Zelda's Adventure

Speedrunner Douggernaught almost exclusively plays bad games. With world records in Ripened: Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love (the Japan-only sequel to Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland) and legendarily awful CD-i game, Zelda's Adventure, Doug's self-described hobby is "Bad Games Fast".

Awesome Games Done Quick is an annual week-long speedrunning charity fundraising stream, which mostly focuses on big hitter games like Super Mario Galaxy, Ocarina of Time, and, er, Geoguessr (which is really popular, actually). However, AGDQ also always features something affectionately known as the "Awful Block" — a chunk of time, usually in the wee hours, which features only the crappiest games possible.

Douggernaught and AGDQ's Awful Block are a match made in hell, and this year, they finally got together, with Doug's run of Zelda's Adventure at 3am ET, Thursday 13th January. The run is one hour and 15 minutes long, and you can watch it here:

Now, Zelda's Adventure is a game so bad that it has mostly been forgotten, even in the annals of "bad games". If someone asked you to name the CD-i Zelda games, you might remember Wand of Gamelon and Faces of Evil, but you probably wouldn't recall Zelda's Adventure, the game that former ONM editor Matthew Castle described thusly: "What it lacked in hideous toons it made up for with live-action FMV - visits from a beardy wizard (not a professional actor, but the game's music composer) whose shambolic preamble makes Knightmare look like Lord Of The Rings."

What makes Zelda's Adventure so bad? Is it the fact that the music restarts every time you go to a new screen, which is roughly every five seconds? Is it the hideous graphics, which vary from "extremely compressed photo of some dirt" to "am-dram old man in a bad wig greenscreened into a Crystal Maze set"? The egregious use of long loading screens? The absurdly difficult, nonsensical game design, which was so bad that Retro Gamer magazine wondered "if it was rushed into stores having been half finished by a bunch of mutated, programming-savvy bovines"?

Zelda's Adventure
The beardy wizard mentioned above.

[Speedrunning a CD-i game] is like being really good at using a pennyfarthing

Ha! Trick question. It was all of the above, and that's... pretty much why it's so fun to speedrun. It's like being really good at using a penny-farthing: Sure, there are better and more modern bikes out there, but it's impressive all the same.

Douggernaught's feelings towards Zelda's Adventure differ greatly from Castle's, although it's worth noting that he still doesn't say it's good. "It's an irresistible relic of video game history," he tells us in a Discord chat, "and I can't learn enough about it."

Doug first picked up Zelda's Adventure for a charity event back in 2016 called Zeldathon Cures, as he was asked to replace their usual game runner (and then-record-holder). It required a little bit of investment, of course: "I bought a CD-i (several, actually) and learned the run in order to stand in for him," Doug tells us. The investment paid off, too. "By the time of the event, I had fallen in love with the game and had shaved over 8 minutes off the world record."

Zelda's Adventure
Princess Zelda in one of the live-action cutscenes

I know — you're probably really curious about how Doug managed to save eight minutes of this game, since that would lead to the whole thing being over much faster, right? It turns out that the "trick" is actually the complete opposite of what speedrunners normally do, which is to put time and effort into figuring out how to do things in the quickest, shortest way possible.

[The Noise Skip] is my most substantial and most regrettable contribution to the speedrun

See, there's a miniboss about 15 minutes into the speedrun of Zelda's Adventure — he's actually a Pols Voice, the adorable/weird little bunny-mice from Link's Awakening — and the usual "fast" method of killing him was to go seven screens out of your way to collect a "Noise" spell, which would end him in just four attacks.

But that's not the fastest way of doing it, actually. It just sounds like it is (pun intended, ohoho).

Doug discovered that it was actually much faster to just stand in the room and whack the Pols Voice with Zelda's staff, which takes 280 attacks and lasts for one minute and 47 seconds (click here to be taken to the timestamp where this technique begins). "That's still faster than sitting through the long load screens to collect the intended weapon," he says. "[The Noise Skip] is my most substantial and most regrettable contribution to the speedrun."

You might also be wondering how on earth these things get discovered and shared amongst the (tiny, but passionate) Zelda's Adventure speedrunning community. Like most communities, there is a Discord, where all the speedrunners of the Zelda CD-i games gather to share emulation breakthroughs, fan remakes of their beloved trash games, and celebrating the CD-i games making it into events, or new speedrunners picking up the games.

This CD-i speedrunning Discord is even making new discoveries. Doug tells us about an Easter Egg that was "unearthed in 2019", 25 years after the game's release — an Easter Egg that makes "Food Dude" skate out of a group of trees saying, "radical, dude!":

"In June 2019, the creator of this website discovered an unusual sprite loading on a certain screen of the map.

Two months later, the @wand_of_gamelon user wrote the thread detailing their theories and attempts to determine how to see the sprite legitimately in the game, as well as their suspicion that the character in question must be using a yet-thought-to-be-unused line in the game files: "Radical dude, totally!"

Food Dude turns out to be the main character from a previously-cancelled health-themed game from Viridis, the same developer of Zelda's Adventure. They immortalized Food Dude in a game that made it to release, and he lay hidden for 25 years."
--Douggernaught, telling us the story of Food Dude over Discord

Douggernaught had "Food Dude" as one of the incentives for AGDQ's donation goals — if viewers raised over $15,000 before the run, Doug would go and find him. And they did (click here to skip right to the part where Doug finds the Food Dude).

The CD-i speedrunning community sounds great, doesn't it? A bunch of dedicated hobbyists, focused on a few very terrible games, having a fantastic time sharing their discoveries and successes. But it's not easy to get into CD-i running. "CD-i consoles are aging, fragile antiques," Doug says, when I ask him how hard it is to get the games running. "Obtaining one is a nontrivial investment, and you have to win the lottery, so to speak, to get one that works well enough to run the game."

Obtaining [a CD-i] is a nontrivial investment, and you have to win the lottery, so to speak, to get one that works well enough to run the game

There are a number of different CD-i consoles out there, made by different manufacturers — Philips, Magnavox, and Sony all got in on the platform before pretending it never happened — and some of those consoles will just point-blank refuse to play the game. Even if you get one that does run the game, it might have a crappy laser, or some other part that's broken. But, with modern emulator technology, and the help of the knowledgeable runners on the Discord, you can get around most of that without having to drop hundreds of your local currency on a lump of useless plastic.

There's an emulator called MAME — Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator — that a lot of CD-i speedrunners use, but it had a bug that made it hard to play Zelda's Adventure. That bug would "cause its CD-i emulator to crash when Zelda ran out of hearts, and during some screen transitions", which is a nightmare on top of the nightmare of actually playing the game.

But AGDQ's recent COVID-related move to digital has actually benefitted this small community of CD-i speedrunners. After all, now they don't have to lug their expensive, ancient, easily-breakable consoles to a physical location — they can just stream from home.

Some of the proposed filenames for Doug's run of Zelda's Adventure

Douggernaught might have discovered Zelda's Adventure by accident and coincidence, but he's far from done with it. He streams regularly on Twitch — sometimes terrible games, sometimes pretty good games — and there's always the chance that we'll see him on future GDQs, too.

His Zelda's Adventure run, despite being on at a ludicrous time in the morning, raised over $10,000 as it was happening (plus the $15k for the Food Dude incentive, and a further $8,650 to pick the filename), contributing a significant chunk to the overall $3.4 million raised for the Prevent Cancer Foundation across the week-long AGDQ runtime.

Thanks to Douggernaught for chatting with us about his Awful run — and thanks to the now-defunct Viridis Corporation for making Zelda's Adventure, too. Critics might have dunked on it when it came out, but now it's at least partly responsible for raising money for cancer prevention, so at least it's done some good for the world, eh?