Version tested: GameBoy Advance
As you might have got wind of with our NES Classics reviews thus far, we're big fans of the past; and in some cases we're big fans of some really ancient games. Hell, we're even firmly behind the idea of repackaging that past so that some of the best games of yesteryear can find a whole new audience and allow those of us who were there to relive some of our favourite games. You'd imagine a series of such apparent uninterrupted genius like Zelda would be a fantastic example. Surely every Zelda game has been a huge hit and therefore utterly brilliant? Well, that's the theory.
However many copies Zelda II sold back in the day, it's hard to imagine too many people giving it the time of day seventeen years down the line. Yes, we're sorry to report that it's yet another Classic NES Series title that's largely trading on the brand name to lure in unwitting punters looking to sate their justifiable hunger for more things Zeldary. Originally released back in 1988, this is one of those titles that even fans of the series have - over the years - had difficulty being kind to, never mind the parts of the world that Nintendo didn't bother with at the time. Despite its reportedly huge commercial success at the time, Zelda revisionists have long singled out this episode in the series for being something of the bad apple, introducing - of all things - side-scrolling action platforming into the RPG mix. Heavens above. And to be fair they're bang on the money. It doesn't feel like it belongs in this most celebrated of series. Off with its head.
Wake up you daft git!
If it's of interest (he says hopefully), in this episode you're once again expected to fill the dainty shoes of Link on a mission to (surprise) save the sleeping Zelda and stop the return of the evil Gannon. As is Zelda tradition you access the main locations via a somewhat graphically simplified (if you can imagine that) but nevertheless familiar-looking overhead view of the action, with the game flicking to a side-scrolling 2D view whenever you visit one of the game's main locations or, for example, enter a random battle interlude. For those of you used to the 'Zelda' way of doing things, this is an ill-judged experiment, and visually completely out of line with the series. It's all wrong.
If you were hoping for layers of narrative to fill in the gaps in the storyline, then you'd be hopelessly misguided. The villagers you meet from place to place are incredibly unexciting in a way that would have seemed lacking even back then. Early on, one villager simply utters "I am error," which offers a pretty big clue as to what we're dealing with. As far as faithful ports go, this one's got them - warts and all. Aside from that obviously faithfully reproduced bug, the grunting one-liners are harrowingly dull - even taking into consideration the format's age, and delivers more evidence that the NES wasn't exactly up to par with what other formats were offering at the time.
So what's there to do? Essentially move around from place to place on the overhead map, flick to a side-scrolling location, learn magic in the towns then go and engage in some action in the many palaces, generally consisting of defending attacks both (gasp) high and low and fending them off with magic. Fair enough, there are a decent variety of enemies to do battle with, and a modicum of tactical skill involved in these, but if reducing the whole game to a series of encounters with terrifyingly lacklustre sprite-based characters sounds fun, then be our guest. It's not the type of Zelda game we're familiar with and it looks fortunate a third ever got made in the light of what's on offer here.
Too faithful by half
Sure it's a faithful port - probably too faithful in truth - so if you like the idea of a game that is an exact replica of the 1988 original then here it is in all its 8-bit glory. It's just a dreadful shock to discover how badly the game has aged and it's even more of a shock how much money Nintendo expects its loyal customers to part with for it. Come on Nintendo: next time you think of rounding up your back catalogue, either release them at a sensible price or as part of a value compilation. Releasing them one by one is, frankly, nonsensical. Strictly for collectors. But then maybe that's the whole point.