25 March 2010

The Legend of Zelda - NES

Link owned my childhood.
I realize I am showing my age here, but I can recall a childhood free of the Internet, online play, or achievement points. My childhood was defined by two buttons only, A and B, no X, Y, LB, or RB. There were no vibrating controllers, HD, or surround sound, and motion control meant the Nintendo power pad, which was a lot more exercise than any Wii-mote. It was a time when you actually had to read the instruction manual, for both the story behind the game and to learn how to play. There were no cinematic cut scenes or in game tutorials. It was in this eight bit world that The Legend of Zelda would come to define so much of my early videogame experience and make me the gamer I am today.
There were so many things that Zelda did first that we have come to expect in videogames. It was the first game that you could save without a password. For those of you too young to remember, before Zelda if you wanted to save your game you had to write down a 20 digit line of code then plug the code back in to restart your game from that point. We lived in constant fear of missing a digit, losing a code, or just forgetting which code was the right one written on a tiny scrap of paper littered with older codes. Some games didn’t even have that; you simply had to beat the game in one sitting. Anyone remember Rygar? I beat the game once, played it all day to do so. The only other time I came close the game froze up on me during the final boss.
The game, despite the limitations of the eight bit Nintendo, felt epic. The music, which I am sure is playing in your head right now, was ahead of anything else at the time. The game had a multitude of different enemies and unique bosses, each one requiring a different strategy or item to defeat. Dungeons had secret rooms that had us dropping bombs on every wall to discover, and when we found one it usually contained nothing more than a riddle that we hoped would make sense at some point.
Perhaps most important, and often overlooked, were the heart pieces. In a time before achievement points, heart pieces were like videogame currency. The first question one gamer asked another in regards to Zelda was, “What dungeon are you on?” but the second was invariably, “How many heart pieces do you have?” Heart pieces became the barometer with which one gamer measured up against another.
Now if you were lucky, and your parents really loved you, you may have had a subscription to Nintendo Power magazine. Every month you would pray the “tips and tricks” section would have something on one of those elusive heart pieces. If you were like me and you were not so lucky (or so loved) you would spend hours, days, burning every bush, pushing every boulder and Armos in the hopes of discovering a hidden heart piece. It is true that you could beat the game without every piece of heart, but everyone knew there was a difference between the gamer who beat the game with 11 pieces and the gamer who beat it with all sixteen.
The Legend of Zelda is the reason I am, what I call, a completionist gamer. It is not enough to merely beat the game, but I must find every item, every hidden room, every secret in a game to be happy. That is why Link will always own my childhood.
By John Schaedler


  1. Nice article. I share your affinity for the original. Back then, though, there were no "heart pieces", just hearts. Pieces weren't introduced until A Link to the Past.

  2. I spent far too many hours playing Zelda growing up too. I remember even having a wooden sword and wandering the woods looking for little secrets. I don't see to many young gamers doing that type of stuff anymore. A lot can be said about the old games and how social they were. It is ironic that in our age of online multiplayer games we are less social than back during the 8bit era