The Legend of Zelda (NES Classic)Jeremy Parish
A few months ago, my roommate and I were discussing how much we'd love to see a GameBoy Advance version of the original Legend of Zelda. The GameCube Collector's Edition reminded us how much we enjoy the old NES classic and how the two Oracles titles for GameBoy Color began life as a straight port of the game. Surely, we speculated, it wouldn't be hard for Nintendo to finish what they started and give us a "Zelda All-Stars" sort of collection for GBA... or, at the very least, a no-frills budget-priced remake of the original. Right?
The very next day, the Famicom Mini collection -- the Japanese counterpart to the NES Classic series -- was announced. If the news hadn't made me so happy, I'd have been completely creeped out by the coincidence.
The Zelda series is arguably the most respected franchise in all of gaming. Every chapter offers something new, different, polished and above all: fun. Despite the games' ongoing legacy of innovation and excellence, though, a not-insignificant number of gamers still count the original NES game as their favorite. For once, this 8-bit fondness isn't simply blind nostalgia speaking -- though graphically simple and burdened with a handful of small but annoying flaws, The Legend of Zelda was and is a huge, involving quest full of secrets, challenge and bonuses. The intensely difficult Second Quest remains one of the greatest unlockable extras in the history of the medium. And it's all captured beautifully on this GBA cart.
Zelda's not perfect -- some goals are maddeningly vague, finding many of the hidden secrets is a matter of bombing or burning every single object in sight, and the Second Quest seemingly exists solely for the sake of frustration. Another small problem is the control -- the GBA D-Pad (especially on the SP) is very friendly to diagonal input. That's a great feature in most games, but poor Link can only move in four directions. Those diagonals just get in the way. As a result, Zelda's control can feel a bit mushy when you try to change direction quickly and Link muddles along in a straight line because the D-Pad was registering a useless diagonal press.
The conversion suffers a second significant flaw: the graphical trickery necessary to allow the uncropped NES graphics to fit onto the GBA's screen does funny things to Link's sword. All is well when you're attacking enemies to either side, but when you swing at foes above or below Link, you're likely to miss; the vertical compression on the graphics means that Link's sword seems to be missing about a pixel of range. It's just a trick of the eye, but it's occasionally difficult to judge vertical distances properly. For Hyrule veterans accustomed to the screen proportions of the NES and used to slashing foes at arm's length, this can be a bit disorienting at the outset. Combined with the mushy D-Pad, it means you'll probably whiff a lot at the outset. Fortunately, you should acclimate readily enough.
But these shortcomings are insignificant compared to everything the game does well. Even though it no longer seems as impressively detailed or dauntingly huge as it did in 1987, Zelda is still a superb adventure. The dungeon-by-dungeon game structure makes it ideally suited to be a handheld game; in many ways, the experience feels more satisfying in portable format than it did on mom and dad's 20-inch TV all those years ago.
Of all the games to be reissued as part of the NES Classic line for Game Boy Advance, Zelda is the no-brainer of the lot. It's easily the most sophisticated of the ten games on offer, and the only one that really offers something more than a quick gameplay fix. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Zelda singlehandedly justifies the existence of the entire remake series, but it certainly is worth owning on its own. For twenty bucks, it's a genuine value -- you'd have to fork over almost that much at Funcoland for a scruffy copy of the NES cart with no packaging, a fading battery and some stupid kid's name scrawled all over the back in sloppy Sharpie pen. If the cart and box were gold and it came with a full-color fold-out map, this would be a perfect rekindling of gaming nostalgia. As it is, it's simply irresistibly great.
Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in 1UP.