The Legend of Zelda Review

The Legend of Zelda is the game that started one of Nintendo's best franchises, and it holds up pretty well to this day.

The Legend of Zelda was originally released in 1987, and it was such a landmark event that Nintendo shipped the game on a shiny gold cartridge. This NES game was the first battery-backed game to hit the system, and it was also the first game to introduce us to Link, Zelda, and the evil Ganon. The boomerangs, the bombs, the bow and arrow--many of the key weapons that Link still uses in modern games like Twilight Princess originated nearly 20 years ago. Link's first, classic adventure is now available for the Wii via the Virtual Console service. Like other NES games available on the system, it's a picture-perfect emulation of the original game. But unlike some of those other NES games, this game holds up well enough to be quite playable today.

The Nintendo Entertainment System. Your parents help you hook it up! The Legend of Zelda sold separately.
The Nintendo Entertainment System. Your parents help you hook it up! The Legend of Zelda sold separately.

The game is broken up into an overworld and nine different dungeons. You get the action only one screen at a time, so when you walk off the edge of the screen, the whole thing scrolls over to show you the next area. This effectively makes the entire overworld one big grid, and each dungeon a smaller grid. But the mazelike map prevents you from just walking exactly where you want to go, and some areas will be inaccessible until you collect certain items. Each dungeon contains items that you'll need to proceed, whether it's a bow and arrow that you'll need to beat a specific boss or a raft that you can use to float from one location to another. While the A button (2 on the Wii Remote) is always your sword, you can select any of your secondary items from a submenu and assign them to the NES B button (1 on your Wii Remote). It was an elegant system for its time, considering the NES controller only had two action buttons to work with. It still functions just fine today.

While newer Zelda games are focused on often-tricky puzzles, the original game was much more focused on combat. Each screen is full of little critters, like Octoroks, Tektites, and Leevers, too. But the real challenge in this game is finding where everything is. The original NES game came with a handy fold-out map that showed you a handful of useful locations without giving everything away. It was so useful because there's barely any instructive dialogue in the game itself. The signposts and exposition that drive your play in newer Zelda games isn't present at all. So you're left to wander around the game's large overworld, hoping you stumble upon the next level. It's a pretty clear example of how games have evolved over the last 20 years, but chances are you still have some of the harder-to-find locations memorized. If not, you may want to get online and find a map of your own, unless you're content to wander Hyrule's countryside in search of the next point of interest. The journey is half the fun and all, but the size of Zelda's world, combined with a lack of direction, can actually get a little frustrating eventually. Just remember that players of the original had a map to help them right in the box, in case looking up a few things makes you feel all dirty inside. Unless you've got everything memorized, you can expect to spend somewhere between five and 10 hours playing through the game, and after you've completed it once, a remixed second quest becomes playable.

If you missed this game the first time around, it's still a great deal of fun, as well as an interesting history lesson that shows off what has and hasn't changed about the Zelda series' design after all these years. It's certainly one of the better games currently available for the Virtual Console, but considering the game has been released in plenty of other formats since the original, including the GameCube Zelda bonus disc and a Classic NES Series version for the Game Boy Advance, you may have already played this game fairly recently.

The Good

  • The first entry in one of gaming's greatest series
  • Seemingly perfect emulation of the original

The Bad

  • Some elements of the game's design haven't aged very well, but that's to be expected

About the Author

Jeff Gerstmann has been professionally covering the video game industry since 1994.