A Link to the Past: Nostalgia Review

The Past is Prologue

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Super Nintendo | Nintendo | November 1991

Nostalgia Reviews highlight the greatest games of previous generations. The review is rooted in fond memories and appreciation of that era. There are times when memories differ from reality or modern techniques are superior to earlier design.

The mechanics introduced and exploration refined in Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (LttP) set a pattern of excellence that Zelda (and action-adventure) games still try to recapture. LttP boasts a robust weapon system, non-linear gameplay, secrets within secrets, fleshed out side characters, an epic narrative and intuitive combat which culminates in a game that is always enjoyable and never outdated.

LttP’s main narrative is a familiar tale: boy wakes up, boy’s uncle dies (twenty-three year old spoilers), boy gets sword, boy meets girl, girl is a sacrifice, boy upgrades sword three to four times, boy defeats dark lord to save girl. I’m sure it is the same bedtime story you heard as a kid. But all the sub-stories and narrative elements within LttP truly elevate it as a masterpiece. Every character you encounter has a purpose. That crazy hobo in the desert, maybe you should pay attention to him later. The lumberjacks cutting down the tree, their disappearance might signal a secret passage. Some games are guilty of populating their world, with NPC’s that just stand there, to make the area inhabited. The difference is, characters in LttP reside for a precise purpose in the narrative. They craft a complete world.

The first time gamers open the world map, the only acceptable reaction is amazement. The world is open taunting you to explore, with secrets hiding it plain sight. Travel through Hyrule reveal hints at the fringes of each section; a mountain cliff with a cave out of reach, a broken bridge to nowhere, water too deep to swim. Instead of being frustrating, they play out perfectly when discovering a new piece of equipment and remembering a previously gated area. It will take hours roaming the Hyrule landscape, from Death Mountain to Lake Hylia to see all the wonders and each nook or cranny. Then there is a completely second world to explore. The dark and light world compliment each other as exploration opens and parallels between the universes allude to the next path to victory.

The combinations available to be victorious in combat are astounding. Enemies which require a specific strategy notwithstanding, like stun with boomerang or burn with fire rod, players can use their preferred equipment in each situation. If you want to be up close and personal with sword and hammer, have it. Prefer a strategy that stays afar and pelts with arrows, bombs and spells? It is available. Each equipment has an offensive capability, but is also necessary for solving puzzles; making collecting items an important milestone as you traverse the land.

The puzzles will start off simple enough, push a stone or blow up a wall. By the end of the game you will be using a multitude of different equipment just to earn a heart piece: hammer these pegs, switch worlds, hookshot over a broken bridge and then cast a required spell. The game never has a fairy yelling , “Hey, hey, hey” in your ear but gamers can figure out each puzzle through the design of the room and the steady introduction of new equipment. Context cues are this game’s tutorial.

LttP packs an impressive 13 different dungeons. Each one has its own feel and doesn’t re-use assets from previous areas, even when switching from the light and dark world. Exploring the dungeon is the right mixture of trial and error, you might be stumped for a second as to where to go next but you will feel accomplished once you solve all the puzzles. The dungeons have a recommended order that usually follows: find the map, pick up the compass, earn a new weapon and take down the boss. It isn’t always necessary to complete in this pattern or enter every room, but the dungeons are worth exploring every facet.

Did you collect a brand new toy in the dungeon? There’s a chance it will be helpful in the boss ecnounter. Boss battles capstone the end of each area in a one-on-one (or two, or three) battle against a fierce beast. Much like the rooms leading up to the fight, there is a distinct pattern and series of visual cues as to where to attack, which weapons to use and how to dodge to stay alive. The most inspired boss battle occurs when you make your way to the final chamber…and they aren’t even there. How will you make your opponent show?

LttP offers the player choice. The ability to collect every single spell, heart piece, weapon upgrade and bomb bag in Hyrule or speed run the game only picking up required equipment. While saving the princess, the hero can choose to tackle the dungeons in the prescribed order or jump around and maybe pick up an upgrade now which will make sections easier. In combat there are always different ways to skin a Moblin: shoot it with arrows, blast with lightning, blow up with bombs (poor guy never stood a chance).

Chances are you have already played LttP and loved it. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and download it from the Virtual Console now, you won’t regret it. Hell, even if you already played it, go download it from the Virtual Console and refresh yourself with the flute boy, zoras selling flippers, remembering where the fourth bottle is and digging for that final heart piece. LttP is a true masterpiece which is always worth another playthrough.


Score: 10 /10

+ Gameplay Teaches Players
+ Detailed Side Stories
+ Non-Linear Exploration
+ Multitude of Secrets
+ Innovative Puzzle Design
+ Varied Equipment


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