Zelda 1 Remake?
Image: Nintendo Life

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've been chewing over. Today, as TOTK anticipation increases to dangerous levels, Gavin explores why it's time for Nintendo to go back to a very specific well...

Look, I'm all for originality. The video game industry is lousy with sequels and remasters and reboots and rejigs, and despite its 'surprise and delight' MO, Nintendo is just as guilty of re-releasing past works as any other publisher. There's little that's less imaginative than giving an old classic a fresh lick of paint and some mod-cons.

However, it's also true that video games benefit most from revisiting and polishing up past greats compared to other mediums, primarily thanks to their relative youth and the rapid advancement of technology. Equating Hollywood's endemic sequelitis with the same phenomenon in games, for instance, is comparing apples and oranges. The basic motion picture template of editing filmed footage together and presenting it on a screen has remained essentially the same for over a century now.

That's not to say there haven't been changes in style or technology, but there is little artistic impetus to remake a movie masterpiece from, say, the 1970s because the basic cinematic form hasn’t really changed. A CG facelift isn’t going to improve Jaws or Apocalypse Now or The Godfather or The Conversation. There are examples of old movies being remade or remastered to align better with modern tastes or their own successors (hi, Star Wars), but they are comparatively few and typically divisive. As interesting an exercise/experiment as it was, nobody's watching Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of Psycho over the original, even with its impressive cast.

Video games are different. The evolution of technology, inputs, and displays — not to mention tools that make implementing and testing ideas a much faster process — mean that an old game can be altered for the better (hopefully) relatively quickly and easily while keeping the base experience more or less untouched and intact. Visual overhauls can be accompanied by minor, optional tweaks to the original experience (expanded control options, widescreen support, save states, rewind, display options) which can massively enhance older titles and make them accessible to a whole new audience. Metroid Prime Remastered is a great recent example.

And then there are the complete remakes which totally retool and reimagine a game. These usually divert from the source material more obviously, and with something hallowed like Resident Evil 4, that's something I have a natural reticence to given how incredible the GameCube original still is.

But I also accept that for new players who didn't experience it in the 2000s, OG RE4 can feel a bit clunky. Capcom has led the way in demonstrating how to reimagine a classic in an exciting way that pays tribute to the source without being hampered by decades-old design restrictions.

Which brings us, finally, to Zelda. Specifically, Zelda 1, The Legend of Zelda. Now this is a game that I didn't play anywhere near close to release (I actually completed it for the first time on 3DS, same with the sequel) and despite its brilliance, I can definitely see how it might be hard for new players to enjoy in the same way. Feel free to fire it up via Nintendo Switch Online and let me know I'm wrong in the comments, but despite its openness and design brilliance, I think the vast majority of new players would bounce off the original Zelda today.

Which is heartbreaking to me. I've got a soft spot for Zelda II, too, and to think that those games are increasingly impenetrable and don't speak to entire generations of gamers is sobering for anyone who loves the medium. Looking at our reader-ranked list of the Best Zelda Games of all time, LOZ sits at number 19 at the time of writing. Number 19 for the game that birthed this series!

Zelda II
Another worthy remake candidate — Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

This isn't like the Street Fighter series, either, where it was the second game that laid the foundation for the rest. The Legend of Zelda delivered the series template incredibly fully formed on Famicom.

Looking at another formative title, Super Mario Bros for NES currently sits at number 11 on our equivalent Mario game ranking. That massively enjoyable, accessible, evergreen game, one that shaped the industry and defined an entire genre is apparently only the 11th-best entry in the series.

And you know what? I don't disagree. Perhaps it's the destiny of all classics to be superseded into oblivion. It's certainly a mistake to conflate importance and significance with quality, and nostalgia is always tricksy. As I've said, the pace of advancement and near-constant refinement in gaming as a medium is rapid. SMB probably is only the 11th-best Mario game, and LOZ the 19th-best Zelda.

And that's why it's time to give The Legend of Zelda the remake treatment. It's a game that deserves to be showcased and played. People unfamiliar with it, especially younger gamers who adore Breath of the Wild and are losing their minds with excitement for Tears of the Kingdom, should be able to look back and easily trace the lineage from 1986 to today, in a form that's accessible and attractive to them.

Zelda Flatlay
That's the one, in the middle — Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo

This could involve Grezzo revisiting the Link's Awakening engine, or a totally new top-down system — I'm game for anything. I could even go for a Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap-style remaster/reskin loving draped across the original code. The game is certainly robust enough to shine without a total overhaul. Can you imagine The Legend of Zelda, but it looks like the key art from the original NES manual? Tunic is a recent game which traded on nostalgia for that manual art, in particular, and integrated it beautifully and mysteriously into its gameplay. I'd play a game that looked like that and played like OG Zelda in a heartbeat.

While movies aren't a good comparison point when it comes to reimagining classic texts, perhaps the world of literature is, if you go back far enough. There's no cause to rewrite A Farewell To Arms just yet, but the language of centuries-old novels and other written texts can be a stumbling block for modern readers; Shakespearean lines can be tough to get your head around without sitting down and really dissecting the meaning and the researching the references in the footnotes.

Translating ye olde works into something digestible and contemporary feels more akin to localisation to me, though. The source is naturally obscured in some way and elements will inevitably be lost. But, if it's a good adaptation, the thrust and spirit and flavour will carry over. Perhaps that's a better analogy for video game remakes; they're 'temporal' localisations for players who can't parse the text in its original form.

The Legend of Zelda
Image: Nintendo

It's easy to be cynical about remasters and remakes and decry the dearth of imagination amongst some of the biggest players in the games industry, but Zelda's 40th anniversary will be upon us in just three years and it feels like a no-brainer to cook up something special for that milestone — specifically something that looks to the past as well as the future. Nintendo famously avoids the obvious as it seeks to 'surprise and delight' us all, yet we've seen far younger games in the series retooled and enjoyed anew. It's time to go back to the source.

You know, once we've had a few months with Tears of the Kingdom.