The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Article by Andy Keener | November 20, 2009
I can honestly say that I don't like the original Legend of Zelda for the NES. When I started playing games at the ripe old age of two, I didn't really have the greatest attention span, as you might imagine. I preferred games where the action was a bit more instant, like the Mario games. I could start up Super Mario Bros. and jump on a bunch of goombas, then go into the sewers and jump on more goombas, and I could shoot fire out of my hands, and it only took a few minutes to do all of that. The other games in Nintendo's first-party lineup -- Metroid, Zelda, Punch-Out!! -- were just a bit too complicated for me to really get into at that time.
I've tried playing Zelda several times over the years, and each time I never get much further than the second dungeon. I never owned the game personally, so I could only play at friends' houses for brief spurts, but eventually I borrowed a copy and tried it on my own time. Even then I didn't get very far; most of the time I'd just wander into a desert-like area and decide that my time was better spent doing other things, like running on power pads and shooting ducks. I kept wanting to enjoy Zelda, because even at that age I could tell there was a really great idea under it all; I was just too young and easily distracted to see it.
Years passed, and I obtained a Super Nintendo. The system's library was almost identical to that of the original NES, but every new entry in Nintendo's franchises was superior to its NES counterpart. After playing through Super Mario World several times, I started looking for other games to play and stumbled across The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It turns out that I made the right choice by picking it up rather than the copy of James Bond Jr. I'd been eyeballing, because this 16-bit Zelda turned out to be a masterpiece.
It's funny, because so much about it is similar to the 8-bit game I could never get into. Once again, I was in control of Link, a young boy tasked with saving Princess Zelda (and her kingdom) from evil. Along the way, I fought my way through nearly a dozen dungeons across the land of Hyrule while collecting new items and weapons that would allow me to explore even more of the world: A bow and arrow, bombs, lantern, a boomerang. Once I began looking, I eventually stumbled across all sorts of of hidden areas as well.
The original Legend of Zelda already did these things, of course; A Link to the Past simply did them better. Zelda had terrific ideas even back on NES, but the combination of better hardware and the developers' years of experience creating games made A Link to the Past sublime in a way its predecessor could never hope to accomplish. Every aspect of the game was an improvement over its predecessor: The visuals were better, the backgrounds were more varied, the music and sound were some of the best on the system, and the game even had an involving story.
A Link to the Past also introduced a host of features that would become staples of the Zelda franchise. Link's sword attacks now described an arc rather than being a simple forward thrust, and the sword could be charged for a spinning attack. Items like the hookshot and the ocarina made their first appearance in A Link to the Past as well, and life-extending heart containers were now split up into pieces, requiring the player to locate four of them to reap their benefits.
The biggest addition, however, came in the form of an entire other world for Link to explore. A quarter of the way through the adventure, you discover the existence of another (and far more evil) world to explore, which contains seven additional dungeons to be conquered. From that point on, players must hop back and forth between the two worlds, acquiring items in one that allow them to progress further in the other. The single most impressive part about this Dark World is that it's not simply a small portion of Hyrule that can be explored in this evil state; rather, it spans the entire Light World map. Every screen of good Hyrule has a dark counterpart in the alternate world. Sometimes little has changedódead grass instead of lively green grassóbut sometimes entire sections are underwater in one world and completely dry in the other. Several years later, Ocarina of Time would include a similar feature of switching between time periods; The Minish Cap featured a hat that made you small and turned the world giant; and years after that, Twilight Princess would include a Twilight World that was nearly identical to A Link to the Past's Dark Realm.
I didn't go back and really play the original Zelda until recently. I finally figured that with a bit more gaming comprehension and a longer attention span than I had at age five, I could probably handle it. I don't think I really enjoyed the experience, but I was approaching it from a historical perspective. With that sort of hindsight, I can see why it was so influential. Still, I can't help but think A Link to the Past did everything better. Around about the sixth dungeon of Zelda, I hit a point at which I'd had enough, having played enough to understand the praise the game gets. I didn't finish the game, I haven't touched it since, and I doubt I'll ever see it through to its conclusion. On the other hand, I've completed A Link to the Past more times than I can remember. Like most of Nintendo's Super NES lineup, it's an ageless classic that compels you to revisit it time and again.