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Retro? I'll give you retro!

By Tania on May 20th, 2009 under RPG, NES,

Ahh, Zelda. Its puzzle-filled dungeons, its multiple gadgets, its hapless princess and its green-clad hero. Everyone loves Zelda. I love Zelda.

Or, well…I usually do.

Blame it on my compulsive completionism, but when I enjoy a series, I need to play every single installment of it. Even the clunky, crappy first ones. So that's how the idea to give Zelda II: The Adventure of Link a shot popped up. Well, that and my purchase of the Gamecube disc that included Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask and Zelda I and II. I should've known what to expect before even starting. Maybe I don't have the best reflexes in the world, and maybe I fail at oldschool games, but I still have nightmarish memories of the first opus in the series: unforgivably difficult, no story to speak of, and absolutely no indications as to the order in which to do things. Well, Zelda II is the same. Possibly even worse.

Picture a hybrid between Super Mario and an RPG. And no, you don't get Legend of the Seven Stars (if only!). Link evolves in a mostly sidescrolling environment, gets 3 lives and gains experience points in battle. Pretty bizarre for a Zelda game, but that's not a problem in itself. If you die, you lose a life and restart at the entrance to the current area. But god forbid you should actually get a Game Over. Because that takes you BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THE GAME. Meaning that you'll have to trek all the way to where you were before dying. And 3 lives whisk by very quickly. There's also the slight problem that getting a Game Over is the only way to save. And that you can't permanently raise your life count.

PUT IT AWAY!!But now we come to the real issue: the enemies. Forget about steep learning curves. Or even 90° ones. In this game, the learning curve forms an acute angle. I actually had to give up trying to beat it on my Gamecube and resort to an emulator. So I could, y'know, save. Otherwise, I'd still be trying to finish the first dungeon *waits for all the booing, whistles and cries of ‘you suck!' to end* There are very limited ways of recovering your life and magic in the field, and the enemies are BRUTALLY unforgiving. Especially Iron Knuckles, who have mind-bogglingly amazing A.I. for a NES game. If you thought they were hard in any of the subsequent Zelda games, you've got another one coming. The blue ones are particularly bad. They continuously zap swords at you, of which they seemingly have an infinite supply. This is probably the closest thing to Sword-Chucks that you'll find outside of 8-Bit Theatre. It also looks disturbingly phallic when they switch to leg strikes. Overall, it's like an infernal game of Pong, where you can't reflect the attacks back.

To compensate for the hair-tearing difficulty, the game does offer a few laffs…at its expense. In a bizarre premonitory flash, Link—who is an adult in this game—allows himself some GTA-like escapades. Every town has a woman in a red dress walking around in front of a house. If you talk to her, she invites Link to come in. And then, all you see is his life bar filling up. Hey, even 8-bit studs need their action. However, this becomes a lot more disturbing when it comes to recovering magic. The method is exactly the same, but Link has to talk to a little granny instead…who then gives him her “special medicine”…

A prime example of bad parenting.Among other laff-worthy things, there's the translation, featuring such timeless classics as the “N°3 TRIFORCE”, or “I AM ERROR”, one of the unforgettable responses that you'll get in your baffling encounters with the denizens of the game. Or the Spell spell. I guess Link has orthography problems…There's also the aptly named Fairy spell, which is used to fly over obstacles. It transforms Link into one of those cute lil' fairies that are commonly used to replenish your health, complete with a red dress and a little crown. It's got to be one of the most impressive spells I've ever encountered: I mean, not only does it shrink you and allow you to fly, but you also get a sex change thrown in. I'm sure Tingle would've loved the concept…But gender-bending mana prowess put aside, another thing this game demonstrates is that Link would make a terrible father.

So I only have 2 more dungeons left to endure before this semi-illiterate iteration of Sleeping Beauty à la sauce Zelda finally grinds to a close. Hopefully I'll manage to get through them without terminal finger cramps. And never look back. Thank god that Zelda has evolved since then. That's probably the one good thing I'll be getting out of this experience: a better appreciation of the more recent Zelda opuses. Nostalgia for oldschool games is all well and good…but you gotta be realistic sometimes: it wasn't ALL better back in Ye Olde Days.

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