While Nintendo has managed to stick to its rigid schedule of releasing three classic titles for the Wii’s Virtual Console each Monday, this week sees something different. Instead of three titles, the Big N is bringing only one new Virtual Console title to the library. But what a title it is! Monday, January 22 marked the release of “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.” Originally released in 1991, this game launched the golden age of the Zelda franchise and now gamers can once again revisit Hyrule in all its 16-bit glory.
Following the side-scrolling hiccup that was “Zelda II: Adventures of Link,” the third installment returned to the overhead-style of gameplay that it was originally known for. Much like the first game, a young boy named Link wakes up one day and takes up a sword to save the besieged kingdom of Hyrule. The antagonist appears to be a rogue wizard named Aghanim, but there is much more to the plot that players discover as they progress through the game. Before this game, the story of Link and Zelda had been simplified. “A Link to the Past” gave the over-arching plot several added dimensions of depth, fleshing out several characters and making mentions of others that would later be introduced in the Nintendo 64 prequel, “The Ocarina of Time.” The twists and turns are legitimately fascinating, giving this game the type of story that would rank up there with later classics like “Final Fantasy VII.”
The major reason this game is in the pantheon of the all-time great games, however, is the gameplay. It takes the overhead dungeon-crawling formula from the first Legend of Zelda game and multiplies it tenfold. Old weapons like bombs and the boomerang are given a new lease on life while simultaneously introducing newer and cooler weapons like the Firerod, Magic Powder, and Pegasus Boots. While the sword is still the bread and butter of the arsenal, players could now upgrade their sword throughout the game. The first of these upgrades is the Master Sword, a weapon that would become a staple of the franchise. Many of these weapons would need to be utilized later on in boss battles and it would be up to the player to determine which weapon would be most effective against each dungeon’s boss. And these bosses were not pushovers. While the first couple of bosses could be classified as simple, the challenge level begins to heighten significantly throughout the second half of the game.
The world of Hyrule is tremendous. “A Link to the Past” boasts a huge overworld, especially in comparison to other games of the early 90’s. With caves, forests, dungeons, and dozens upon dozens of hidden areas scattered throughout Hyrule, even the most experienced gamers could spend weeks exploring the overworld. Replay value definitely isn’t an issue here.
The graphics are some of the best of the early 90’s, but show their age in 2006. Still, the animated style was whimsical and may even be seen as a precursor to the cel-shaded style that would be adopted for “The Wind Waker” ten years later. But again, this game isn’t about the graphics. It’s about the gameplay. The soundtrack, however, never grows old. It combines ageless tracks like the overworld theme with new tracks like the Hyrule Castle theme, which would be resurrected in November’s “Twilight Princess.”
Make no mistake about it. “A Link to the Past” was one of, if not the, premier title for the Super NES. Every fan of the Zelda franchise has played this game at some point, but newer gamers are in for a treat if they’ve never seen this game. For 800 Wii Points, this critical and heralded chapter of the Zelda mythos is available on the Wii’s Virtual Console. And while it can be disappointing to see that only one title was released this week, Nintendo can easily be forgiven for that transgression for making that title one of the best games of all time.