Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES, Wii VC) Retro Review

In the U.S., Hyrule Historia is the top book on Amazon's Bestseller list. Why not delve into one of my most favorite video games of all time, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past? I've no doubt played the game from opening to credits over fifty times. Now, that might not be anywhere close to the more devoted gamers out there, but it's a big deal for me. Regardless, let's get to this special retro review.

How Link's Past Helped Shape 
the Zelda Series's Future

In 1991, The Legend of Zelda series returned to its overhead roots with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. While it returned to that old perspective, it brought with it many, many new ideas-- ideas that many developers consistently borrow from, including Nintendo themselves-- to the franchise. On a list of important  games and those games that are as close to perfection as possible, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past sits comfortably near the top. As if you needed any reasons why, here's several.

On a dark and stormy night, a young lad named Link is awakened, not by the rumbling of thunder and strikes of lightning, but the voice of a girl, who turns out to be Princess Zelda, utilizing the power of telepathy. Link's uncle heads out to rescue the princess by himself and asks Link to stay in bed. Going against his uncle's wishes (and thankfully so, as the game would be really boring if all the player did was to hang around the house all day), Link heads to Hyrule Castle, where he finds his uncle, stricken with a serious wound. Acquiring his uncle's sword and shield, Link enters the castle's dungeon, finds and frees Zelda, and the two escape through the castle's sewer system. They arrive at a sanctuary where players find out about a sorcerer named Agahnim who plans on breaking the seal that holds Ganon. In order to attain the only weapon that can defeat Agahnim, the Master Sword, Link must gather the three magical pendants to prove his worth. The story of A Link to the Past entices the player and puts him or her straight into the boots of Nintendo's fabled hero. It doesn't get in the way of the game too terribly much, just enough to keep the player engaged.

Well, Link always was a rebellious young youth.
The original Legend of Zelda on the Nintendo Entertainment System was groundbreaking onto itself. While Zelda II: The Adventure of Link moved into totally new territory with its 2D side-scrolling action, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past returns to the series's comfort zone, an overhead viewpoint. Like the original game, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is also groundbreaking, and it is easily a true evolution to the NES classic. For one, combat is less stressful due to the fact that Link's sword now slices sideways to create a much broader swing. Link can also walk diagonally to make moving much easier and gives a greater sense of freedom.

The kingdom of Hyrule, Light World version.
A revolutionary idea that Shigeru Miyamoto and the rest of the development team implemented into A Link to the Past was a parallel world system, one that would be used many times throughout the course of the Zelda franchise. After a few dungeons in the game, Link gets transported into the Dark World, a similar in structure world to Hyrule, but full of much more challenging creatures and uninviting areas. For instance, the water in the Dark World is murky as can be and the grass is as dead as disco. With the Magic Mirror item, Link can freely transport from the Dark World to the Light World. This feature is used to great effect for puzzles. Areas in both worlds are similar, but Link can exploit-- for lack of a better word-- subtle differences in each world's structures to his own benefit. A cliff in the Light World might seem impossible to reach at first, but by heading to the Dark World and using the Magic Mirror where the cliff stood in the Light World, Link can transport himself to the Light World and find himself standing atop the once impossible to reach area.


Notice the difference between the Light
World and the Dark World.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past built the foundation for how future Zelda games would be crafted. What I really enjoy about Zelda's Super Nintendo entry is how there is very little in the way of exposition between dungeons within the game. After one dungeon is complete, you can pretty much trek to the next without much in the way of filler, something that recent Zelda games could learn a thing or two from.

There are over a dozen different dungeons in A Link to the Past, still the most in a single Zelda game (I consider Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons two different titles). You might be thinking that it is quantity over quality, but A Link to the Past offers both things equally. The dungeon design is absolutely fantastic. For those unfamiliar with The Legend of Zelda, dungeons consist of finding keys through venturing in rooms and solving puzzles to make progress. Each dungeon has a valuable treasure that is usually to be used on the boss that awaits Link at the tail end. With this Super Nintendo Zelda game, dungeons were given a greater sense of purpose and personality.

What kinds of horrors await Link
in the game's many dungeons?
The game is constantly experimenting with new dungeon ideas is why.. A Link to the Past brought with it themed dungeons instead of the basic and generically structured dungeons from the original Zelda. There's desert dungeons, flooded dungeons, dungeons with entrances and exits spread out across a wooded area, a dungeon in the middle of a town, a mountainous dungeon, an icy dungeon, and so many more, at the time, unique ideas. The floor plans are also much more interesting to look at with differently sized rooms to explore.

The fifth Dark World dungeon has an icy 
interior to go along with its chilling exterior.
A Link to the Past also offered a series first, multi-tiered dungeons. In the game it is important to consider where you are, so if you have to fall to a lower floor, for example, you fall in the correct place. Thankfully, helpful trinkets found in treasure chests like Maps and Compasses give the player a sense of where they are in a dungeon and identifies where the boss's chamber is located, too.

Puzzles are a Zelda series mainstay, and A Link to the Past delivers greatly in this field as well. They can be as simple as pushing the right block to activate a door, lighting four torches to open the way, or hitting colored switches that change which blocks are raised (i.e. impossible to pass) and which aren't. I love the idea of having a fantastic mix of brawn and brain, which this Zelda game excels in. There are equal parts of using one's brain on figuring out how to proceed in a given room, and using Link's sword or other weapon to slay monsters in a myriad of manners.

Use a switch to flood this room so Link
can dog paddle over these blocks.
Speaking of using brains and brawn equally, each dungeon in A Link to the Past concludes with a boss battle. As stated, usually the weapon or item found within the dungeon is the one to be used on the boss. Even then, using the weapon correctly and at the right time makes all the difference too. Link will certainly have his hands full in his quest to save the kingdom of Hyrule because he will have to deal with armored knights, sand worms, giant moths, terrible thieves, lightning bolt-shooting eyeballs, and yes, Agahnim and Ganon, among many other unsightly and powerful monstrosities.

With this boss, the "eyes" have it.
Items are an important piece of Zelda games, and A Link to the Past introduced many mainstays that would go on to be invaluable assets to Link's arsenal in future games. For one, the Hookshot allows Link to grapple onto certain objects and them pull himself over to it, making chasms easy to cross. The Pegasus Boots meant slowly trudging along the overworld and in dungeons could be a thing of the past as Link zipped through areas. A Link to the Past introduced the Master Sword, a divine blade that would be in a multitude of Zelda games after.

Items are easily accessible through the menu.
In addition to items, A Link to the Past expanded on the idea of Heart Containers. In the original NES Zelda, all the player had to do to increase Link's health was to collect a Heart Container and it would automatically add a heart to his health. While bosses do drop full Heart Containers, in A Link to the Past, the majority of health earned is done so by collecting Pieces of Heart. Collecting four pieces raises Link's maximum health. These are placed in out of the way locations and easy-to-miss spots. Not only do the Pieces of Heart help the player survive longer, but they also extend the replay value of the game longer as well. 

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was a lovely looking title when it launched in 1991. It still looks great today. Character sprites are wonderfully done, animations are smooth, especially when it concerns larger sprites such as the various bosses, and the backgrounds and worlds are beautiful and well detailed. The only problem that came up with the performance of the game was when there was a lot of action going on the screen. The frame-rate stutters during these moments, but it isn't enough to ruin the experience at all. On the sound side, Koji Kondo provided a stellar soundtrack with numerous themes that have since entered gamers' consciousness like Zelda's Lullaby, the theme of Kakariko Village, and many other sensationally composed pieces.

Death Mountain is especially nice to 
look at (not so much to visit).
In a lot of cases with game reviews, statements that can be viewed as hyperbole are usually just that. However, with a select group of games, including The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, what may seem as hyperbolic is actually quite true. A Link to the Past is not just a great game, but it is one of the greatest games of all time. It is very much required playing for anyone who considers themselves to be a gamer. It is a title that still plays as well as it did decades ago when it originally released, it is a title that even after years of not playing it, I still somehow knew where nearly all of the Pieces of Heart and secrets were located, and it is a title that still shows me new things with each passing play-through. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past shows that games from the 16-bit era can still hold up well and can even impress more than their current day counterparts. A Link to the Past is marvelous magic put on a game cartridge, and it shows exactly why The Legend of Zelda series is so highly regarded.

[SuperPhillip Says: 10/10]

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