Zelda 2 and the benefits of being the odd game out

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Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link is far and away the most difficult Zelda game I have experienced. I’m pretty confident in declaring that, unless Ninja Gaiden creator Tomonobu Itagaki ever gets his hands on the franchise, no future Zelda game will ever be as difficult as this offbeat title.

It is such a departure from the original that at first I confess I was staggered. Side scrolling? Battle screens? Experience points? At first glance, it did not appear to be the Zelda that I fell in love with. However, I like to keep an open mind when I play the classics. Let me tell you, I’m glad I did.

I have one very dimly lit memory of seeing someone play Zelda 2 when I was younger. I remember seeing Link jumping on rooftops before sinking into a chimney. And that’s it. I had no way of knowing that the brave and talented folks at Nintendo had responded to the success of The Legend of Zelda by reinventing the game. In doing so, they planted the seeds to its future.


It’s true. If Zelda 1 and Zelda 2 hadn’t experienced a few nights of passion, they would never have conceived A Link to the Past. That’s amazing to me. That SNES classic is the culmination of two crazy good games. The fundamentals belong to Zelda 1, but dig deep enough and you see those Zelda 2 influences: the magic bar, towns filled with non-player characters, sidequests, and various other little things that we have had in every Zelda game since.

As I played the game, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if more recent intellectual properties experienced the same kind of evolution.

Halo: Combat Evolved

Those familiar with the series know that Halo was originally conceptualized as a real-time strategy game. What if series developer Bungie decided (and was given the freedom) to make Halo 2 an RTS instead of the upgraded first-person shooter that it was? And after that, what if they decided to take the best ideas from both games for Halo 3? What kind of game would that have been?

"No, no, John," I hear you telling me. "Terrible idea." OK, probably. Without Halo 2, Xbox Live would not have exploded the way it did. Without Xbox Live’s success, who knows what the current console online experience would be like? But it’s something to think about.

These days, once a game is created, it’s pigeonholed. The next game is always going to be more of the same. Occasionally we do get an offshoot or spinoff. But who thinks Halo 4 is going to be anything but a conventional first-person shooter? Maybe they could introduce some genuine RPG elements into the game. (On second though, I shudder to think of the message board posts if that were the case.)

One of the many (often complained about) changes BioWare made between Mass Effect games. These skill trees show the differences in each title's Soldier class.

Take a look at the Mass Effect games. They changed quite a bit from Mass Effect 1 to Mass Effect 2. The changes weren’t nearly as pronounced as those found in the NES Zelda games, but even with Mass Effect 3 just a few months away, vocal fans are still screaming bloody murder. Anyway, those changes are miniscule in comparison. BioWare didn’t try to recreate Mass Effect; instead, they opted to enhance the experience by building on the first title's foundation.

It’s a tough sell, but I would love to see a great original game followed up by something dramatically different but still amazing in its own right, as was the case with The Adventure of Link. Maybe that’s what makes Zelda 2 so special. It is so singular when you compare it to other sequels. It wasn’t just an extension of its predecessor — it was a whole new game.

Zelda 2 playthrough quick facts: It took 15 hours. Each boss made me restart at least once (in one case, six freaking times). I managed to beat Thunderbird after it killed me once, and the same was true for Dark Link. After the first dungeon, I didn’t enter any subsequent dungeons without a pen and a memo pad. I almost threw in the towel during the climb toward the final dungeon, but I read the instruction booklet and found out that there is a save point upon arrival to that last level.

And when it was all over, it hurt so good.

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