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Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES) artwork

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES) review

"While there are only a total of seven main dungeons to explore, there are a number of smaller caves to occupy your time, including the mammoth Death Mountain — a maze-like assortment of caves covering nearly a third of the first continent. Much like many of the second-continent palaces, this region is designed to test a player’s endurance and skill, as the combination of tough foes, instant-death lava and a seemingly-limitless number of caverns to navigate ensures that only a proficient player will make it through without losing a life or two."

When I was younger, I never imagined Nintendo would take one of their greatest games and completely change it. Sure, you could say that by stealing another game and putting Mario and friends in it, that the company had done so with Super Mario Brothers 2, but that game still contained many of the same traits as its forefather. Not so with Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. While you still have Link, Zelda and several of the original’s enemies, many other things (such as the ENTIRE gameplay system) were completely altered. Amazingly, Nintendo was still able to hit a home run despite making near-wholesale changes.

Taking place shortly after the events of the first Zelda, Ganon is dead and peace has returned to the world. A short-lived peace, that is. According to the lengthy tale of woe contained in the instruction booklet, some whiny prince, upset because Zelda wouldn’t get all NC-17 with him, hired an EVIL wizard to set matters straight. Taking a page right out Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the wizard placed Zelda in an eternal sleep, where only the brave actions of a hero may save her. Once again, Link is that hero, although he has more than one reason for wanting to get to the bottom of things. You see, Ganon might be dead, but his legions of supporters aren’t — and they are of the opinion their dark lord may be resurrected through the blood of Link.

And so the game starts, with Link standing in front of Zelda’s a side-scrolling room! While the world map is displayed from an overhead perspective (but from much farther away, like the Dragon Warrior series), you’ll soon find that all dungeons, caves and anyplace else enemies lurk will be played from a side-scrolling perspective. Of course, this means Link has a bit more versatility in battle beyond simply flailing wildly with his sword. The green-garbed elf now may duck or jump while swinging and will eventually learn a pair of handy sword techniques to hit foes from above or below.

While Link won’t find many handy tools, such as the boomerang and candle of his first adventure (the ones you do receive typically have a specific overworld purpose and can’t be used in any other capacity), he compensates for a decreased inventory by learning magic. Early in the game, you’ll pick up “shield”, a nifty spell that will double Link’s defense for one room of any side-scrolling region. By quest’s end, you’ll have eight spells, including a life-saving healing spell and a handy fireball that is Link’s only way of damaging a number of monsters.

Destroying those monsters bestows experience points upon Link, another new feature of this game. As you journey through Hyrule, you’ll gain levels for life, magic and attack; turning Link from a weakling who’s tested by slimes and bats to a magnificent swordsmen able to cut through the hardiest of armored knights without breaking a sweat. Sure, gaining things like spells and experience may not be such a new thing by today’s standards, but back in the day, console RPGs were few and far between AND action games with RPG elements were nearly non-existent.

And transferring those elements into a Zelda game seemed revolutionary. Suddenly, players had reasons to slaughter countless hordes of Octoroks, Leevers and other piddly enemies they’d commonly run by without a second thought in The Legend of Zelda. Players also had a legitimate reason to explore even seemingly insignificant caves or palace corridors, as many of those out-of-the-way places held “P” bags which would increase Link’s experience by up to 500 points.

It didn’t hurt that Nintendo translated the first game’s excellent play control to The Adventure of Link. Your elven hero moves fluidly and it’s a mere matter of hitting a couple of buttons to access any of the spells. It’s a good thing Link controls well, too, as many enemies are quite mobile. Skeletons amble toward you, only to assail you with their own rendition of your downward thrust sword attack. Several enemies have shields designed to parry your blows, with the most powerful of them able to fire beams from their swords. Others throw an unending stream of weapons at you, forcing you to wait for an opening in their deluge of death, advance and attack.

Battles in this game can be memorable at times, with many regular enemies almost seeming to be minibosses....until you leveled up enough times to dispatch them in one or two blows. Even weaker enemies can possess special attacks designed to frustrate you. Some steal experience upon successfully running into you, while others are capable of depleting your magic meter. While most of this game’s battles catapult its fun factor through the roof, sadly, the only flaws I found in this game involved a handful of more tedious fights.

First, the bosses just seemed lacking in imagination. The first two were near-identical, with the only difference being the two floating helmets that assisted the second baddie (after you knocked them off his head). The third boss was little more than a multi-part battle against the blue version of the all-too-common knight enemy, while the fourth palace’s guardian was merely a larger version of the Wizzrobe’s found in many of his dwelling’s corridors.

While the flail-swinging brute of the fifth dungeon and the sixth level’s dragon, as well as the final foes, were much more interesting, it still seemed the boss encounters in The Adventure of Link were letdowns. Maybe that is because the dungeons were so wonderfully designed that my hopes were too high, but I still think Nintendo could have aimed higher than a horse-headed goof that does nothing but slowly walk toward Link while occasionally swinging a club.

I also had a bit of a problem with how reliant the game was on shield-bearing enemies. In the first six palaces, there are three types of knight. The second continent’s overworld and caves contain three kinds of shield-using lizards (holding spears and maces instead of swords). Finally, as you enter the game’s final palace, you’ll encounter a pair of jumping bird-men brandishing both sword and shield. The problem I had with all these encounters was the lack of strategy involved in fighting them. You stand and swing, they block it with their shield. You duck and swing, they lower their shield and block. This goes on until you move a bit quicker than they do and hit them enough times to win the fight. Meanwhile, they’ll be swinging at you from time to time, so if your shield isn’t at the same level as their sword, you’ll be damaged. Some of these battles can get quite lengthy and tedious, taking a bit of fun out of the whole exploration thing.

Fortunately, The Adventure of Link does just about everything else wonderfully. While there are only a total of seven main dungeons to explore, there are a number of smaller caves to occupy your time, including the mammoth Death Mountain — a maze-like assortment of caves covering nearly a third of the first continent. Much like many of the second-continent palaces, this region is designed to test a player’s endurance and skill, as the combination of tough foes, instant-death lava and a seemingly-limitless number of caverns to navigate ensures that only a proficient player will make it through without losing a life or two.

But if you can survive the entire game, you’ll find a fitting reward for your perseverance. Much like its predecessor, The Adventure of Link has a second quest; however, this time, instead of giving you a completely different experience, Nintendo delivers the forefather of the “New Game+”. Link starts with all the experience he’d earned on this first journey, allowing you to breeze through a good portion of the game, wiping out early bosses with a mere two or three hits. Personally, I found this to be one of the most appealing aspects of The Adventure of Link, as I’d time myself going through the game in this mode, seeing how quickly I could get from beginning to end, a task I could complete in under three hours on a good day.

But that was only one of the things I loved about The Adventure of Link. While it definitely isn’t a carbon-copy sequel to The Legend of Zelda, the thrill of exploration is still there and, in some ways, even superior to the original. There is just a certain thrill to taking elevators to descend deeper and deeper into abandoned palaces in search of great treasure that wasn’t in the original game. Maybe this game has some flaws that make it a bit inferior to The Legend of Zelda, but in some ways, it’s closer to my heart than that classic.

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 21, 2005)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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