Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link takes a drastic turn away from the original NES classic by going from a top down perspective to a side scrolling one. Don’t let that throw you off though. This is still a great game adventure game epic in as many ways as the previous game if not more so with the inclusion of towns. There’s less of a relaxing feeling of exploration than the original game and more emphasis on intelligent combat. There’s still a real sense of exploration and discovery, but also growth and power with the new upgrade system.
The side scrolling controls are simple and fun. A to jump, B to swing your sword. Like the first game, Link has a shield that he can block things with, just as long as he’s standing or squatting without attacking. It makes for nice combat. Some enemies even have shields and require you to outsmart them. If you have full health, your sword can send a short beam forward.
As the game progresses, you’ll learn two new techniques, the down thrust and upthrust that will let you take out enemies more efficiently as well as open new areas. Each town will teach you a new spell that you can use from your magic menu. Everything from a high jump, to a red tunic (shield) that lets you take less damage. At some point you can even turn into a fairy to reach out of the way places. The wise men of these towns won’t just give you the spells, you’ll need to do something for them, such as save a child or find some item in an out of the way location. Each time you leave an area, the spell will dissipate. Every spell costs magic and you can find it in blue potions here and there or you can get a full refill with a red potion.
You start the game overlooking a sleeping princess Zelda and that’s all of the story you get outside of the instruction booklet. From there you’re on your own in this big wide world. At every death, you’re laughed at by Gannon, but you’ll never face him or see him. Instead there’s a wide array of giant bosses that all lead up to Link fighting his own shadow at the end.
Between the side scrolling action, you’ll explore a vast top down map broken up into an east and western islands. On the map, you’ll need to avoid enemies that roam around both weak and strong. If you collide with one, you’re taken to a side scrolling area full of enemies depending on where you are and the terrain. The only object of these battles is to escape off the edge of the area. If you’re afraid of these enemies, stick to the paths, because if you’re attacked on a path there aren’t any enemies in the battle screen. On a rare occasion, you’ll find a fairy roaming that will allow you to collect a fairy. For every fairy that you touch, you’ll receive full health. This is pretty helpful, because you have limited lives. Every time you lose all of your lives, you’ll restart back at the initial shrine that you find Zelda. You can always find 1-Up dolls here and there, but they don’t replenish.
You’ll need to visit six palaces and defeat their unique bosses in order to obtain crystals that unlock the seventh. Each of the first six palaces have a special item that will let you explore further and make it to the next palace. Some items are more useful than others, such as a handy glove to break blocks in the side scrolling levels. Then there are less useful items like a raft that takes you across to the other half of the game, boots to walk on water, candles that light up dark caves and a cross that reveals invisible enemies. The hammer expedites travel by breaking boulders on the map to use short cuts.
These palaces has elevators, death traps, keys, locked doors and a sense of exploration. The game is all about exploration and discovery, but delivered in bite sized chunks. Everything is usually contained in an area. Either completely in a palace, or completely in a region around the palace. There are a few rare times where you might need to backtrack to a previous location, but once you’ve completed a palace, it seals off.
Outside of palaces there are caves, caverns, bridges, sticky marshes grave yards and mountains to explore. None is more deadly than Death Mountain, which appears pretty early in the game. Outside of the Great Palace at the end, its one of the toughest areas because its so early in the game. There is of course a trick to the network of caves that you’ll need to figure out for yourself. That’s what the Zelda series is all about, exploration and discovery.
There’s a vast array of enemies, new and fresh versions of original foes. Octorocks make a comeback, a boomeranger, moeyes that drop fire. Giant one eyed scorpions that shoot fire from their tail. Big spiders that are able to hop up a mountainside. Stalfos skeletons armed with a sword and shield. Some of which jump at you. Iron knuckles replace darknuts as the armored foe. Some even have a beaming sword like Link.
For every enemy that you defeat, you’ll gain experience. There are even P bags full of points…. I guess. When you get enough experience, you’ll level up and get your choice of a health (life), magic or attack. This made the game a lot more interesting and deep the further that you went. Having the choice could make every play through different and death lost all of your experience that you had collected. There are moments that you’ll need to grind. Before the end of the game, you’ll max out everything at 8 levels a piece.
Zelda 2 has always been a joy to play and explore. There are a few glitches, such as being able to get keys from one palace, leave and use them on another palace only to lock yourself out of the original palace. It completely breaks the game and you’ll need to restart. There are plenty of secrets too, such as the red potion or iron knuckle trick at the start of each palace.
The game also has some memorable, upbeat and yet foreboding music that adds to the feeling of joy while playing. There’s a sort of happy rhythm even in the dreary songs. The sound effects are good, but very NES. There are crunches for damage, high pitched sounds for ineffective attacks. Gannon’s laughter is one of the most iconic sounds in Zelda’s game history.
While some people may have hated Zelda 2’s change in perspective, its still a gem of a game for the NES. If you give it a chance you will find it challenging, rewarding and fun. Give it a shot.