Back before the days of in-car DVD players and mp3 players, my state-of-the-art Game Boy Color and Sony CD player were my best two companions on long car trips.
My love of reading did not carry over well into a vehicle moving through the winding hills of Missouri. What I did have, until that blasted red eye next to the screen lit up, was the company of Link. While earlier my obsession with Pokémon had taken over on any given road trip, the bulk of my memories, both joys and frustrations, come from “Zelda: Oracle of Seasons.”
The hours I spent in the Kingdom of Hyrule were absolutely not limited to that one game, as my school work and chores fell in priority to a new adventure time and time again. For 25 years, this past Monday, Link has been a cultural icon that is synonymous with adventure gaming for every Nintendo system.
But what makes the Zelda series so popular two-and-a-half decades later is not the adapted game play for each new system but what stayed the same through the years. The characters and events that carry link from dungeon to dungeon and puzzle to puzzle are memorable, all of which somehow impact your game play.
This even goes for the stoic guard who watches you break jars in “Ocarina of Time” while hoping to go outside. What would be an insignificant character becomes a part of the fabric of the game, adding flair through rewardless conversations that other games find unneeded.
It’s a fortunate effect that I loved the characters because otherwise every pounding headache brought on by the endless number of rooms (i.e. Water Temple). Each area in each game takes thought and planning that modern games lay at your feet with a ribbon on top. Without the aid of any number of online walkthroughs, such a game is far more substantive and fulfilling, let alone fun, when compared to a game where you run down a straight line.
This challenging, fun-loving style of game play is what has allowed the franchise to interest each new age of gamers. Even some that are called ‘failures’ (“Zelda II: The Adventure of Link” for one) are loved by young and old as a unique installations. The style of play and intricacy of subject matter transcends trends while implementing modern gaming where possible. Think “Call of Duty” will be played in 20 years?
Unlike most of the mass market games, none of the Zelda games have a complex leveling system or quests with remarkable rewards. In fact, you may open a treasure chest and find 20 rupees that you can’t even hold. As any Zelda fan will know, that level 50 sword with super advanced lightening power isn’t nearly as important when compared to the priceless find of an empty bottle.
With such a strong focus on intuition and thumb-dexterity, Zelda games have had added stress to my life that has been unequalled by any other video game. Each and every time, I have still found the desire to complete each task set before me, amid the near controller-throwing levels of confusion.
Despite the frustrating aspects, Zelda is the third largest game seller with 59 million total copies sold, behind only Mario himself and Pokémon. That’s twice what the “Halo” franchise has sold in an era where gaming has grown significantly. Even as Nintendo’s Wii begins to show slower sales next to the graphic kings of Microsoft and Sony, Zelda shows no signs of slowing down.
With the new release of the Nintendo 3DS, a glasses-free 3D version of their handheld system, the gaming giant announced the coming release of “Ocarina of Time 3D.” Also, a much anticipated chapter for the Wii, “Skyward Sword,” is set to be released sometime in 2011 and will use the WiiMotionPlus system to create a new, yet hopefully familiar, Zelda experience.
If you don’t own a Nintendo, my condolences on your loss. No, I’m not one of those Wii-loving, strong graphics hating hipsters, in fact, there are many modern games that I wish my visually wimpy system could handle. Exclusive titles are what have made Nintendo the king of gaming and the reason old systems are sought after constantly by gamers and why I still own an N64.
I’m not saying my childhood was better than yours, but, at the least, my long family car trips were probably more fun.