"Youíll see massive eyeballs that cling to one another to form a slimy barrier. Youíll watch as Link dodges the lash of a monsterís spiked tail, then blasts away its armor with bombs. Each new dungeon presents a labyrinthine world to explore, with a horrific boss battle at the end. If the puzzles donít get youóand many times they willóthen a showdown with the dungeon master will definitely put a wrench in the works."
Shigeru Miyamoto once said that The Legend of Zelda was inspired by the childhood years he spent wandering through forests, hitting things with sticks and pretending to have great adventures. Itís easy enough to recall days like those, where a great mystery hid behind every towering tree and beneath every brush pile. Perhaps thatís why the series has always done so well. It evokes memories of simpler but more exciting times. More than any other in the series, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past embodies this sense of adventure. Therein lies its true appeal.
The game begins with young Link asleep in his bed. He awakens to the golden glow of his uncleís lamp as the man prepares to head out into a night full of driving rain and rumbling thunder. As if to punctuate the imminent change in the boyís life, lightning flashes through the windows. A voice whispers:
Help meÖ Please help meÖ I am a prisoner in the dungeon of the castle. My name is ZeldaÖ
After grabbing a lamp from the nearby treasure chest, Link follows his uncle into the darkness. Rain pelts the soft soil outside the building while continued flashes of lightning bathe the area in sporadic light. A dreary dirge plays while the young boy runs along the path to the front gates of the nearby castle. A guard is posted, but Link is unafraid. The princess continues her telepathic communications. She tells of a secret passage that will lead inside the castle walls. The boy finds it soon. Shortly therafter, he stumbles across his wounded uncle lying in shallow water. His reward is the family sword.
Through the next door, a soldier waits. Link charges him, blade ready, and the two clash. With a glowing flash, the soldier stumbles back from the blow he has been dealt by the elfish boy. Angry, he lurches forward. A second thrust and the armored buffoon vanishes in a second flash. A small heart flutters to the ground, just in case Link needs it.
If there was any doubt, itís been removed. This is The Legend of Zelda, but itís more intense than ever before. The original games had almost limitless appeal, but they also lacked the ability to tell a story, to truly immerse you in the experience. There were dark and dreary dungeons. There were enemies that could make you sweat, evil fiends that flashed around the room and sent beams of magic your way, or four-headed plants that scuttled about the empty chambers, shrieking. That was cool, but this is better.
The sense of atmosphere never lets up. Itís there even in the first dungeon, where you splash through the dank waterways to the prison cell that holds Princess Zelda. Itís there as the two of you flee. Rats scamper in the darkness beyond the faint glow of torchlight. Then you arrive at your destination, a sanctuary to the north of the castle itself. Here, the princess is promised safety and youíre given the quest of finding three mysterious pendants you can use to counter the evil wizard Agahnimís sorcery.
Youíre free to explore the overworld, now. Hyrule is a land of lush forests, vast plains, scorching deserts and towering mountain peaks. Youíll cross rivers, swim in lakes and slosh your way through swampland. The whole time, monsters and soldiers try to make your journey difficult. Fortunately, youíre up to the task. If an arrow flies toward you, itís blocked easily enough with the shield. If a heart is out of reach, you can find the boomerang and snag it from its lofty perch.
As was the case in Zelda games of the past, there are also dungeons aplenty. A pendant waits within each of the first three, but thereís more. Link can find useful tools such as a glove that uses its magical properties to lift massive boulders. He can unearth boots that let him dash against things, or bombs that let him blast holes in weakened walls and rocky hills. It all feels so familiar, but itís exciting all over again because everything looks so much better.
Youíll see detail everywhere you go, from the pattering rain as it strikes stagnant pools of water, to the flickering light of torches on the castle walls. Arrows shudder if they miss a target and become embedded in walls. Floors crumble away and tiles fall into the abyss beneath. Even Link is affected. He strains as he works to heave boulders out of the way, winces when an opponent strikes him. Some hasten to criticize the broad strokes that were used to paint the verdant world of Hyrule, and thus they miss the finer points that make the game so special. If only they would slow down just a little and take their time to enjoy the adventure.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past has plenty of rewards for the patient. The early dungeons are filled with simple enemies and thrilling boss encounters, but itís the later ones that truly test your mettle. Remember battling the four-headed dragon Gleeock in The Legend of Zelda on the NES? Youíd sever his neck and the head would float about the room, firing shots from a distance. It was an impressive moment, and there were plenty of others like it. They were simple, though. The ones you face here are not.
In just the third true dungeon, Link goes up against a massive worm. It skitters about the precarious ledge, anxious to knock the boy to a distant ledge far below. With quick swordplay, Link dodges the direct rush, then spins his blade so that it strikes his opponentís weak point: the tail. Enraged, the monster renews its attack, and so the two dance about the ledge. At the end of the day, only one of them can leave the arena alive.
Other battles await, much later in what will prove a lengthy quest. Youíll see massive eyeballs that cling to one another to form a slimy barrier. Youíll watch as Link dodges the lash of a monsterís spiked tail, then blasts away its armor with bombs. Each new dungeon presents a labyrinthine world to explore, with a horrific boss battle at the end. If the puzzles donít get youóand many times they willóthen a showdown with the dungeon master will definitely put a wrench in the works.
Eventually, though, it all comes to its conclusion. Youíll have swum in every lake, passed through every hidden passage, toppled every worm and slain every dragon. Finally, after a climactic showdown at the very heart of the Dark World, youíll emerge victorious and the credits will roll. Itís then that youíll realize why people love this game so much, why so many consider it one of the finest Super Nintendo titles ever crafted. With a deep sense of regret, youíll power down your gray and purple machine, maybe stare out the window and think about the amazing adventure you just had. Donít worry, though. Itís not really over. You can always play through again. I know I did.
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 29, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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