"The Legend of Zelda," even after 25 years, is still an immersive game, that still holds up well today.
We hooked up the Control Deck to the TV, and I exercised what must have been some pretty impressive self-control when I tested the pack-in cart first. Then came "Zelda." The title screen blew me away. And what's this? You can save your progress and resume from where you last left off? And you can have THREE save slots? Sweet! Map in hand, I entered my name and hit the Start button.
From the first screen, I went straight to obvious cave entrance. "It's dangerous to go alone! Take this!" proclaimed an old man, offering a wooden sword. From there, I started my adventure. It was over an hour before my friend was able to try out his new "Metroid" cart. I played That "Zelda" cart every chance I got, marking every secret I found on the included map. The sense of pride I felt when I finally finished the game was the most incredible feeling of accomplishment I'd ever felt -- much more satisfying than other games I'd played, where finishing one screen leads to another... and another... and another... ad infinitum. But wait! There's more? After finishing the game, I got to do it again, but with a slightly different layout and tougher enemies.
Even after finishing the second quest, I went back to "Zelda" plenty of times over the next year or two, until I finally sold my NES at a yard sale ( I had gotten a Commodore 64C, and spent most of my time playing SSI's "Dungeons & Dragons" games). Fast forward to 2012. I had bought a used NES Control Deck on eBay in 2010, now with the intent of collecting the old games. But the newest generation of consoles had made me somewhat jaded towrds the old 8-bit games of my youth, so I hardly played any of the old games I was collecting. Then I got an eBay lot which contained the old gold "Zelda" cart. As I did with every game I bought, I put that gold cart in the console to test it out. So how does it hold up, nearly 25 years later?
Okay, so maybe the title screen wasn't as impressive as it was back in '88 (less so on a 32" LCD, than on a 15" CRT), but the moment I heard the music, I was transported back to the fall of 1988. I entered my name on the game selection screen, and watched the adventure unfold. I spent nearly an hour "testing" my purchase, before I realized how much time had passed -- and that I still had a stack of carts to test out. I hurriedly made sure the other carts worked, then got back to "Zelda."
After 25 years, the graphics still hold up fairly well, even on a modern hi-def 32" screen. Yes, the sprites tend to flicker when there are too many of them on the same row; yes, the pallette is limited to 48 colors; but the level of detail is still pretty impressive for the hardware.
The sound is, of course, primitive for someone who is used to 5.1 hi-def surround; but the music still manages to have some depth, and the sound effects are (again) pretty impressive, considering the NES sound chip is comparable to that on the Colecovision.
The most important part of the game, of course, is its gameplay. The difficulty curve is just about right; enemies become more powerful as you advance, but not to the point where you throw your controller at the wall in frustration. You start out against red Octorocks and Tektites, which take one hit with the wooden sword to kill. As you progress you meet tougher enemies that take more hits, but your sword is upgradeable, with helps to even things out. You also start with a wooden shield, which can deflect many attacks (as long as you are facing the attack, and not moving). In several shops, you have the option of purchasing a magical shield, which is capable of deflecting stronger attacks, such as fireballs. The game focuses mainly on exploration and combat, and exploration is rewarded with upgrades to Link's health and weapons, as well as access to better weapons you can assign to the "B" button. Combat relies on the d-pad (to choose direction), and the "A" (for Link's sword) and "B" (for distance weapons or special items) buttons. Pressing the "Start" button takes you to a menu screen (pausing the game), where you can assign different items to the "B" button, while pressing "Select" simply pauses the game (as well as the music, so you know the game is paused).
When Link dies, you have the option of continuing (starting at the beginning with any weapons, items, upgrades and money you had when you "died"), saving your progress (when you resume the game, you start at the first screen, with all your weapons, item, upgrades and money), or quitting without saving. Pretty progressive stuff, back then.
As mentioned above, once you complete the game, you start a second quest, with dungeons and upgrade relocated to new places. Between that and all the hidden rooms to find and explore, "Zelda" has plenty of replay value.
"The Legend of Zelda," even after 25 years, is still an immersive game. It's all too easy to start up the game, then realize an hour or two have gone by. In addition, it's the kind of game that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age or gender (Okay, so the main character is male, but guess what? Girls enjoy playing it anyway.). The world of Hyrule is fairly detailed and intricate, and easy to get into, not requiring prior knowledge of fantasy settings, since it's self-contained (rather than being based on an existing setting or story). "Zelda" was pretty original for its time, and pretty much kicked off the console RPG genre, as well as introducing concepts that hadn't been seen before in console games -- such as the aforementioned "save" feature. What we now take for granted -- the ability to save our progress and come back to the game later, right where we left off -- was something new back then.
"The Legend of Zelda," still holds up well today, even to this jaded gamer, who is used to the likes of the "Halo," "Dead or Alive," and "Fable" series.