Pros: a fun game that holds up well over time
Cons: expensive, frustrating at times
A while back I won a bunch of NES Classic Series Gameboy Advance games in a raffle. Now that Christmas is just around the corner, I'm looking to sell them before realizing that I never reviewed any of them. The background of the Classic NES Series is a few years ago Nintendo decided to re-release many of its most popular 1st party games originally released on the NES for the Gameboy Advance. They would sell for $20 retail, which is $10 less that other retail Gameboy Advance games at the time. Nintendo would get some extra money from some older titles and we would get to play some classic games on a portable game system. Now when you consider what they re-released (Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, Xevious, Bomberman, Metroid, etc.), many of these games are good, but others were just so terrible, why bother re-releasing them? I received mine for free so who am I to complain?
There are two warring factions in the land of Hyrule. One led by Gannon and the other by Princess Zelda. Each one owns one part of the triforce. The evil Gannon has kidnapped Princess Zelda in order to get the triforce of wisdom from her and unite it with his triforce of power. Fortunately, Princess Zelda split it up into 8 pieces and scattered them all across the land. You're job as Link is to gather up the 8 pieces and then go after Gannon in an effort to save the princess.
The game isn't focused so much on the story more than it is on the gameplay. That is, there isn't much dialog, but rather you pick up on the elements of the story from some of those random bits of dialog and based on what you're accomplishing in the game.
The gameplay of this version of The Legend of Zelda is a complete translation of the original NES version. Every aspect of the gameplay, controls, graphics, and sound are reproduced as if you were playing on the original NES cartridge.
The Legend of Zelda is an action/adventure game. You wander around the land of Hyrule taking down enemies with your sword or other weapons in an effort to find the underworld dungeons which contain pieces of the triforce. Your life is depicted by a string of hearts at the top of the screen. Enemies and traps lower your life in an effort to end your quest. How much damage they inflict is determined by how powerful your enemies are and whether you have any items to lower the damage inflicted upon you. For instance, if you get hit by most of the enemies early on, it only lowers your life by a half of a heart. However later in the game, some enemies can lower it by several hearts, especially if you haven't found any items to defer the damage.
The overworld has many areas to explore as well as holding many secrets as well. As you defeat more and more enemies, you'll begin to collect currency known as "rupees" that they drop. These are small crystals that can increase your rupee total by one or five. Rupees are used to buy items at shops scattered all across the overworld of Hyrule. Shops can sell you anything from weapons, to shields, to tools, or even medicine. The overworld also has many secrets as well. By bombing a rock face in a specific place, or by using your candle to burn down a bush, you can reveal a secret staircase. These secret rooms can either give you free rupees, a heart container, some useful advice, or even a store with cheaper prices.
Dungeons in The Legend of Zelda are like a whole new world. Each dungeon holds a new tool for you to use like a bow, raft, ladder, or wand. These tools either help you defeat more powerful enemies or allow you to access new areas on the map, which in turn allow you to reach more powerful dungeons. In addition, dungeons also contain a heart container, piece of the triforce, and a formidable boss guarding both. In order to navigate through the underworld dungeons you must use keys to unlock doors, bombs to blow up walls, and move blocks to reveal hidden areas. There are also certain barriers that can only be crossed if you found a tool in a previous dungeon. There are also maps that show you the layout of each dungeon as well as a compass that pinpoints the room where the piece of triforce lies. In addition there are some rooms (hidden and obvious) where old wise men give you cryptic pieces of advice.
The enemies in The Legend of Zelda were created with gameplay balance in mind. Each enemy has a strength and weakness. As you progress further along in the game, the enemies can get faster, their weaknesses can become less obvious, and their placement becomes even more cumbersome to conquer each room. A true testament to how good the enemies are is how they reappear in later Legend of Zelda games. Most of these characters do not change their habits either. Wizzrobes teleport all around the screen and shoot magic at you whether it's in this game or any other Legend of Zelda game. Like Likes still steal your magic shield, but are easy to defeat. In addition there are plenty of different kinds of enemies. The diversity is simply amazing considering this is a game is 20 years old now.
In addition to the regular enemies there are also many unique bosses. Bosses typically take more hits than other enemies and pose more of a threat to you than a simple group of baddies. Bosses in The Legend of Zelda usually have one method of defeating them. You must hit their weak spot at a given time with usually a specific type of weapon or tool. After a boss is defeated they drop a very valuable heart container, which increases your maximum life by one heart.
Overall the gameplay is extremely balanced and very entertaining to play through. It is definitely the major reason why this game has had so many iterations over the 20 years since its original release here.
Like most NES games, the controls for The Legend of Zelda are pretty basic. The dpad moves link in one of 8 different directions. The start opens the inventory screen. The A button swings your sword, and the B button uses a specific item (bomb, arrow, candle, medicine, etc.). The simplicity of the button layout of the Gameboy Advance doesn't have your hands tied in knots.
The controls are very responsive. There's no momentum so Link stops on a dime at your command. Actions are executed without any noticeable overhead lag.
The graphics are a sprite-based overhead grid-view of Link and Hyrule. The background graphics understandably are very blocky to fit the grid. However, Link is able to move freely in between grid squares making the graphics and motion seem a little less restricted. When it comes to animation, Link and his adversaries do not exhibit much in the way of diverse movement sprites. This is possibly because of the frequency in which the game slows down, especially in dungeons. While I attribute most of this to level design in that the developers allowed too many creatures who could fire projectiles on the screen at once. In addition, Link can fire his own projectiles one at a time. This can causes some huge slow downs and really affects the gameplay.
Like the original Super Mario Brothers, the music in The Legend of Zelda while advanced at the time is quite primitive by today's standards. However the theme songs still resonate among many gamers today whether it's the sheer popularity of the game in the NES's heyday, or because the theme song is remixed into various other Zelda titles.
The sound effects are not nearly as renowned as the music or as much as the sound effects in other popular games at the time. Many of them are shrill and are really hard on the ears when the volume is turned way up. While it's not a huge issue with the sound effects, it certainly isn't as large a plus as some of the other aspects of the game.
For a NES game the sheer size of the game and the amount of diverse enemies and bosses adds a ton of replay value even when compared to many other games for the Gameboy Advance. When you add in a more challenging second quest where items, dungeons, and secrets have all been shuffled around, the replay value skyrockets. It seems like every year or two I come up with an excuse to put down a more recently released game and start a new game of Zelda. I know for a fact that I'm not the only one who feels that way either. The Legend of Zelda is so polished and deep that it still manages to hold up after all these years. Having it in portable form makes this even better. Just about the only thing that hurts this game is just how overexposed it is at times. I have the original cartridge for the NES, a version on the Legend of Zelda Collector's Edition GameCube disc, and also on the Gameboy Advance. Still, if you have yet to play this game, you should give it a shot. It's pretty good, and you might find yourself caught up in it for quite a while.