The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past Review

ALttPThe Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Available on the Wii U, and Wii Virtual Console)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Original Release Date: April 13th, 1992
Wii Virtual Console Release Date: January 22nd, 2007
Wii U Virtual Console Release Date: January 30th, 2014

Parent Talk: Grab ahold of your sword, pick up that shield, and go out there and rescue seven captured maidens, only then can you restore peace to the land of Hyrule.  Sounds awesome and epic, doesn’t it?  That’s because it is!  The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past features lots of sword wielding action, and yet thanks to the cartoony look, never feels like a mature game.  There are some enemies that might frighten the extremely young, but for the most part this is an adventure you’ll want to share with as many as possible, regardless of age.

Plays Like: Take the overhead perspective from the NES classic The Legend of Zelda, and mix the magic spells from Zelda II, and you have only a brief idea of what to expect here.  A Link to the Past (ALttP) forever changed action games upon its release in 1991/2 (depending on your region).  It set the bar so high that no game has ever been able to reach it.  It featured the best possible mix of supremely tight gameplay, a fantastic story, and incredible audio visuals.  Bottom line, this is considered the greatest game of all time for a reason.

Review Basis: Upon purchasing the game in 1992, I have completed it virtually every single year since.  There’s something extremely special about this game that keeps bringing you back for more.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is not only my favorite videogame of all time, but most of the world’s as well.  It was the first game that truly made me go WOW.  The world was massive, the gameplay was spot-on, the story was epic, and the graphics and music were just incredible.  Today, some 22 years after its release, it remains the best of the best.  If you have never played this masterpiece before, you cannot call yourself a gamer.

Who could ever forget their first steps outside.
Who could ever forget their first steps outside.

The Great:

Everything!!!  Thanks for reading the review.  Now go play it.  What, still here?  Why?!  I told you, everything is great, so stop reading and go play damn it!  Ok fine, you want further details, I’ll humor you, but only this once.

Let’s start off with the story.  For the first time in the series, the English actually made sense!  Sure the translation has come under fire in recent years with liberties being taken, but you know what, it doesn’t matter in the least.  The story was so shocking back in 1992 that none of us noticed, and given the quality of the dialogue, you won’t notice today either.  It was one of the first games I can remember that actually had an extremely detailed intro, if you didn’t hit the start button that is.  It explained all about the Golden Land and how a thief broke into this sacred realm and stole a very powerful object.  When you do eventually begin the game, you’re awoken by your uncle, who’s heading off to the castle to rescue the princess Zelda.  Being the good lad you are, you ignore his pleas to stay home and venture forth.  Eventually what appears to be a simple quest becomes something so much more.  By the time you face off against Ganon, and the credits roll it’s incredible to reflect back on all the adventures you’ve had, all the friends you’ve made along the way, and just how epic this tale really was.  Even today it holds up perfectly, but back in 1992 this was simply unheard of in the console space, and it forever changed people’s opinion of what a videogame could do.

One of the coolest uses of Mode-7.
One of the coolest uses of Mode-7.

Next up we have the graphics.  They’re incredible, even 22 years later.  Back when this game hit, the lightning and rain at the beginning of the game were eye popping.  It was such a fantastic way to start the game.  Later on, heading to the Mysterious Forest and unsheathing the Master Sword was another wow moment.  There was also the immense size of the game, not only were there almost a dozen dungeons, but the entire Light World had a clone, with the Dark World.  Clone isn’t the right word, as the Dark World was actually completely different, and because of that this felt like the longest game ever.  The level design was spectacular, the enemy designs were awesome, and the special effects, especially the Mode-7 map was just incredible.  Putting all these things together made one hell of an impression.

The audio was another area that was just spectacular in 1992.  The overworld theme from the original Zelda was crisper, sharper, and all around better in 16-bit.  The number of themes made for this one game were staggering to youngsters the world over.  From the Dark World theme, to the classic fairy music, the amount of songs that originated in this game remain surprising.  Every Zelda game since this one has borrowed at least one theme because they were that memorable.  The sound effects were also great, with a variety of different sounds emitting whenever Link cut a bush, hit into a rock, or attacked an enemy.

A Legend is born!
A Legend is born!

As great as the game is, people might be surprised to hear just how tough it was to complete.  Today we have the Internet, but back in ’92 there was no real way to get help if you got stuck.  Sure you could call a gaming hotline for crazy amounts of money, or subscribe to Nintendo Power, but what if the hotline didn’t have ALttP yet, or what if Nintendo Power didn’t cover the game in that particular issue?  That was it, you just tried, and tried again until you figured it out.  This was such a tough game that Nintendo included a sealed hint book in every copy.  That might be looked at as a fault, but it forced you to explore, and try all the various tools at your disposal.

Speaking of tools, the variety of weapons and items available were jaw-dropping back in the day.  In the original Zelda there were only a handful of items you could find.  In the sequel, the emphasis was more on magic.  With ALttP though, it featured the best of both worlds.  Not only were there tons of fantastic weapons and items to find, but you also had three powerful magic spells you could learn.  The Master Sword had a revamped attack as well.  You could even power-up classic items like the shield and boomerang.  It was nuts!  Overall, this really was light years ahead of the games that came before it.

How did I already rescue the princess?
How did I already rescue the princess?

All of these superb additions wouldn’t mean a thing if the core gameplay wasn’t tight and responsive, but boy was it ever.  Link could not move in eight directions, so everything felt so much smoother.  You could perform a spin attack by holding down the attack button, you could ram through multiple enemies with the Pegasus Boots, and perform so many other fantastic feats with little to no effort whatsoever.  That’s the clear sign that you’re ignoring the controller, and just focusing on the excellent game.

All of this is even before taking into account the Light and Dark World mechanics.  By exploring both worlds you could hop back and forth, finding secrets everywhere.  Exploring became much more than what players had experienced in the previous games, and it was so rewarding that Nintendo would mimic this system with their first 3D Zelda game, Ocarina of Time, except instead of travelling between worlds, you would travel between time.

Many Zelda bosses were inspired from this one battle.
Many Zelda bosses were inspired from this one battle.

The Lowdown:

I could go on for ages, but there’s really no point.  The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a masterpiece that hasn’t aged a single day in 22 years.  It deserves to be played every year, and if you have never gotten around to playing it before, you really owe it to yourself to give this one a download.  It set the blueprint for all the Zelda games to come.  It’s the best of the best, a living Legend!

Final Score: 10/10

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