Through the Looking Glass
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the PastPlatform: SNES | Genre: Action Role-Playing
Developer: Nintendo | Released: 1992
No other name in the world of video games elicits more reverence and adulation than Zelda. Even juggernaut franchises like Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy have plenty of vocal detractors, but something about the adventures of the kid in the green cap has proven to be almost universally appealing. Each game in the series is a hallmark of quality, but The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is arguably the purest representation of the time-honored Zelda formula.
A Link to the Past was released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1992, fairly early in the console's life cycle. However, that didn't prevent the developers from putting the new technology to work to create one of the most detailed, gorgeous, and expansive games of the 16-bit era and beyond. It was one of the first 8 megabit cartridges, and that extra memory was home to not one, but two huge overworlds, and more than a dozen labyrinthine dungeons to explore.
Whereas the previous Zelda game had strayed from the path, A Link to the Past went back to the series' roots, with a top-down perspective and action-oriented gameplay reminiscent of the original Legend of Zelda. But A Link to the Past wasn't just the same old Zelda with a new look; the gameplay and storyline matured significantly for Link's third adventure.
As the title implies, A Link to the Past takes place well before the events in the previous two Zelda games. You play as a young boy in the land of Hyrule, who is awakened one stormy night by an urgent message from Princess Zelda. She tells him that she's been locked in the dungeon of the castle by the evil wizard, Agahnim. Apparently, the wizard is searching for seven girls who are descendants of the magic sages; he needs the girls' magical powers to break the seal that holds the evil Ganon captive in the Dark World. Unfortunately, it's too late by the time Link finally confronts Agahnim, and the girls are sent to the Dark World, along with our hero. Thus begins a lengthy quest in which Link must save the girls and find the fabled Triforce, which is the only way to defeat evil and return the world to normal.
The gameplay in A Link to the Past is divided among the two worlds, which Link can freely move between. The Light World is comprised of the standard Hyrule landscapes, with dense forests, verdant fields, dank caves, and dark dungeons. The Dark World is sort of a negative image of Light World, with gnarled trees, twisted creatures, and deviously degenerate dungeons. The lay of the land is mostly the same in both worlds, but there are several areas that you can only reach by strategically hopping from one world to the other in the right locations. That and the many hidden areas and treasures in the game provide plenty of incentive to thoroughly explore both worlds, because you never know what you might find hidden away in the branches of a tree or beneath a shrub.
As with just about every Zelda game, you progress the story by scouring dungeons in search of bosses and special items. These items allow Link to reach new areas, so you have to attain them in a specific order. For instance, you can't clear large gaps until you find the hookshot, and sometimes your path will be blocked by posts that can only be pounded down with the hammer. Although there isn't much in the way of specific direction to guide you through the game, the item restrictions usually make it fairly obvious what you have to do next. There are also puzzles to solve, minigames to play, chickens to molest, and side quests to complete, so even if you don't feel like diving right into the next dungeon, you always have plenty of diversions to keep you occupied.
That isn't to say the dungeons aren't fun, because they most certainly are. Each dungeon is a unique and lengthy quest in and of itself, with multiple levels, branching corridors, deadly traps, and a whole menagerie of enemies. Plus, the new toys you're guaranteed to find make conquering each dungeon that much more rewarding.
A Link to the Past has everything you could ask for in a video game. It looks great, sounds great (thanks to the tunes of the legendary Koji Kondo), and it has the kind of timeless and lovingly crafted gameplay that is every bit as fun and engaging today as it was when it made its debut almost 15 years ago. We are honored to name The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past as one of the greatest games of all time. -- Greg Mueller