasure. Even today, nostalgia aside, it's the simplicity of the design that allows everything to work together so well.

In my humble opinion it is still one of the greatest games of all time, and I have played through both quests over 50 times just for the pure joy of the experience.



GrimSh said:

I wonder if they are planning on releasing LttP as a VC title... or maybe they're thinking of porting the 3DS remake sometime in the future? Either way, I hope it comes to Wii U. Can't wait to get back on it.



LetsGoRetro said:


Lttp convinced you Zelda had lost it's magic? Eh?? Hey, opinions, everyone's got 'em, but I honestly can't understand liking Zelda1 and disliking Zelda3. It is literally just a version of the original that is improved in absolutely every regard. It would be like loving your broken down Dodge Dart because it gets you around but then feeling like the car indusry is losing it's magic when you try a Mercedes S Class.



Sabrewing said:

It kinda stinks that this is still the GBA "NES Classics" version (so there's image cutting on the top and bottom), but I guess Nintendo prefers the updated translation.



micronean said:

...I'd rather these VC reviews focus on the experience of playing the game on the new hardware than just retreading their opinions on 20+ year old games. Say, for example, how touchscreen integration (if any) works, or "waggle", or miiverse, etc.



Relias said:

@LetsGoRetro Please tell me your kidding.. Lttp was nothing like the original.. with all that going between the light and dark world.. yes it had it's advances.. but there was a reason I waited to get it as the last game I bought on the SNES.. not the first... (Which it should have been if it was really good) Just like Link's Adventure.. sure I got it.. but it was the last game I got.. The original and Link's Awakening (Upon playing it) was the only ones that I had to have first and foremost.. and later OOT... but honestly Link's Awakening was a lot closer to the Original Zelda..and did not give me a headache with all the travelling between worlds.. and was a lot more fun... using your own terms of describing it.. it's more like have a cavalier.. and loving it.. and then getting a focus.. and saying naw... there is just something wrong there.. and finally getting a new cavalier.. and going yes.. this is it.. this is what I am looking for..



KnightRider666 said:

The very best Zelda is of coarse the original. I wish they made another in this style with 2 brand new quests with all new dungeons and landscapes.



Melkaticox said:

@KnightRider666 Of course it's not the original. A Link to the Past, Link's Awakening and Oracle of (...) are better than LoZ...and I'm saying that even though I don't like A Link to the Past...

I never liked LoZ, imo Adventure of Link is a much better game.



Morpheel said:

My only complaint about this game and the sequel is that the sword is too short! You need to be right in front of the enemy to hit them.

Other than that, I have good memories of it during the GBA era (I played it for the first time in the GBA, wish this version had the fixed translation too!).

It should be pretty fun to play this with MiiVerse!



sleepinglion said:

Wow, so many varied views on the original =) As a kid in 1987 there was just something magical and iconic about that beautiful gold cart. It was the first NES title I ever owned that had a save feature and I remember being in awe of how massive the game seemed. I used to love pouring over the instructional manual and it's a legitimate shame these aren't scanned and added to VC releases as bonus content. The artwork was just amazing. I loved the panels that seemed to be from a Zelda animated film that never was. The claymation-looking overworld map was and still is a wonderful thing to see. As simplistic as it may seem by today's standards, THIS is where action/adventure games began for a lot of gamers. Even after all these years I still find myself Googling where some of the dungeons are as I always blank on one or two of them. Looking forward to the Miiverse discussions on this one and definitely the ones that would come from a release of Zelda II! Brutal, just brutal game. But I love it.



gojiguy said:

I'm sorry but this game is clunky and completely without any direction or guidance. It's an absolute pain to play. I'd give it a 3 out of 10.



Slayer said:

Ah, the classic game that started all of the Legend of Zelda series. I prefer this over Zelda II, honestly. this game deserves its 8/10, I played this and absolutely loved it.



thesilverbrick said:

I played the crap out of this game 20+ years ago and never beat it back then. I finally did sit down with it a few years back on the NES and had to beat it all in a single sitting, since my original cartridge wouldn't hold a save. Good times.



HawkeyeWii said:

About time this comes to e-shop. Now how about Link to the Past and Majora's Mask please!



HawkeyeWii said:

Arguably the greatest game of all-time too. Without this, who knows how the bulk of video games would have ended up.



LetsGoRetro said:


Is this a prank. You're the only ( well, let's add @knightrider666 to the list ) person I've ever met to feel this way.

Lttp is universally loved and respected. It is so many gamers, as well as developers, favorite game of all time. Eiji Aonuma cites it as his biggest influence.

Please name for me a single thing LOZ does better than LttP?

Dungeons? LttP has more, with way more depth and creativity
Bosses? Lttp by far. Using the hammer to break the helmarock king's mask, getting knocked off the platform to restart, fire/ice boss. These were all fun and creative fighgs, whereas LOZ is generally "walk up to boss and stab" with the occasional bomb. Look at Ganon! Hit him a few times with the sword while he moves around fhe room then shoot an arrow? Lttp had "layered" fights, where there were differenf phases you went through to take your foe down. Much funner fhan wzlking up to a 3 headed dragon and repeatedly tapping B
Exploration? Lttp's was a world packed tighf and brimming with content. Every single screen had secrets, it felt. Swimming in a giant lake and under bridges, long, twisting caverns in Death Mountain, exploring a castle. LOZ? 5 or 6 single, one room caves with a character that said a line of dialogue. There was story in Lttp that made you want to explore this world. LOZ's world was huge for it's time but it was bland and empty by comparisons
Puzzles? LOZ's puzzles essentially were pushing blocks on a button and giving an old guy meat to pass by him. Lttp has intricate labyrinths with switches, ice you need to melt, multi layered dungeons to hookshot across. I mean, actually, were there even any FLOORS in LOZ? No, the entire game was one flat surface.

Really, bro, I can go on and on and on. You can like LOZ better, that's opinion. But it's a fact that Lttp is the better made game. And it's not even close. ONLY nostalgia could make you feel differently.



Relias said:

@LetsGoRetro Lttp Bigger does not mean better.. and that was all Lttp was... was bigger.. The original Zelda was better.... like you said it's an opinion.. and I can't help mine.. just like you can't help what yours is.. there is no nostalgic love or feelings here.. it's just a fact.. the Original still to this day is better,,



KnightRider666 said:

@LetsGoRetro: It's good to know I'm original. Zelda IS a long game, especially the second quest. I'm not hating on Lttp one bit, but you can't beat the original. I'm glad at least @Relias shares my opinion.



defrb said:

This game was real hard, i needed to call the Nintendo helpdesk to find the flute.

Rpg games and adventures need to be in an open world to me. I liked zelda and zelda 2 + a link to the past. after that i never played one zelda game again. After a link to the past they made it a one way traffic road game, nothing unique to explore, just follow the route -.-

I see many retro games getting 8-9-10's, just for being a retro game. I do not agree with this 8, i think you forget the historical importance of this game and also how many rpg adventures you had to choose from in that time? This was ace and it deserve more respect then an 8.



Bass_X0 said:

Back in the day, I wanted a GBA remake of NES Zelda using the graphics from Minish Cap to recreate the original map layouts.

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