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The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening: The Kotaku Review

The best feeling you can possibly feel while playing a video game is the act of swinging a sword in Zelda. I came to this conclusion recently, while playing the new remake of Link’s Awakening and trying to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes me love Zelda games so much. The answer, I think, is the way Link swings his sword.

Just look:

Is there anything more delightful, more palpably satisfying? The developers at Nintendo have always understood that a video game is only as good as its verbs—its actions—and they’ve always endeavored to make those actions induce as much joy as possible. Over the course of this playthrough of Link’s Awakening, I swung that sword thousands of times, and it never failed to bring me a jolt of happiness as it connected. Look at the way the blade cuts through the air, leaving an arc that almost looks like lightning. Watch how that poor Moblin staggers and flashes a satisfying shade of red. You can’t hear it in a gif, but it sounds delicious, too—an empty whiff when you miss, but a satisfying crunch when you hit. If you told me I could only perform one video game action for the rest of my life, Link’s sword swinging would at least be in the top three. Link’s jumping—not common in Zelda games, but brilliant in Link’s Awakening—might be up there, too.

You know what? Everything you can do in this game feels pretty damn good.

This remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, out for Switch on Friday, is a near 1:1 recreation of the 1993 Game Boy game. At the time of its original release, Link’s Awakening was just the fourth game in the Zelda series, a line of games in which you, as a floppy-capped, pointy-eared boy named Link, solve puzzles, fight monsters, and save princesses. Link’s Awakening was a strange game but a wonderful one, and people still rank it among the best entries in a series full of excellent games. Its music, dungeon design, and light but melancholy story have always made it stand out.

Many people coming to this remake will know of it already and want to know how it’s different. Its structure has not changed, but its aesthetics and the conveniences it affords players have.

For the remake, the developers at Grezzo and Nintendo have re-designed every screen in the world, replacing the old sprites with beautiful painted 3D tableaus that make it feel like you’re looking down on a toy set. The old MIDI soundtrack has transformed into a flowing orchestra, full of woodwinds and choruses. The characters and puzzles remain untouched, but they look very different.

There are a few other key differences between the original and this remake. First and foremost, you no longer have to waste time juggling items. Every Zelda game gives you a stable of go-to gadgets for fighting monsters and solving puzzles, so it’s helpful when you can access as many as possible at once. The Game Boy version of Link’s Awakening was limited by the system’s two action buttons, A and B, and you had to go into the menu and assign an item to one of those buttons every time you wanted to use it. This included the sword, shield, and even the Power Bracelet, an item that let you pick up rocks, bottles, and other heavy objects. If you wanted to, say, lift a rock and throw it at an enemy, you’d need to open your inventory, select the Power Bracelet, swap it in with one of your equipped items, and then press that button next to the rock. It wasn’t hard to get used to this system, but it was tedious.

Fortunately, the Switch has a lot more buttons than the Game Boy, and the designers of the Link’s Awakening remake have taken advantage. Your sword and shield now have dedicated buttons, as do the Pegasus Boots, an item you’ll get early in the game that lets Link dash at super-speed. You no longer have to equip the Power Bracelet to pick up rocks. You just have to own it. These changes might sound minor, but they make a huge difference, and this version of Link’s Awakening feels like it belongs in 2019.

The other big difference is the addition of a side feature—Chamber Dungeons—which is boring and tedious. It’s an optional mode in which you can take rooms from dungeons you’ve already beaten and rearrange them using layouts provided by the Zelda stalwart Dampé the gravedigger. Unless you enjoy playing through the same rooms over and over again, it’s just a big waste of time. (Read more about Chamber Dungeons here.)

There are a handful of smaller tweaks, too. You can save and then re-load the game from anywhere. You can catch fairies in bottles. The fast travel warp points are more frequent and easier to use. Unlike the Game Boy version, Link’s Awakening on Switch has a few notable framerate issues. While walking around the overworld—which, rather than a grid of single-screen rooms, is now a continuous map—I ran into some choppiness. (I played the game entirely in handheld mode.)

What hasn’t changed is everything that made Link’s Awakening work so well in 1993, all of which holds up today: the locations, the puzzles, and most importantly, the moment-to-moment satisfaction of smacking slimes in the face with a boomerang.

Some quick history. Back in 1987, The Legend of Zelda blew people away with its promise of what an open-world video game could look like. It encouraged exploration and instilled a feeling of adventure unlike anything we’d seen on the NES before, but it was very shallow, like a blueprint for what Zelda could look like in the future. Its sequel, the black sheep Zelda II: Adventure of Link, experimented with sidescrolling action to mixed results. It wasn’t until 1991 that the Zelda formula first emerged with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the game that established conventions that would be used for many years to come.

Like the original Zelda, Link to the Past dropped you into an open world with little but your wits and the sword in your hand, but unlike the first game’s flat layouts and simple topography, Link to the Past was dense. Different areas of the world had different themes, almost personalities, like the swampy Misery Mire and the chilly Kakariko Village. Rather than ask you to walk through a series of indistinguishable flat maps as the NES game did, Link to the Past was full of elaborate mazes and tangled designs. The world bulged with secrets, and around every corner you’d find a hidden chest or cracked wall to blow up. Your options would be limited to a few areas at first, and over time, as you acquired more items—the Power Gloves, the flippers, the hookshot—you’d be able to access more and more of the world. Backtracking to old areas would reward you with cool stuff, like item upgrades and pieces of heart.

Link’s Awakening started off as an experiment to remake the Link to the Past on the Game Boy, according to an interview with the game’s original developers. Soon it had evolved into something much weirder. Taking influences from sources ranging from Mario to Twin Peaks, the developers filled their world with quirky characters and a variety of locations: magically enhanced forests, cactus-infested deserts, mazes full of bushes and deadly holes.

The game starts off at some indeterminate point in Link’s life. Our hero is sailing through a nasty storm when suddenly everything goes dark. He winds up on a beach, where he’s rescued and taken to safety by a girl named Marin who has a beautiful voice and a magnetic appeal to cute animals, like a chibi Disney princess. Turns out that Link is on a mysterious island called Koholint that’s full of strange people, talking animals, and a whole lot of references to Nintendo’s Super Mario series. A talking owl sends Link on a mission to go wake up the Wind Fish, a godlike creature who lives in a giant egg in the center of the island. Soon he’s off on a journey to go find eight instruments in eight dungeons across the world.

Like Link to the Past’s Hyrule, the world of Link’s Awakening is dense and full of mysteries. It starts off feeling constrained, limiting you to a handful of areas thanks to obstacles like heavy rocks and bottomless pits. The more you play, the more you’ll break down those barriers. By the time you’ve hit your stride and explored enough of the map to see how it all fits together, you may appreciate its intricacy, as if you’ve just cracked open a mechanical watch and learned what makes it tick. In the Game Boy version, the world map was broken up into 256 screens, most of which had their own gimmicks or secrets. The Switch version links them together in one large world map. Both styles are appealing, but the latter is easier to get around, and it’s a delight to see how it all weaves together.

Link’s Awakening’s eight dungeons each follow a traditional pattern, blending puzzles with navigational challenges and obstacles that you’ll need that dungeon’s item to overcome. One puzzle might task you with killing three enemies in the right order; another might involve maneuvering a floating block until it fills every gap in the floor. None of these challenges or puzzles are particularly complicated. Usually they’re just subversive enough to stymie the first solution you think of, but the second will work. Still, completing them is usually satisfying, and the themes grow more interesting as you go. The seventh, Eagle’s Tower, has one of the more memorable gimmicks of any Zelda dungeon to date. The optional ninth Color Dungeon, added for the Game Boy Color version of the game in 1998 and retained for this Switch remake, is actually the weakest of them all, which may come as a disappointment to anyone who played the original and was hoping for something brand new.

And there is nothing brand new to the main adventure here. Link’s Awakening is a beautiful recreation of a legendary game, but it doesn’t have much to offer to players who already know the ins and outs of Koholint Island. For newcomers, or people who played Link’s Awakening two decades ago and can’t remember exactly how to finish the trading quest or track down that damn singing frog, this is a worthy remake and a must-play Zelda game.

You may recall that two years ago, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, an all-time great that revitalized the iconic series. The company’s latest Zelda game is so radically different that they basically feel like different genres, but when taken together, they help explain what makes The Legend of Zelda so special. On one end of the spectrum, there’s the vastness of a polished, beautiful open world full of strange places to explore; on the other, there’s the density of an island packed with secrets. If the two games have one thing in common, and offer one reason to keep playing Zelda all these years later, it’s this: They both make it feel pretty damn incredible to swing a sword.

Source: Kotaku.com

The Link’s Awakening Remake Is A Complete Graphical Overhaul

I thought the original The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening looked great on my Game Boy when I was a kid, but they Game Boy had nothing on the graphical capabilities of the Nintendo Switch. In this side-by-side comparison video showing the Switch and the Game Boy Color versions, you can observe the gorgeous details in the upcoming Link’s Awakening remake. Houses in the starting area are stuffed with tiny details, like flowers, clay teapots and framed photos of the characters who live in them. Plain brown tables now have wood grain, and dungeon floors are outfitted with subtle stone detailing. The leaves on the trees in the Mysterious Forest reflect the sunlight, and the water in small pools ripples to suggest depth. All in all, Link’s Awakening looks damn good on Switch.

Source: Kotaku.com

I Remember Every Single Detail Of The First Thirty Minutes Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Everything that anyone has ever liked about a Zelda game happens in its most perfect form in the first 30-minute setpiece of the 1993 Game Boy masterpiece The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, a beautiful screen-for-screen remake of which is coming out next month on Nintendo Switch. Listen to me go into extreme detail about the brilliant design of every screen layout in this hour-long video.

In an effort to challenge myself, I’ve been stepping in front of a camera every Wednesday afternoon with no idea what I’m going to say. This week, I recited the layouts of every screen in the first 45 minutes of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening from memory.

The inspiration behind this improvisation has its roots in a particular neurological condition I suffer. To summarize my suffering: I remember everything. It has not made me rich and it is seldom genuinely useful.

Usually, it goes like this: I’ll look at the date, and then I’ll accidentally remember deep childhood memories associated with that date. Basically, I’ve got a Facebook Memory Generator inside my skull.

This week’s instance of my freakish memory took me back to Saturday, August 21st, 1993, into a captain’s chair behind the driver’s seat of my dad’s 1990 Dodge Ram conversion van. My aunt had given me $20 behind my mom’s back. We were returning to my aunts’s house in Pottstown, Pennsylvania from the King of Prussia Mall, where, using that $20, I had just purchased The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening from Electronic’s Boutique.

The ride back to my aunts’s house took about 30 minutes, if I recall correctly. I had already read Nintendo Power’s feature on the game. My play performance was marvelous. I defeated the first boss and returned to the village right as my dad’s van pulled up in my aunts’s driveway. All thanks to my Handy Boy.

By 1993 I was already a Zelda veteran, though this first vertical slice of Link’s Awakening charmed and thrilled me like no game yet had. Later in my life I’d go on to design levels for triple-A video games. My levels were never very good, though maybe none of that would have ever happened without Link’s Awakening.

I rattle off about a billion and a half details in this video, and even though I just spent all day editing it down from its original 80-minute running time, the experience is already slipping back into the haze of my internal Facebook.

So I’ll leave you with this one detail that I feel beautifully sums up the appeal of good video game writing on a molecular level.

Link awakens in a bed. His saviors and caretakers are a man and his young daughter. They tell him to follow a road to the south to see if any of his belongings have washed up on the shore. We follow the road past three screens bursting with tiny yet charming details. On the final screen before we leave town, two young boys are throwing a ball. The ball’s flight path passes over the road, back and forth.

As we leave town, it’s likely we’ll walk beneath the ball as it flies.

On our way back into town with our trusty sword in hand, we pass the kids yet again. We follow the road north to a point where we must leave it, to enter the forest. In the forest, we get a key. We take the key back southward, through the village. The key will unlock the Tail Cave. In order to get to the Tail Cave, we have to leave town through the south exit. This means we pass the catch-playing kids for a third time.

We adventure east, off the road, away from the beach, and to the Tail Cave.

After enduring a cave full of puzzles, obtaining a powerful item that lets us jump, and defeating two visually exciting bosses, we emerge from the dark dungeon. We head back to the village. We enter through the south entrance.

As the screen scrolls upward to reveal the town, before even a single idle frame can transpire, before the catchy village music we’ve already started to love can begin to play, the ball-throwing kids lunge at us. Scary music plays. They tell us “Something’s wrong!” So Dungeon #1 has seamlessly connected to Dungeon #2’s pre-dungeon quest.

Link’s Awakening never loses this electric pacing. It is both a perfect video game and a perfect action video game design textbook.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening comes out on Switch on September 20th. I’ve seen the trailers. I’ve read that it’s geometrically the same game as the Game Boy original (and its Game Boy Color remake). In this video, I lay out my case for why getting the exact same game again is a wonderful thing in this case.

Also, I adore the new graphical style. So if you want to consider this video and post my personal review of the Switch version of Link’s Awakening, please do so.

And yes, in case you’re reading: Nintendo, please remake Link Between Worlds. It’s the third-best Zelda (after Link’s Awakening).

And yes, of course I’m saying that Landstalker is the best Zelda game.

By the way! If you personally liked, commented, and / or subscribed to our YouTube channel, that would definitely fuel my habit of making a lot more videos like this. I promise you might love it.

There’s even a playlist of all my other videos. Wow!

Source: Kotaku.com

Zelda Wouldn’t Be Great Without Its Wild 2D Experiments

1998’s Ocarina of Time is a pivotal game in the Legend of Zelda series. For one, it’s where the series’ timeline splits into three different branches. It’s also when Nintendo’s long-running adventure game franchise split into two major styles: 2D and 3D. The 3D games have come to be viewed as the “main event,” the big-budget, 50-hour affairs that come around once every 5 or 6 years. Meanwhile, the 2D games have taken on a bit more of a “filler” role, in that they typically enjoy a shorter turnaround time and help keep the series active while the next 3D game is in development.

Given the shorter development times and lower budgets of the 2D games it makes sense that Nintendo is more prone to experimenting with different ideas while creating them. Whether that experimentation comes in the form of touch controls, or multiplayer, or non-linear structures, very few 2D Zeldas are alike. This works out in everybody’s favor because it helps keep things interesting, and also because the constant cycle of experimentation with the 2D games has saved the series’ bacon on several occasions.

Let’s take a look back at the history of the 2D, top-down Zelda game, and see how each one represented a unique sort of experiment.

Screenshot: Nintendo (VGMuseum)

The Legend of Zelda (NES, 1986)

“We started to work with Legend of Zelda at the same time as Super Mario Bros., and since the same people did both games we tried to separate the different ideas,” Shigeru Miyamoto once said in an interview with the Swedish magazine Superplay. “Super Mario Bros. should be linear. The next step in SMB should be obvious. Zelda should be Mario’s total opposite.”

Looking back, the decision to create the first Zelda can seem like an awfully brave one. Going from straightforward arcade action games like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. to a game about free-form exploration across an entire world strikes one as an immense leap in ambition, planning, and execution. But it didn’t start out that way.

It took the 6-person development team a fair bit of experimentation to settle upon the final design. Zelda 1 actually began as a much simpler concept that would involve the player selecting a dungeon from a menu, entering it, and finding their way around. There was no world map, and no design that called for the player to feel their way around an enormous world. And by the time a world map existed, there was considerable apprehension among the members of the development team about whether players would even understand what they were meant to do, given that open-ended games weren’t common at the time.

“I remember that we were very nervous, because The Legend Of Zelda was our first game that forced the players to think about what they should do next,” Miyamoto recalled in the same interview. “We were afraid that gamers would become bored and stressed by the new concept. Luckily, they reacted totally opposite. It was these elements that made the game so popular, and today gamers tell us how fun the Zelda riddles are, and how happy they become when they solved a task and proceed with the adventure. It makes me a happy game producer.”

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES, 1987)

Shigeru Miyamoto likes the games he’s deeply involved with just fine. Every so often, though, Miyamoto will take one of Nintendo’s other games and throw it under the bus. Zelda II is one of those games.

“It was my idea, but the actual game was developed by another team, different people to those that made the first game,” Miyamoto would say to Superplay magazine in 2003. “Compared to Legend of Zelda, Zelda II went exactly [as] we expected. All games I make usually get better in the development process, since good ideas keep coming, but Zelda II was sort of a failure,” he said. Ten years later, he’d bring Zelda II up again as an example of a game he “could have done more with,” although he didn’t use as harsh language this time around.

Failure or not, it doesn’t change the fact that Zelda II is one of the more interesting Zelda games. It was another attempt by Nintendo to create something completely different—which is commendable, given what an incredible success the first game was.

Unlike the other 2D games in the series, Zelda II for the most part does not take place from a top-down perspective but from the side. Development began with Miyamoto telling the team—not the Zelda 1 team, but an entirely different team—that he wanted to make a side-scrolling action game where the player had to attack with, and defend against, high and low attacks.

“Rather than being a continuation of the series, it started as a new sword and shield type of action game,” director Tadashi Sugiyama recalled in a 2016 interview. “We were experimenting while producing the game so we didn’t really have the first game’s systems in mind while developing it. As for it being unique within the series, we were searching for new ways to play so you could say it’s like a spin-off.”

Because Sugiyama and his team weren’t really concerned with creating a game that was based off Zelda 1, The Adventure of Link couldn’t be more different. In addition to its side-scrolling action stages, the game also featured an RPG-like experience system, where you could level up your life, magic, and attack stats. Beyond these traits, Zelda II is also remembered for its quirky towns that Link can visit, and its downward stab—both of which directly inspired indie hit Shovel Knight.

“Failure” is a harsh word to describe Zelda II. Especially given that plans to remake the game for the Nintendo 64 eventually resulted in Ocarina of Time, one is reminded yet again that even so-called failures have their place.

A Link to the Past (SNES, 1991)

A Link to the Past is one of the less experimental Zeldas. After the vastly different Zelda II, Miyamoto wanted to create a “true sequel” to the original Legend of Zelda for the new Super NES platform.

Original sci-fi style concept art from A Link To The Past, as shown in the book Hyrule Historia.
Image: Nintendo

The final version of A Link to the Past is significantly different from what early design documents called for, which would have been much more experimental. Originally, the game was meant to use a multi-world structure, where you would operate out of a hub world and travel to other, connected worlds. Decisions in the hub world would have implications in these other worlds.

Interestingly, one of these worlds was probably going to feature a sci-fi setting, if this piece of concept art from Hyrule Historia is any indication. Unfortunately, the idea was ultimately scrapped and the three planned worlds were reduced to just two, the Light and Dark worlds that were sort of mirrors of each other. The sci-fi themes were jettisoned entirely.

“At first there were three worlds, but players would’ve gotten confused,” Miyamoto explained in a 1991 interview published in a Japanese strategy guide for A Link to the Past. “That’s why we had to fix things up. It’s difficult to plant a new concept like that in an action game, you see.”

Screenshot: Nintendo (VGMuseum)

Link’s Awakening (Game Boy, 1993)

The first Zelda developed for a portable system, Link’s Awakening is a bizarre, otherworldly game with a heavy focus on characters. The only rule of its development was that there were no rules. “I really had free rein to do what I wanted, so long as I didn’t make Miyamoto angry,” said the game’s script writer Yoshiaki Koizumi in 2007. Director Takashi Tezuka said the environment was like the “free spirit of an afterschool club.” Miyamoto was busy with other projects, and so the development team did what they wanted. And what they wanted was something like the American television show Twin Peaks.

“At the time, Twin Peaks was rather popular. The drama was all about a small number of characters in a small town,” Tezuka said in a 2009 interview. “When it came to The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, I wanted to make something that, while it would be small enough in scope to easily understand, it would have deep and distinctive characteristics. After that, in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, all kinds of suspicious characters appeared. I didn’t tell them to do it that way, but personally, I did find it considerably appealing.”

Without Link’s Awakening, we may never have gotten the character-focused intrigue of Ocarina or Majora, which in a sense makes it the most important 2D Zelda game in the series. As further proof of its long-lasting influence, Link’s Awakening was also the first Zelda to feature a fishing minigame, something that has been present in nearly every Zelda game since.

Later this year, Nintendo plans to release a completely overhauled remake of Link’s Awakening for Switch. Given how different Link’s Awakening is from its contemporaries, it’s the perfect Zelda to remake.

Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons (Game Boy Color, 2001)

The first and, so far, the only time that Nintendo has released two Zelda games simultaneously, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons actually started out as three games. Maybe even four games, depending on how you look at it.

The story behind the Oracle games begins in 1999, when Capcom’s Yoshiki Okamoto, responsible for games such as Final Fight and Street Fighter II, approached Shigeru Miyamoto with the prospect of working on a Zelda game. Before long, an arrangement was struck, and Capcom were hired to work on not one, but a series of Zelda titles for the Game Boy. The first of these would be a remake of Zelda 1, with the idea being that Capcom and Nintendo would introduce the game to a new generation of players.

This didn’t quite sit right with Okamoto’s team, who wanted to skip the remake and get right to work on an original game. Their solution was to remake Zelda 1 as per their arrangement with Nintendo, but have it be part of a three-game set where all three games would be able to link up via the Game Boy link cable. The things you did in one game would affect the game after it.

“I wanted, for example, that if you missed an enemy in the first game, you would encounter it in the next one,” Capcom’s Hidemaro Fujibayashi recalled in a 2001 interview with Nintendo Online magazine. Fujibayashi was the young designer that had thought up this idea, and was eventually chosen to direct the three games, which were to be called The Tale of Power, The Tale of Courage, and The Tale of Wisdom.

Unfortunately, this was easier said than done, and Capcom were forced to reduce the number of games to two. The resulting games are Oracle of Ages, with a greater emphasis on puzzles, and Oracle of Seasons, which has a greater emphasis on action. Linking the two and playing both changes certain events in the games, eventually culminating in a “true ending” to the story.

Fujibayashi would eventually leave Capcom and join Nintendo; most recently, he directed Breath of the Wild.

Four Swords Adventures (GameCube, 2004)

Following the release of The Wind Waker, the Zelda franchise found itself in a slump. It had succumbed to “gamer drift”—a term Nintendo used to describe fewer and fewer people being interested in playing videogames on the whole. The development team felt that some sort of reimagination was necessary to push things forward.

Around the same time, Zelda co-director Eiji Aonuma told Miyamoto, his boss, that he was tired of working on Zelda. Miyamoto suggested that Aonuma step into the role of producer instead, where he could manage the series from a more macro level, and re-examine what it needed to be, to combat gamer drift. To help with this, Aonuma once more enlisted the aid of Capcom.

One of the ideas Miyamoto had to shake things up was to create a multiplayer Zelda that would make use of four Game Boy Advance devices connected to a GameCube. In the overworld, players would see the game on the television display, but when entering a dungeon they would each have their individual view on their GBAs. It would be based on the original Four Swords, which was a bonus multiplayer mode in the GBA port of A Link to the Past.

If that sounds needlessly complex, it’s because it was. Four Swords Adventures flopped.

“I believe this result stemmed from the need for each player to have a Game Boy Advance and the need for each player to also have a cable to connect that Game Boy Advance to a GameCube,” Aonuma would later say in a Game Developers Conference keynote. “I felt requirements like these prevented it from doing as well as we’d hoped, but there was another problem. I think you might have noticed this as I was explaining the game, but it suffered from seeming too complicated. It was too difficult to convince the consumer they wanted to play the game.”

The Minish Cap (Game Boy Advance, 2004)

Work on The Minish Cap had begun as early as 2001 at Capcom, but was put on hold to free up resources for Four Swords Adventures instead. The goal was to create a 2D Zelda game that was just as impressive as the 3D games. 3D Zeldas were considered the “event” games, but the 2D ones were easier for players to understand and simpler to play. To try to create something that would be as impressive as the 3D games, Nintendo wanted to use Capcom’s talent for excellent sprite-based graphics to convey a sense of shifting perspectives, based around the idea of “big and small.”

“When I was making Oracle and Four Swords, I had my own personal image of Hyrule, and I was trying to figure out a way to keep that intact while still making a bonafide Zelda game,” director Hidemaro Fujibayashi said in an interview. “I was also thinking about the antonyms (or maybe ‘symmetries’ is a better word) that have defined Zelda games previously, like light and darkness. As I thought of that, the concept of ‘big and small’ came to me.”

The idea for Ezlo, the talking cap that accompanies Link on his quest, came from the Gnat Hat in Four Swords. While brainstorming items for Link to wear, including masks and caps, the team settled upon a talking hat, which led to Ezlo.

Phantom Hourglass (2007) and Spirit Tracks (Nintendo DS, 2009)

From 2001 onwards, Zelda was in a constant struggle to find its identity. The tastes of Japanese and Western players were so wildly different that it seemed Zelda couldn’t possibly hope to appeal to both markets with the same game. 2006’s Twilight Princess, with its more “realistic” feel, had the U.S. and European markets covered. But in Japan, the videogame market was in rapid decline with only the Nintendo DS holding it up.

Screenshot: Nintendo

The touch controls that were reviving and expanding the Japanese game market with games like Brain Age, Eiji Aonuma felt, were the solution to getting the more casual fan interested in picking up a Zelda game. Aonuma put a small team of developers to work on prototyping a system of touch-controlled movement on the DS. In addition to potentially exposing more casual players to Zelda, this would also allow for some interesting creative choices with puzzle-solving.

“We thought Brain Age was our rival,” Aonuma revealed in an interview in 2007. “Brain Age’s like that smart transfer student. The Zelda team’s not in the top places, but it studies hard. And then comes this transfer student and easily gets the first place without studying. That’s very frustrating. After three long years, we finally finished Twilight Princess and the transfer student’s the one that’s smart and cool and gets the first place? Damn it!”

Aonuma’s hunch paid off. Phantom Hourglass sold over 900,000 units in Japan alone—the highest any Zelda game had sold in its home region in many years. It also contains some of the most clever puzzles in the series, a number of which wouldn’t have been possible without touch input. Spirit Tracks, which launched two years later with similar controls, wasn’t quite as successful, but also wasn’t as good.

Screenshot: Nintendo

A Link Between Worlds (Nintendo 3DS, 2013)

By 2012, Zelda was in a slump again, still in that struggle to figure out who exactly these games were for, and what they needed to be. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on Wii hadn’t performed to expectations, and there was a very real risk of the brand losing its relevance. The word on the street was that Nintendo had forgotten what people liked about Zelda in the first place: exploration.

A Link Between Worlds was created as part of an effort by Nintendo to “rethink the conventions of Zelda,” as it often said at the time. The starting point for this was to allow the player to tackle dungeons in any order that they liked. To accommodate this idea, the team came up with an inventive item-rental system. The rental system would allow players to borrow any of the game’s items at any point, if they had the cash. That would let them tackle the dungeons in any order.

This meant that Rupees, not items, were now the only thing standing between you and wherever it was you wanted to go. And making money was never too difficult. It was the perfect solution, one that allowed for a more open-ended style of exploration similar to the original Legend of Zelda.

“When it was time to make this game, I had the vague idea that in A Link to the Past, you could clear multiple dungeons in parallel,” director Hiromasa Shikata recalled in Iwata Asks. “But when I played the game again, that wasn’t very true. So I thought it would be good to do that for this game and we made it so that when it comes to the seven dungeons in the latter half, you can go to any of them as you like.”

Tri Force Heroes (Nintendo 3DS, 2015)

Image: Nintendo

Tri Force Heroes isn’t particularly “innovative” by Nintendo’s own admission, but it is interesting. Series producer Eiji Aonuma modestly describes it as another attempt to make multiplayer Zelda work, but naturally it isn’t quite as straightforward as that.

In Tri Force Heroes, three players can partner up online to solve puzzles. In order to communicate with one another, they use emoji on the Nintendo 3DS touch screen. The development team did actually experiment with including voice chat, but found that being able to communicate via voice meant that even one player figuring out the solution to a puzzle meant it was spoiled for everyone, and this reduced the need for players to coordinate with one another.

“It’s almost like the ‘Like’ button on Facebook,” Aonuma said in an interview. “When someone presses ‘Like,’ no one really knows what that ‘Like’ implies. Going off that idea, with these icons, it’s not just a direct meaning—it hides another meaning behind it. Figuring that out ended up being pretty interesting and a good feature, so we went with that idea.”


So, what’s next for 2D Zelda? It’s a little too early to say. What’s coming in the immediate future is a completely overhauled remake of Link’s Awakening, but that isn’t necessarily representative of where Nintendo might take the 2D Zelda series next.

What we do know is that Eiji Aonuma and Nintendo are more willing than ever to experiment with new Zelda ideas going forward. For instance, Aonuma recently mentioned to Kotaku that he would even be open to the idea of a “Zelda Maker,” similar to Nintendo’s Mario Maker series of games, should fans find the new dungeon creator aspect of the Link’s Awakening remake enjoyable.

Beyond this are even crazier ideas that have been contemplated in the past. At one point, Nintendo contracted Japanese studio Vanpool to create a horror game starring Tingle. More recently, Nintendo lent the Zelda license to the indie studio Brace Yourself Games for Cadence of Hyrule, a Crypt of the NecroDancer spin-off set in the world of Zelda, featuring its music and characters.

At this point, Aonuma and his team appear to be treating Zelda the way Nintendo treats its Mario franchise: Anything goes, as long as it’s fun, interesting, and there’s an audience for it.

Ishaan Sahdev (@ishaansahdev) specializes in the coverage of Japanese video games, with a focus on trend/design analysis. In addition to Kotaku, he also writes for Gamesindustry.biz.

Source: Kotaku.com

10 Minutes Of The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening On Switch

E3 2019It’s time for the biggest gaming show of the year. We’ve got articles, videos, podcasts and maybe even a GIF or two.  

The Switch remake of 1993’s The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is here at E3, and we’ve capped as much footage of it as we can to show you. It’s beautiful, largely faithful to the source material and just a bit stumbly on the framerate, which they can hopefully smooth out by the game’s September 20 launch.

Kotaku producer Paul Tamayo was at the controls here, experiencing the game for the first time since age five, when he had to settle for watching his brother play it on the Game Boy. Today, he was playing and I watched him. I guess I’m your little brother now, Paul!

The game has some tweaks from the original, according to a Nintendo rep who helped guide us through it. He mentioned that enemies that used to move in straight lines will now move more freely in eight directions. The map now lets you put pins in areas of interest.

We were not able to try out the game’s newest feature, which was described in Nintendo’s E3 press release as follows:

Players can also earn Chambers (Dungeon Rooms) and arrange them to complete objectives in the new Chamber Dungeon.

We’ll have more on Link’s Awakening in the days ahead.

Source: Kotaku.com