My buddy Adam Yates has been kind enough to join me again to do a tandem article, with this week’s game being one that I personally have a lot of experience with in the form of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo. This was Nintendo’s fourth gen escapade that built on the success of the two Zelda games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Like most Zelda games, A Link to the Past is both unique and familiar in its own right, a theme the series has always played with over the years.
Drafting in Adam for this one makes a lot of sense for me as he’s a much bigger Zelda aficionado than I am, so there’s a good chance he will have a more nuanced view in certain ways than I would, especially when it comes to comparing A Link to the Past to its elder and younger siblings. I certainly had fun teaming up with him last time, and I’m sure I’ll have as good a time on this occasion also!
Memories of the Series
Mike: A Link to the Past is one of the two Zelda games that I’ve actually invested some proper time into (the other being its spiritual successor, Link’s Awakening), so I have strong, nostalgic memories of it, as you would imagine. I remember the game had been out for quite a while when I got it in (I want to say) 1994 for my birthday. It was certainly one of the earliest games I had for my Super Nintendo, along with Super Mario All-Stars and Donkey Kong Country, and as a result. it will always be the game I judge every other Zelda game against, be that fair or not. To me it is THE Zelda game just because of how it was there during the real formative years of my passion for video games.
If you’ve ever played a Zelda game before, then the general premise of A Link to the Past shouldn’t be too difficult for you to get your noggin around. Ganon, Zelda, Hyrule, the Master Sword, it’s all here, and the game wastes no time throwing you right into the mix by having your playable character wake up in the middle of the night after Zelda comes to him in a dream asking for a quick rescuing. You can choose to name your character whatever you want, and you can pretend all you want that you never gave him a deliberately odd name solely to amuse yourself, but we all know you’re lying!
Adam: I’ve always enjoyed the Zelda games, with my introduction to the series being in the late 90s on the Nintendo 64 with the Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask games, which to this day remain two of my all-time favourite video games. I’d never owned a Nintendo console prior to getting the N64 as the first video game consoles I had were both from SEGA, so I wasn’t able to play A Link to the Past until many years after its initial release when I finally acquired the game recently as an adult.
Adam: After my first hour or so of playing A Link to the Past, the gameplay already felt very familiar to the N64 games that I know and love. Although the graphics of this game are a more old school 2D style compared to the later, more powerful consoles released after the SNES, this doesn’t detract from the game at all. Within no time I was slashing enemies with my sword, opening treasure chests and solving puzzles whilst navigating my way through the game’s many dungeons on Link’s quest to save Hyrule from the evil Ganon.
Some of the puzzles in the game can be quite a challenge and really get you thinking. As you progress through your journey, Link will acquire several items, including magical powers and weapons to aid him in his quest. Many of these are mandatory to progress through the game, and I often found myself returning to a dungeon I’d already defeated looking for a certain item I may have missed along the way.
So far I’ve put many hours into the game, and I have barely scratched the surface. Considering the time the game was made and the capabilities of the consoles of that era, the developers of this game really have created a masterpiece that keeps on giving. It’s the type of game where hours pass by and you can’t put down the controller because the story keeps you invested, and you want to know what’s going to happen next.
Mike: A Link to the Past is similar to the original Zelda game for the Nintendo Entertainment System in that it favours a top-down 2D approach. Unlike Zelda II: The Adventure of Link for the same system, however, A Link to the Past eschews any of the side-scrolling 2D Castlevania-like sections where you have to enter towns and whatnot, which is probably for the better. You start out without any weaponry whatsoever, but you quickly acquire a sword and shield, at which point you can continuously add to your arsenal as the story progresses, with plenty of additional useful items to be found in some of the dungeons and temples you will explore. Weaponry ranges from standard stuff, like boomerangs and bows, all the way up to magic wands and special elemental stones that will allow you to destroy all that stands in your way.
A Link to the Past has a well-executed learning curve, with the early dungeons all gradually rising in difficulty and your health gradually increasing in order to meet the additional new challenges. If you’re willing to explore the map, you can find additional heart pieces that will allow you to grow your health bar even more. A Link to the Past is split into two sections, the first being where you complete three dungeons in the “Light World” in order to unlock the Master Sword, and then the second being in the more dangerous “Dark World”, where you have to fight your way through seven more nefarious lairs until having a final, climactic battle with Ganon.
You don’t need to find every single special item in the game, but there are some that are mandatory, such as an orb in the third dungeon that is required for you to keep your regular form in the Dark World. Without it you’ll turn into a bunny, which though adorable, won’t do much for your fighting ability and will quickly lead to you getting your cute keister clobbered. You have two attack buttons, one which controls your sword, and the other for controlling whatever additional item you have at hand. There other are interesting and different combat options open to you besides just slashing, however. For instance, you can collect wasps in jars and then release them in the vicinity of guards to see them cause untold amounts of bother. Be careful though, as the enraged insect might just turn its stinger in your direction as well if you get too close!
I’ve left it to Adam to discuss the differences (both positive and negative) between this style of Zelda game and the more modern 3D ones as I personally don’t have much experience with playing those outside of a quick go here and there. As far as A Link to the Past goes, it’s not perfect from a gameplay perspective by any means, but you can tell that a lot of work has gone into making all of the different gameplay elements work, and I can really appreciate that. This is by no means a paint by the numbers gaming experience. You will be required to think outside the box and experiment sometimes, and the game can occasionally be guilty of being a tad too opaque for its own good, especially when it comes to some of the trickier parts of dungeons. I certainly needed to ask for advice from friends a lot back when I played the game all those years ago. However, if taking chances and using your noodle sounds like something that would appeal to you, then there’s a good chance that A Link to the Past‘s gameplay will be your jam.
Mike: A Link to the Past has aged well from a graphical perspective as a lot of 2D games from the fourth gen tend to do. There are lots of luscious greens and vibrant blues in the Light World to recreate the rolling hills and splendid rivers of Hyrule, whilst the Dark World is suitably grungy with lots of browns and green. The baddies are oozing with character, from the big bosses all the way down to smaller creatures, like bats. I was hugely impressed by the graphics back in the day, and I still think they hold up today, with Hyrule really feeling like a living world that you happen to be exploring. It takes the visuals from the games on the NES and gives them the next gen touch-up that fans were hoping for.
Adam: As mentioned earlier, this game is played from a 2D perspective and was the first game of the Zelda series that I had played in this style. The game still looks beautiful to this day with vibrant colours and textures. I initially had thought that the game might not be as enjoyable to look at being that I have been spoiled by playing the later 3D Zelda games first, but this wasn’t the case at all. I was more than happy to keep exploring through the vast land of Hyrule, never knowing what enemies were around the next corner.
Adam: The soundtracks of the Zelda games have always been some of my favourite musical scores in all of video games. They really do a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the area of the game you are in. I once bought a Japanese imported CD of the soundtrack to Ocarina of Time because I enjoyed listening to the in-game music so much. A Link to the Past is no different in that respect. Although the music is a more basic midi style compared to the later games, it still does a fantastic job of setting the tone. Some of the songs, such as Zelda’s Lullaby and the Kakariko Village music, immediately gave me great waves of nostalgia, as well as the sound effects when you open a chest or find a new item.
Mike: I really love the soundtrack for A Link to the Past, with Koji Kondo delivering another absolute thumper to go along with his excellent music for games such as Super Mario World and Star Fox. The minute the game boots up, you are welcomed by a fantastic musically flurry that really sets the tone for the epic quest you are about to embark upon. Everything from the boss music to the ominous theme that plays when you are trying to guide your way through dark and foreboding tunnels is absolutely top notch. This fine soundtrack is a big contributing factor to why I am so nostalgic for A Link to the Past, and I’d put it up there with the best soundtracks you can find on Nintendo’s fourth gen console.
Mike: With so much to find and do, there’s a good chance you’ll be spending a decent chunk of time in A Link to the Past‘s world, and there’s an equally good chance that you’ll be having a lot of fun doing so. As previously mentioned, you don’t need to find every single special item in order to beat the game, but doing so will make your task much easier, and a lot of the additional things you can find are well worth it. I think the game does well balancing what you need to do along with what you can do additionally, and there’s a sizable enough challenge that you won’t just blow your way through it on your very first play through.
Adam: This is such a large game with so many hidden items and secrets that even decades after its initial release, it can still keep you coming back to replay again and again, maybe because you want to 100% the game and find every special item, or just because the story and gameplay really are that enjoyable that you want to experience it another time!
Would We Recommend It?
Adam: Undoubtedly yes, I would highly recommend A Link to the Past either as an introduction to the Zelda series or if, like me, you’ve been a fan of some of the later games and haven’t had the chance to look back at where things began until now. Having recently played a fair few SNES games for the first time, I can honestly say that for me this game has stood out head and shoulders above the rest with its deep story and challenging puzzles, beautiful soundtrack and scenery, and I really don’t have a bad thing to say about it. It’s a huge 5 stars from me!
Mike: I’d have to give a hearty yes to this, especially if you’re a fan of the 3D Zelda games and want to see what us old curmudgeons used to play back in the day. If you have a Nintendo Switch Online Membership, then you can actually play the game for free as part of your membership by downloading the console’s SNES emulator (and playing the game with the ability to use save states might help with some of the trickier sections if you happen to get stuck…just saying). If you want to own the game physically, then the cartridge alone will probably set you back £30 at least, but with so many ways to play it digitally legally, you’re probably best off playing it that way, unless you’re someone who likes collecting physical media.