Review: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (~25 hours)

Editor’s Note: I wrote this review on a trip to California, and was intrigued watching an adult skillfully play a game on an iPad.

We live in a changing world. Games of today are played more on tablets than home consoles, and Facebook more than Game Boy. So it feels fitting that this game is called “A Link to the Past”. There are numerous efforts to catalog and preserve retro games, including the Video Game History Foundation’s attempt to get classic games stored digitally at the Library of Congress, but only time will tell if future generations will actually play the classics.

Just like the joystick was replaced by the D-Pad, the D-Pad has been replaced by the touchscreen. A Link to the Past was designed for the D-Pad, and boy is it hard to go back to joystick games. Touchscreen games support virtual D-Pads, but the most popular form of input for touchscreen games is the direct kind. Touching a button, an icon, a plot of land, or a destination for a character using your pointer finger instead of your thumb, a screen instead of a plastic cross.

Perhaps A Link to the Past will be the last classic D-Pad style game I play this year. But it IS a classic, at least, in the “games as art” sense. The graphics push Super Nintendo to it’s limit. There is rain, fog, darkness, and fire. The color palette is rich, but not over-the-top. Link’s sword swing and run animation are very smooth. The music includes classics such as the theme to Kakariko Village and the Hyrule Field Main Theme. And the controls, especially after receiving the Pegasus Boots, feel light and breezy for a 2D game.

The worst I can say is that A Link to the Past is occasionally an intricate slog. There are fourteen dungeons total, and that seems like too many. The dungeons can be confusing to navigate, and the reward — a new item — overcomplicates gameplay outside of dungeons, requiring certain items in certain parts of the overworld. There is a light and dark world, doubling the initial size of the map. Compare this to a more simple game, like Mario Kart in which sixteen races completes the game. Or Walden, a game in which the only real mechanic is walking.

My least favorite thing, however, is that the story is… brief. Though the first Zelda had hardly any text, more recent ones are brimming with dialog. I like that.

Perhaps we will get a Zelda for tablets or Facebook. But this is Zelda from 1991. It’s long. It doesn’t provide instant gratification like other games of the era, such as Mortal Kombat or DOOM. But it did provide a formula for future Zelda games, like Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. And the series as a whole is considered among the best for consoles. Time will tell if future generations will play the Zelda series, or where games are headed after mobile devices. But it feels like a game made with heart.



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