Last time we looked at the early years of the Zelda series. In this silver age of the franchise the games were strictly confined to two dimensions whether they were the fondly remembered top down affairs or the slightly misguided side on platforming.
However 3D was swiftly becoming gamings next big thing and the release of the Nintendo 64 saw Nintendo embrace the Z axis with gusto, as such greats as Mario 64 would attest. Zelda would surely follow and indeed it did, with great style.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – N64 – 1998
Whilst many established franchises have struggled to make the transition into the third dimension (Sonic, CastleVania), Nintendo designers seemed to manage it with ease.
In fact Zelda seemed to be ideally suited for the 3D treatment. It’s viewed from above structure making it much simpler, from a design perspective, to envisage how it would work in 3D.
This said, no one could have predicted just how incredible the resulting game would be.
Following the well worn story of Link rescuing a certain princess from the clutches of the nefarious Ganondorf, who seems to have had his name elongated since the last game (although the chronology of the series is a little cloudy, apparently this game is a sort of prequel to the NES original).
Intrigue, adventure and subtle overtones of loss and coming of age drama elevate the otherwise overly familiar plot to a previously unheard of level of maturity.
This is backed up by some truly stunning visuals and audio. Although the graphics have lost some of their sheen over the years it’s still a pleasure to look at and listen to. Riding across Hyrule field on your horse, Epona, for the first time accompanied by the familiar, rousing overture is still as awe inspiring now as it ever was.
Coupled with this are a control system which has still to be bettered, some truly inspired puzzles and the most epic boss battles ever to be played out in gaming history up until that point.
It’s little wonder then that OoT went on to be one of the N64’s best selling titles and earned a place atop almost every ‘Best Game Ever’ list.
There’s no excuse for you not to play this if you haven’t already. It’s available on Wii Virtual Console and if you can track down a copy of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for the GameCube then you’ll find a bonus disk inside with OoT on it.
Interestingly, on the Wind Waker bonus disc there is also some called OoT Master Quest. This was originally only released in Japan for Nintendo’s ill fated 64DD add on for the N64. It’s essentially exactly the same as OoT but with new, harder dungeon layouts.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – N64 – 2000
Creating a game as memorable as OoT could have potentially been a rod for Nintendo’s own back. How you do you follow up such a game? The traditional response would be more of the same with minor variations thrown in.
In essence most of the games in the Zelda series follow this line of reasoning. Despite its brilliance, OoT relied heavily on it’s forebears for its central mechanics. On the surface Majora’s Mask is no different, using the same engine as its predecessor the core gameplay is almost identical.
Where MM differentiates itself from OoT is in two elements which were briefly touched upon in the earlier game. As the name suggests one of these elements is masks. In OoT occasionally you could find a mask which had some hidden property, such as granting you the ability to get hints from the mysterious stones. These masks wouldn’t alter your game experience but helped add to the substance of it.
MM makes such masks a necessity, in fact, in a break from Zelda tradition, the plot has you attempting to retrieve a mask of immense power which has been stolen. To accomplish this quest you will need to find a number of other masks which imbue you with special abilities essential to completing the game.
The other element lifted from OoT is the concept of time. In OoT certain things would happen at certain times of day, for example some characters wandered around by day and confined themselves to their homes by night.
MM took this idea and ran with it. Billing itself as one of the first 4D games (the fourth dimension being time). You find yourself charged with the heady task of recovering the mask and therefore saving the world from destruction and what’s more is that you have only 72 hours in which to do it. Each character within the game keeps their own schedule over this three day period and studying these is another key to ultimate success. Thankfully, early on in the game a method of returning to day one is revealed, unfortunately all puzzles will be reset once you return to the start.
The game still features dungeons, combat and puzzling which we have come to expect but the masks and time elements add a layer of intricacy and ingenuity and it’s surprising that similar ideas haven’t caught on in other games.
MM was originally designed to be released on the aforementioned 64DD but its failure meant it would be released as a standard cartridge. The extra complexity came at a price however; you would need a memory expansion module for your N64 before you could play it, if you didn’t already have one this could mean that the price of this already expensive game could be effectively doubled.
It still managed to sell in modest numbers and is thankfully easy to get hold of today thanks to Wii Virtual Console. It was also released on the GameCube as part of the Zelda Collectors Edition which may be a little harder to track down (try eBay).
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Oracle of Seasons – Game Boy Colour – 2001
After a triumphant spell in 3D land the series returns to its 2D roots in these criminally overlooked GameBoy Colour games.
Released concurrently, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons followed Link’s adventures post OoT. The games are similar in graphical style to the earlier GameBoy incarnation (Link’s Awakening) yet each has a trick up its sleeve.
Ages sees Link zipping between several separate time periods in order to solve problems (i.e. a building may exist in a certain area in the future yet isn’t there in the past) whilst in Seasons Link is granted the power to manipulate the weather.
Despite being developed by Capcom rather than Nintendo themselves these games are easily as good as any of the earlier 2D output by Nintendo, it’s something of a shame that these games can only be enjoyed in their original forms, they have yet to be re-released on any of the more modern systems but we can always hope.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past/Four Swords – GameBoy Advance – 2002
Although we’ve already gone over ALttP in the last part, when it was re-released on the GameBoy Advance the cartridge also featured a neat little game called Four Swords.
Four Swords allowed you to link up with four friends and battle it out through several dungeons. As fun as this was it’s debateable how many people actually got to play it, four GBA’s were required as well as four copies of the game.
Nintendo didn’t ditch the idea however and later developed a full fledged GameCube game based upon it called Four Swords Adventure, which we’ll be looking at.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker – GameCube – 2002
This game received a lot of criticism the majority of which is wholly unwarranted.
When a teaser trailer of the game was first released it featured an ultra realistic, mature Link battling a similarly realised Ganondorf. Although it was made clear that this wasn’t actual gameplay footage it nonetheless whetted the appetite of Zelda fans for what was to come.
When the game was next sighted the art direction had drastically changed. Gone was the realism and mature characters and in their place was a new stylised, exaggerated, colourful cel-shaded art style.
Many decried the new look as too childlike, and indeed many more dismissed the game out of hand as the new visuals led them to believe that the game would be aimed at a younger audience.
Upon release anyone who played the game would find that these criticisms were rather unfair. It played remarkably well and has some of the most memorably satisfying puzzles of the whole series.
It wasn’t without its problems but these were nothing to do with its cel shaded look. The difficulty of the combat had been turned down by a significant degree with boss battles especially being overly simplistic and the nautical theme often meant travelling between different locales was much more of a chore than it should have been especially in the later stages of the game.
It’s still worth a look and it comes with a bonus disc featuring Ocarina of Time to sweeten the deal.
The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure – GameCube – 2004
Based on Four Swords, the game which was included on the same cart as the GBA version of A Link to the Past, Four Swords Adventure allows you to take part in a top-down 2D Zelda with up to four friends.
The controversial Wind Waker visuals are here (and it looks like they’re going to be with us for the foreseeable future) but look past these and underneath is a brilliantly fun multi player dungeon romp.
Reminiscent of Gauntlet but with brain teasers the game is best played with all four players each with a GBA linked up, but this isn’t strictly necessary.
If you have some friends who are up for a bit of Zelda action then track it down.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap – GameBoy Advance – 2004
This GBA outing was another viewed from above adventure which retained the artistic style of The Wind Waker.
It plays remarkably similar to the rest of the games with this viewpoint but adds different abilities and a talking hat which could make you shrink down to miniature size (it’s true).
This dynamic may have added an extra element but otherwise this is business as usual for the franchise.
That’s not to say that’s a bad thing, this is actually a remarkably good game but by now we’re treading very familiar territory and you really should know what to expect from a 2D Zelda.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess – Wii/GameCube – 2006
This was a release title for Nintendo’s super successful Wii. It brought with it the realistic and mature graphical style which was initially teased for The Wind Waker.
TP is a much darker game than usual, when a dark netherworld begins encroaching upon the games real world and your friend is captured it’s up to you to rescue her and prevent an invasion by an ancient evil.
Graphically it’s all rather lovely with its crumbling ruins and sun dappled forests offset against the dark and menacing otherworld.
The gameplay parallels the duality of its setting by granting you a kind of alternate persona, Link has the ability to transform from his normal, noble, charitable self into a fearsome and menacing wolf creature.
Despite this new element, the wild and differing items and abilities of previous games have been pared back in an effort to give the player a purer Zelda experience. Gone are the masks, batons, giant leaves, wind jugs, weather wands and talkative headgear of later Zelda’s instead we have a return to hook shots, boomerangs, bows and bombs of the earlier games.
Of course all of these items are designed to play to the strengths of the Wii control system. But therein lays the problem.
Whilst GameCube owners would have had an easier time of things with their version (which interestingly is a mirror image of the Wii version, with objects and locations which would have been on your left in one version are on your right in the other and vice versa) requiring only the use of a joy pad, Wii owners are subjected to an RSI inducing level of waggling. You must waggle to use your sword which, seeing as it’s an integral part of any Zelda game, means you spend 90% of the game waggling away your wrist cartilage.
Look beyond this and although it doesn’t quite surpass the excellence of the N64 games and is not particularly difficult it’s still a worthwhile Zelda experience and it really looks the part. It isn’t doing anything new however and while there are those who would argue that it doesn’t need to it makes this game a little less memorable than earlier ones.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass – DS – 2007
And we finish on the latest of the Zelda games. This is a direct sequel to The Wind Waker crammed into the diminutive handheld.
Often described as the DS’s greatest game and it is indeed very good. It’s a Zelda game and its mechanics are at once familiar although we’re not rescuing clumsy princesses this time but tracking down the titular Hourglass. There’s also a new stylus centric control system which works rather well.
There is one thing that I can’t reconcile myself to about this game, it’s ugly. Seriously ugly. Oddly, reviewers raved about how nice it looked and how it pushed the 3D capabilities of the DS.
If we’re being honest 3D on the DS is not great. Sure, it’s functional and if you’re making a first person shooter for the DS then you have to use its 3D capabilities.
This is most certainly not a first person shooter and so the use of DS 3D in this game is totally unnecessary. Only an idiot would rather look at 3D block-o-vision than some nicely drawn 2D art (such as the lovely Soul Bubbles) and this game could just as easily have been made in 2D.
I’m not saying it’s a bad game, it isn’t, it’s a great game. I’m just tired of hearing how good it looks when, quite clearly, it doesn’t.
Unfortunately the new DS Zelda (Spirit Tracks) also looks as though it’s going to take a stern beating from the DS ugly stick.
…and we’ll draw proceedings to a close on that controversial note. Which is your favourite/least favourite game? What’s your favourite dungeon or scene? Please share with us your Zelda highs and lows and while you’re doing that I’ll work on my next brief history – Castlevania: A Brief History.
Article from Gamersyndrome.com