Seedling: Zelda in your browser

The wind walker.

It took me four or five hours to play through the free browser gameSeedling, and another two, most likely, to untangle the experience afterwards. It's a pretty clever game, really, using familiar mechanics to pull a rather unusual trick on its players. I'm not going to tell you about the trick, because that's ultimately something you should find out for yourself. I am going to tell you about that familiar stuff, though - the stuff which is a significant achievement in its own right.

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Swordplay is simple but elegant.

The simplest way of putting it is this: Connor Ullmann's managed to squeeze a 16-bit Zelda game inside a browser. It's shorter, of course, and its mechanics aren't quite as complex, but the overworld and the dungeons are there, the gear-gating's in place, and the pacing is excellent. It sounds like Zelda, with a premise that sees a lone hero chosen by the wind and sent out to fight ancient evil, and it looks like Zelda, too, offering a familiar top-down perspective that leads you through lush forests and poky villages, and across savage landscapes of ice and fire.

Crucially, it even feels like Zelda - minute-to-minute as you slice idly at the grass with your sword or enter a new room and hear that familiar chugging door effect, or hour to hour, as you move from the outside world to the depths of some dark, claustrophobic dungeon where a boss lies in wait for you and new kit calls out to be rescued and mastered. Like Link, you'll wield both blades and magic, and like Link, you'll find that your evolving powers open up more of the landscape for you to explore.

As with the Metroid series, Zelda's always been about seeing stuff you can't quite get to yet - the island in the middle of a babbling lake, the entrance set into a mountain where the steps have crumbled away. Seedling's full of these sights - and of doors you can't unlock and boulders you can't move. It encourages the same kind of trust, too: that the developer's only one or two steps ahead of you, and that everything will be revealed in time.

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Dungeon maps would have been a handy inclusion.

It's inspired by Zelda, then, but it never seems like a dull clone or a rip-off. Rather, with its distinct characters and its more ambiguous narrative, Seedling feels like a weird strain of interactive fan fiction: another 16-bit adventure for a world that can never have enough of these things anyway. And if it struggles to match the compact complexity of a masterpiece like Link to the Past, it still has a handful of its own moments that really stand out, such as an early dungeon where, weaponless, you must defeat your foes by triggering fusillades of arrows from ancient traps, and a temple about an hour in, in which you work your way through a maze by tracking ribbons of shimmering gold laced through the earth in front of you.

And of course, there's always that trick, too: a stunt that makes the whole thing worth a few minutes of pondering once the final boss has been felled. This is a great game and a surprisingly rich story, then, all lodged in a browser, between Argos ads and pitches for used mobile phones. One world within another.

You know, just like Zelda.

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