"Imagine a warped-alternate universe in which one of the most beloved (and Nintendo's most successful and admired) gaming series, namely "The Legend of Zelda", was reduced from its status as the "Holy Grail" of the gaming industry to a less than stellar status of a non-innovative formulaic platformer. Imagine that a development studio with an eye on churning out cheap clones released multiple versions of the game with different overlays and cheaply made cut-scenes, along with some of the worst st..."
Imagine a warped-alternate universe in which one of the most beloved (and Nintendo's most successful and admired) gaming series, namely "The Legend of Zelda", was reduced from its status as the "Holy Grail" of the gaming industry to a less than stellar status of a non-innovative formulaic platformer. Imagine that a development studio with an eye on churning out cheap clones released multiple versions of the game with different overlays and cheaply made cut-scenes, along with some of the worst storylines and voice-acting in the entire video game industry. Imagine a world where a "Legend of Zelda" game found itself NOT on a list of the ten best games ever made, but on a list of the ten worst!
Its a nightmare for any Zelda fan, but its a nightmare that was fully realized in the not-so-distant past. While most of the faithful fanboys cannot conceive of such a game bearing the "Legend of Zelda" name, a thorough gamer need look back only a little more than a decade to find exactly this scenario played out in spades. This game, "Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon", and its co-released virtual clone, "Link: Faces of Evil", both released for the ill-fated Philips CD-i system in 1993, are two releases put out by developers that seemingly attempted, without conscience (or much thought), to destroy the series before it ever moved beyond the second dimension.
Both of these games follow a very strict formula, which can be described as follows:
(1) Open with some of the most embarrassingly asinine cartoonish animated sequences, fueled by some of the most ill-conceived dialog and voice work imaginable.
(2) Have an elderly sage wisp the main hero of the quest over to a neighboring island that has been taken captive by Gannon and his evil minions.
(3) Choose an area currently marked on the map of the Island to explore, then proceed to explore it in glorious side-scrolling splendor!
(4) Kill numerous enemies in a given area, entering doors to shops and hideouts for soothsayers from time to time. Swipe your "smart sword" at any friendly souls with which you wish to initiate conversation, at items you wish to buy or pick up from dead enemies, or at enemies to do them damage (or by using one of your secondary items in the item menu).
(5) Gather certain items in various trading games, purchases, etc. with the goal in mind of reaching the end of the stage, and hit the triforce emblem, to demonstrate mastery of that area and open other areas on the map.
(6) Repeat steps 3 through 5 ad nauseam until you reach Gannon.
(7) Defeat Gannon for the most part, easily, with a single pivotal item found during the game.
This is no easy task, to say the least, but sadly, this game's difficulty does not stem from its challenging content. Instead, it comes from artificial difficulty spawned by its horrid control scheme. Both this game and its co-release, "Link: Faces of Evil", suffer from the worst controls I have ever encountered. Besides the fact that there are few controllers on the CD-i suitable for any sort of game, particularly the remote-controlled vertical controllers plaguing later releases of the system, the controls themselves are not designed for the more suitable horizontal three-or-four button directional pads either. The problems go beyond mere ergonomics and right into programmed game mechanics. Many of the surfaces you will explore are uneven, which by itself is no problem, but you will often find yourself trying to traverse them and being unable to tell what has stopped you in your tracks is little more than a slightly steeper incline. Jumping is hardly easy on the hands, because you must do it with the directional pad by pressing up, as there is NO button mapped to the jump mechanism. To leap in a particular direction, you must press the directional pad up and over.
Fighting standard walking enemies isn't that big a deal, especially when you obtain the power sword, which shoots its blade out (a feature borrowed from the Zelda games on the Nintendo Entertainment System), but flying and leaping enemies are unreasonably more difficult, usually requiring you to perform an awkward jump in order to target them properly, and sometimes requiring alternate weapons or items from the secondary item menu. Accessing that menu in particular has been seemingly engineered to be a feat in itself, as it requires that the playable character stoop down, open the menu with one button, choose an item by scrolling down and selecting with another button, closing the menu, and then using the item as desired. You will often be hit by enemies before you can accomplish these actions, especially if you've just left a shop, which often puts you in the most vulnerable position to oncoming enemies. Overall, the controls are so bad that the manual probably should have contained a Surgeon General's Warning for the likelihood of developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome when the game is played for significant periods of time.
Sound effects that make sense to the ear are lacking. Yes, when items hit your shield they clank, but there is almost no indication that a creature has successfully hit you and caused you damage, unless you are virtually watching your life meter like a hawk. Sometimes, you can literally be bombarded by approaching enemies, causing the game to come to an abrupt end, with an almost immediate continue screen to present that you have failed and must try again.
In the co-released game, "Link: Faces of Evil", an emasculated Link is the hero, and must travel to the Island of Koridai, defeat the "Faces of Evil", and destroy Gannon. In this game, both the King and Link have gone missing, and Zelda herself must take up arms as she seeks to find and free them on the Island of Gamelon. This is, of course, a MAJOR departure from the series as a whole, a series in which Link is the primary playable character and hero of the tale in every official instance, and in which Zelda always acts as a non-playable character pivotal to the overall mission at hand. This seems to be a change that only Nintendo itself could get away with, and even then only with Miyamoto's vision behind it. It doesn't help that this game has already so heavily departed from anything resembling a Zelda game by turning the formula into a side-scrolling platformer. I have seen some apologists describe this game as being in the same vein as "Zelda II: The Adventure of Link", but I think such comparisons are banal at best. "Zelda II" is a masterpiece even with its attempt to reinvent the series at its wake, combining both overhead map exploration with side-scrolling battle scenes and complex side-scrolling palaces that are worthy of the Zelda name. This game doesn't come close to achieving the same thing with its mediocre (to downright abysmal) formulaic approach.
That both of these games continually appear on lists of the worst games ever developed in the history of the gaming industry, with "Zelda: Wand of Gamelon" ranking more often than not in the number 1 spot, is one of the great paradoxes in that industry. If Zelda masterpieces like "A Link to the Past" and "Ocarina of Time", often referred to as the greatest games of all time, are demonstrations of what to do right in a game of this sort, then "Zelda: Wand of Gamelon" and "Link: Faces of Evil" are certainly archetype examples of what to do wrong. We don't have to imagine a world where games from the single greatest action-adventure series in history rank both among the best and worst in history. We live in that world! For better or worse, its the legacy Nintendo has been left, as the company was virtually forced to watch their lovechild series taken apart by developers who had less interest in building on it than exploiting it with cheap gimmicks and uninspired game play.
Thankfully, Nintendo has moved beyond this failure to protect its interests, and though it has allowed other development studios to create titles in the series (such as Capcom's Flagship studio, which has developed at least three fantastic hand-held titles), it has been much more careful at choosing developers who understand the mythos and game elements of the series, and who have the demonstrated ability to make games worthy of the legendary title.
Here's to the future of the "The Legend of Zelda" series! May it never again be taken prisoner on Gamelon!
Community review by m0zart (March 26, 2006)
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