Thursday, March 21, 2013

Video Game Review: The Legend of Zelda (The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition)

It is with a heavy heart and grinding teeth that I admit to being unwilling to complete this game. Do take particular note of the fact that I said unwilling and not unable. I am sure that if I were willing to pour anymore energy into this title, I could have it finished in a short while. And there may be a time when I come back to it just to see it through to the end, but when I do it will be with strategy guides well in-hand.

This game is truly, without a doubt, a bad game. And that's something I don't admit lightly. I really wanted to like this game. On the surface, even, it's actually really fun. The puzzles are full of that simple joy which permeates the Zelda franchise, the majority of the enemies are fun to battle, and the bosses are all clever and enjoyable. Of particuliar note is Gohma, whose boss battles are loads of fun. Of course there are moments in this game which I will never forget, moments which make me want to go back and get to the end. Whenever my sword is strong enough to zap, whenever I conquer a previously terrifying foe, whenever I get a more powerful item. Watching the health meter grow steadily longer is always going to be in my memory, more so for this game than the others because you aren't going to survive on just three hearts.

And, of course, that Zelda jingle. You know the one.

The music is good. It's all the classic tunes any true gamer knows by heart, and they aren't held back by the limited chipset one little bit. The sounds are all good, nothing ear-splitting. Even the visuals are great, and you'll be able to identify pretty much anything on-screen with minimal effort. Although the panning animation between rooms was a little streinuous, and my eyes often ached after lengthy dungeons, that's just a small thing which can be overlooked.

Unfortunately, I can't overlook the maddening amount of terrible that is this game. Despite all of those wonderful, fun, memorable things--which are never going to leave my memory and even now are driving this game into the more positiviely associated regions of my brain--this game is truly, truly, without a doubt, awful. Any redeeming qualities the game may have, any amazing concepts, any shred of dignity is all wiped out by how awful it is. Any amount of fun you have in this game is a brief interlude of the torrential shitstorm that is The Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

I know I'm going to get a lot of flack for this saying. An elite army of highly-trained fans stroming the open gates of my comments section to defend the originator of their credo and the hero of their youth. Because no sane person could have a contrary opinion, unless, of course, they were a zombie to the Black Ops generation and couldn't look for depth in a game beyond shiny graphics. Only people from the true retro generation could ever "get" The Legend of Zelda.

Well I've got news for you. One: I was raised on an Atari 2600, a NES, and a Game Boy. Two: if a game can only be seen as good by the people of one generation because it was released in that generation, than it is all-around not a good game. This from the guy who plays Balloon Fight obsessively.

Now let me talk about why The Legend of Zelda is an awful game which you should avoid. To start off, you can't play this game without either a strategy guide or a complete absence of anything else to do at all. Ever. There are numerous dungeons and items which are so completely hidden that you would have to bomb and burn every pixel of the screen in order to find them, unless you had a book that told you exactly where they were. This kind of search isn't automatically terrible, but there are a few limitations that make it unbearable. Bombs, which are otherwise a delight, are very limited in number. You can get bomb wallet upgrades, much like in the later games, but these upgrades are only available in the aforementioned super hidden dungeons.

The other explorative hinderance is the candel, which you use to burn down some trees and bushes. Unfortunately for the majority of the game you have the blue candle, which can only be used once per screen. After that you have to leave and return to that screen to try burning down a different bush. By the time you get the red candle, which can cast fire multiple times on one screen and would have made this whole ordeal actually kind of fun and less tedious, you don't need to burn anymore bushes!

If they had wanted to keep the limited number of supplies, they should have generated just a couple more sprites. Ones for rocks and walls which could be bombed, and one for bushes which could be burned. This way these objects could at least stand out a little and maybe prevent players from taking forty hours of their lives wasting resources on unresponsive objects. Of course they went with both limited ammo and non-indicating objects. Bummer. And the worst part is that they could have fit these objects into the game because they managed to fit an entire second quest onto the cartridge which includes a completely new set of dungeons.

A lot of people like to claim that "Once you get the dungeon map, you know exactly where to bomb." In general, this is true. If there's a room adjacent to yours with no door, it's a safe assumption that you should blow the hell out of that wall. However, I can think of at least one instance in the first quest where the room isn't even on the map. Granted, it's a hidden room full of rupees, but that was still a very poor design choice.

In fact, the entire issue with this game is design choices. Ones which could have been good, or maybe look good on paper. A free-roaming overworld that lets the player decide in what order to tackle the dungeons? Awesomely good idea. In a way, it makes The Legend of Zelda the very first sandbox game. And it can feel really awesome to wander around Hyrule, checking out the scenery and finding the less ludicrous secrets. Hell, it's really satisfying to finally get a sword which can blow those damn river Zora to hell and back. Unfortunately this decision is made completely furiating by the decision to hide secrets without any indication that they're there and then limiting your supplies to the point that exploration is terrifying because you don't want to run out of bombs.

The environment isn't the only terrible thing about this game, either. Remember how earlier I was praising how much fun some of the enemies were, and the bosses in particuliar? Well, that was only some of them. Wizzrobes are not one of them. There are some enemies in this game which are simply ridiculously overpowered. Wizzrobes being just one of them. But, and here's the kicker, these enemies are ever fought on their own. You can find yourself facing up to eight of these bastards at once, and they will all diverge on you like the last slice of pizza. ot to mention that there are often statues lurking in the later dungeons which cannot be destroyed and will make a habit of shooting you in the back while you're fighting off the unbalanced asshats from hell.

Like with the free roaming map, limited supplies, and lack of indicating secrets, tough-as-nails enemies aren't a bad idea... On their own. They can make a game more challenging and more exciting, and more satisfying to the player. So go ahead, make a few baddies that will cause players to shiver in their boots. Fear's good once in a while. But for the love of Nayru, don't combine unbalanced enemies with completely random AI. If you want an enemy that can down you in four hits, give them a pattern. Throw the players a bone, for once! Instead what happens is you get enemies who can only be hurt from behind, and who randomly change directions and march right the fuck into you. Balls.

Poor design choices aren't the only thing that plagues The Legend of Zelda. Link's mechanics could have used a little touching up. There are times where he just slides wherever the fuck he wants to go, and in a game as damning as this one is, that usually leads right to a death. I also had some trouble with the shield. The shield is a great idea. As long as you aren't attacking, it can protect you from projectiles which are infront of you. You can even upgrade to a magic shield later on which protects you from everything that isn't spit-up by a boss. Unfortunately, the shield sometimes decides not to work. At all. It can be defending you just fine one second, but the next you're getting a pair of hearts shot right out of you. That's a very bad thing.

You know what I actually didn't have an issue with? The supposedly cryptic old men. I got basically everything they were trying to tell me. The only NPC encounter that bothered me was the Goriya whom you need to satisfy to proceed in the dungeon. All he says is "Grumble... Grumble..." which sounds like he's angry about something. Turns out, he's hungry, and he'll go away if you give him some meat. How the hell was I supposed to know that? A little editing there to make the hint more hungry and less pissed off probably would have helped.

In general, I think the biggest issue with this game is that the developers were all too close to see just how damning it was. Like a writer who can't see what parts of the book don't make sense because they have the whole world fleshed out in their head. It makes perfect sense... when you already know everything. This game needed some tigher and more dedicated playtesting. As it is, it is unplayable without a guide. I simply can't recommend a game that requires outside information to even play. Which makes me very sad, because this game had so much potential. It's really one best left simply to memory. I'll leave it there, reminding myself that it, at most, is only worthy of two stars.

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