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Ranking the Mario Games – Part 1

images-142Super Mario, the portly plumber with the black moustache, is not just the mascot for Nintendo but the ambassador for all video games.  Gamers are intimately familiar with Mario, his history, forays into pop culture, and of course his games.  He was the nameless Jump Man before he was Mario and though early titles like Mario Bros., which introduced brother Luigi, kept true to the plumber occupation it was Super Mario Bros. that helped launch the Nintendo Entertainment System into video game legendary status.  Since then, Mario, usually alongside Luigi, has appeared in a great many games in either a starring or supporting role.  He’s dabbled in just about every genre save first-person shooter (don’t take that as a suggestion, Nintendo) and has done so successfully, for the most part.  He’s been challenged along the way by other would-be mascots and felled them all.

Mario’s games are typically of a high quality, and while some are better than others, there really are no true lemons.  These next few posts are going to attempt to distinguish the best from the not best, but in truth, all of the games to follow are still a good time, even today.  This list only concerns itself with Mario’s starring platform adventures which began with Super Mario Bros. in 1985 and will continue this fall with Super Mario 3D World.  Excluded are two titles which borrowed the Mario name for marketing purposes, namely Super Mario Land 3:  Wario Land and Super Mario World 2:  Yoshi’s Island.  I think most would agree those two games are actually the first in new franchises for Wario and Yoshi, respectively.  This also excludes those educational Mario titles that popped up on the Super Nintendo, and the few games starring Luigi.  I considered excluding Mario’s 3D adventures and relegating them to a separate ranking but decided against it.  They’re still Mario titles, and whether the game is a side-scroller or in 3D, they actually manage to play very similarly.  Maybe it would just be easier to list the games about to be ranked, so here they are in chronological order of release:  Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2/The Lost Levels, Super Mario Bros. 2/Super Mario USA, Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario Land, Super Mario World, Super Mario Land 2, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, New Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Galaxy, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Mario 3D Land, New Super Mario Bros. 2, New Super Mario Bros. U.  That’s 16 Mario titles in total, and if this thing drags on long enough, maybe I’ll do a 17th as a postscript for Super Mario 3D World, though the pile of dust that has collected on my Wii U suggests that won’t be happening.  On to the rankings!

16.  Super Mario Land (1989, Gameboy)

Different, but similar, Super Mario Land was a worthy first attempt at bringing Mario to the smallest of screens.

Different, but similar, Super Mario Land was a worthy first attempt at bringing Mario to the smallest of screens.

Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to immediately pick on the Mario title with the least amount of technological backing, but I’ll reiterate what I said in the intro which is that all of these games are worth playing and remain so.  That said, Super Mario Land is basically a scaled-down version of the original Super Mario Bros. for the then recently released Nintendo Gameboy.  Nintendo should be commended for actually not just porting Super Mario Bros. and actually giving Super Mario Land its own distinguishing characteristics.  Set in Sarasaland, the game puts Mario in an Egyptian inspired setting with tried and true Mario gameplay.  There are some noted differences from the console games, in that Mario’s fireballs shoot at an angle and bounce off walls and hearts are used for extra lives while coins function as a currency.  There are also some scrolling levels where Mario pilots a spaceship or submarine which help break up the routine.  Otherwise, it was a pretty basic platforming-side-scroller.  The Gameboy’s display made it a little tough on the eyes, and Mario felt a little loose as a result.  Gamers who had this title in 1989 mostly seemed to enjoy it, even though they knew they were getting a somewhat lesser experience than what they had on their home consoles, but considering the Gameboy’s main competition was Tiger handheld games, they were pretty content to have Super Mario Land.

15.  Super Mario Bros. 2/The Lost Levels (Nintendo Entertainment System, 1986)

One of the defining characteristics of Super Mario Bros. 2 was the emphasis on making the Luigi experience different from the Mario one.

One of the defining characteristics of Super Mario Bros. 2 was the emphasis on making the Luigi experience different from the Mario one.

By now, anyone with an interest in video games is well aware of the story of the “original” Super Mario Bros. 2.  It was a Japan only release for a couple of reasons.  The main reason was the difficulty which Nintendo of America thought would prove too frustrating for US gamers.  Also, Nintendo of America wasn’t very impressed with the title simply because it was too similar to the original Super Mario Bros.  For that, we should be thankful as NOA was absolutely right with that stance.  Super Mario Bros. 2 would eventually be released as The Lost Levels in the US alongside the other NES Mario titles in the Super Mario All-Stars compilation released on the Super Nintendo.  The game basically plays like a set of add-on levels for the original title.  The original was such a massive success, that Nintendo of Japan felt it had to strike quick with a sequel.  When early attempts at a sequel proved too ambitious (more on that to follow), this game was created in its stead.  It’s basically just a harder version of the original, with the addition of poison mushrooms and Luigi being given his own characteristics (higher jumps but slippery feet) to make him play different from Mario for the first time.  Needless to say, when the game was eventually released in the US, few American gamers felt like they had really been missing out on anything.

14.  Super Mario Bros. (NES, 1985)

Where it all began.

Where it all began.

The original, but not still the best, Super Mario Bros. set the standard for all Mario games to follow.  These types of lists are always a little tricky because one is forced to weigh present value against past value.  My take is always to just judge the games as they are.  Perhaps that gives the modern titles a huge advantage but a good game is a good game, regardless of era or graphical horse power.  Plus, games should be better today than they were 20 years ago as I’d like to think we’re always moving forward.  With that out of the way, it should be said that Super Mario Bros. still holds up today as a fun and challenging game, just one notably simplified.  It’s the classic “go right” game and the player is expected to run and bounce along to each stage’s flag pole in an attempt to rescue the princess.  The clock actually plays a role in this game, as opposed to the more recent games, and later levels force the player to hold the run button throughout.  The game’s challenge is mostly found in negotiating jumps and platforms that become smaller as the game goes along while dodging classic Mario enemies like koopa troopas and Lakitu.  It’s true that it may be hard to impress a young gamer today with the original Super Mario Bros., but it is a textbook take on the genre it launched even if its sequels have improved upon it immensely.

13.  Super Mario Land 2:  6 Golden Coins (Gameboy, 1992)

New bunny ears and a new villain are the defining characteristics of Super Mario Land 2.

New bunny ears and a new villain are the defining characteristics of Super Mario Land 2.

Super Mario Land 2 was a huge improvement over its predecessor.  It borrowed heavily from the the current console games in terms of defining Mario’s look and power-ups and pushed the Gameboy to produce one if its best looking and best playing titles.  This game also introduced Wario, who served as the primary antagonist for Mario for basically the only time before becoming a playable character in his own line of games.  Super Mario Land 2 held onto the first game’s quirks while giving Mario some new power-ups, most notably the bunny ears.  Mario being able to fly had been a big deal since Super Mario Bros. 3 so it’s no surprise he was able to do the same in this game.  Keeping things weird, as they were with a raccoon tail bestowing flying powers in SMB 3, the bunny ears let Mario fly by rapidly pressing the jump button.  Mario didn’t gradually descend, like he did with the cape and tail, so it gave Land 2 a unique feature.  The fireballs had their angled shot replaced with traditional fire power, and the game had a map layout like Super Mario World.  The worlds the map is segregated into can be played in any order, giving this game a less linear feel, and secrets abound which help the replay factor.  Which is a good thing, because the 32 levels will be breezed through by Mario veterans making Super Mario Land 2’s biggest weakness its short duration.  This is a fun game though, and it was the first Gameboy experience that came close to matching the console one where Mario titles are concerned.

12.  New Super Mario Bros. 2 (Nintendo 3DS, 2012)

I did a big write-up on this one around the time it was released, so I won’t go into too much detail here.  Suffice to say, if anything my opinion of the game has lessened since.  It’s a fun experience, but in general it did little to nothing as far as advancing the series goes.  The focus on coin collection was a mistake as it didn’t add to the experience.  The much publicized street pass functionality and downloadable content was basically a dud, and the game’s difficulty was basically non-existant.  This is a by-the-numbers Mario game, and its sister-title New Super Mario Bros. U is the far superior game, and not just because it’s on the more powerful console and in HD.  I did enjoy the return of the super leaf power-up as well as the inclusion of the Koopa Kids and the game does not have a shortage of levels.

11.  New Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo DS, 2006)

New Super Mario Bros. was a welcome return to the side-scrolling genre for Mario and Luigi.

New Super Mario Bros. was a welcome return to the side-scrolling genre for Mario and Luigi.

New Super Mario Bros. was a supremely refreshing title when it was first released in 2006.  A new side-scrolling Mario game had not been released since 1992’s Super Mario Land 2, unless you count the Wario and Yoshi games in between.  New Super Mario Bros. was a like a kid’s dream of what the original Super Mario Bros. could have been with mega mushroom power-ups and the mini mushroom, letting Mario shrink to a microscopic size.  Of the two, the mini mushroom was actually the better as controlling a lightning quick Mario was a lot of fun.  Not that it wasn’t fun to control the Godzilla-like Mega Mario, but it got old after a few experiences.  Mario also retained some of his 3D controls like the ability to double and triple jump.  Not very useful, but a lot of fun.  The game is also massive with 80 levels to explore, some of them only unlocked after finding the various star coins hidden in each stage.  Like its sequel, the game’s biggest drawback was its lack of challenge.  Notably trickier than the follow-up, but still lacking compared with the well-balanced Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario 64.  This is a good game though, and as you can probably guess from these rankings, I actually recommend it over New Super Mario Bros. 2 for its tighter gameplay and better level design, though the level design is actually a weakness for the game when compared to other Mario titles.  This one was a nice nostalgia trip in 2006, and even though the New Super Mario Bros. franchise has had a hard time living up to the classics, I still think we’re better off for having it.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons

The Legend of Zelda:  Oracle of Seasons (2001)

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons (2001)

The Legend of Zelda series tends to be late to the party when it comes to Nintendo’s newest technology.  The only exceptions I can recall would be A Link to the Past and Twilight Princess.  Twilight Princess should come with an asterisk though considering it was in development as a Gamecube game (and even released on that platform too) before being ported to the Wii to make that system’s launch.  Typically gamers have to wait a couple of years for Link to grace their latest console or handheld.  That was especially the case when it came to the Gameboy Color.  Nintendo, partnered with Capcom, focused on making a set of three games that would take place in the world of Zelda and interact with one another to form one grand adventure.  This would take time, and to placate eager gamers to have a Zelda adventure on the go and in color Nintendo re-released Link’s Awakening with some minor color enhancements and a new dungeon (which took full advantage of the new color palette).   Development was delayed on the series with Capcom, and eventually the three titles became two.  Worse still, they didn’t arrive to market until after the Gameboy Color’s successor hit retail; the Gameboy Advance.  Did this stop people from picking up the old tech?  Of course not, this is Zelda after all, Nintendo’s most consistent franchise.  And for those who upgraded to the Gameboy Advance, the system was backwards compatible so as long as gamers could get passed the fact that they were playing a fairly low tech set of games it was a pretty easy thing to convince them to go out and pick up the latest Zelda titles.

The Legend of Zelda:  Oracle of Ages (2001)

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages (2001)

There are exceptions though, and for whatever reason I became one of them.  I was a day one purchaser of a Gameboy Advance and I was eager to upgrade my portable gaming.  I had a Gameboy Color and primarily only used it for Pokemon (I had a copy of Shantae and never got into it, and I ended up trading it in at Gamestop which proved to be a mistake).  After over a decade of playing sub-NES quality games on a Gameboy I, and many others, were more than ready for the GBA.  Plus I knew the eventual A Link to the Past Advance was on the way and figured I’d get my Zelda fix then, so I completely overlooked the two GBC games, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons.  It took a long while, but finally Nintendo has released both titles on its e-shop and both are playable on the Nintendo 3DS.  A good portion of my summer has been spent on these two titles, and in short, they’re quality Zelda experiences.  You don’t want short though, so feel free to read on for more!

If you’re an owner of a 3DS and are thinking of playing these games I would recommend that you play Link’s Awakening DX first, if you have not done so already.  While the games are not connected in a narrative sense, the three play pretty much identically to one another with the Oracle games feeling like sequels.  I imagine the fact that the groundwork was laid with Link’s Awakening is what allowed Nintendo to feel comfortable about handing the series over to Capcom.  These portable Zelda games all feature diminished visuals when compared to most of the series, with the only exception being the original Legend of Zelda.  Link can have two items equipped at any one time via the A and B buttons, and they can be any two items the player wants making it theoretically possible for Link to go thru the bulk of the game without a sword.  These games also are unique in that they allow Link to jump once a certain item is obtained.  Link could jump in the side-scrolling Adventure of Link, but not in his other top-down adventures.  The portable games also bring back the side-scrolling screens present in the first game often as a basement of sorts throughout the various dungeons.  There are some sequences where Link has to swim and some familiar faces from the mushroom kingdom make appearances.  I actually prefer Link’s Awakening to the Oracle games in large part because of all of the Mario references which just give the game this offbeat feel.  There’s even a sequence where Link needs to take a chain-chomp for a walk.

Both games feature animal companions for Link to make use of.  Here he is just hanging out in a kangaroo pouch.

Both games feature animal companions for Link to make use of. Here he is just hanging out in a kangaroo pouch.

Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons distinguish themselves from the prior games with their special items, the harp of ages of rod of seasons, respectively.  In Oracle of Ages, Link is able to use his harp to move thru time.  Early versions of the harp only allow him to do so at certain patches of soil but later versions allow him to move thru time at will.  Since there are only two versions of Labrynna, where the game takes place, it’s bound to evoke a similar feel to the light and dark worlds from A Link to the Past.  As expected, changing things in the past affect the present, which is sort of the nature of the game.  It’s not real specific though, and sometimes the past or present is different from each other seemingly just for sake of it (sometimes a wall is bomb-able in the past, but not the present, which doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense).  As such, I was actually kind of disappointed with the whole time-traveling aspect of the game and it started to feel like a hassle.  In Oracle of Seasons, Link is able to manipulate the seasons with the rod of seasons.  This has obvious applications such as lakes becoming frozen in winter or dried up in summer.  A weird type of mushroom is only harvestable in the fall, and certain special flowers only bloom in the spring.  Having to cycle thru each season one at a time is a bit of a chore, but overall I felt the application of the seasons worked better than the time-travel in Ages and it also offered a fun visual change as well.  The only thing I didn’t like about it was that sections of the overworld map are arbitrarily broken out and are assigned a default season.  This results in the player changing the season on one screen, and then having it switch to another season by going as few as one screen over.  The designers obviously did this to make it easier on them to block off certain sections of the map until Link obtained a certain item, but it feels lazy.

In addition to their gimmick, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons are often distinguished by type of gameplay present.  Ages is often described as being the more puzzle-centered game with Seasons being more action-oriented. I found this to mostly be the case, but make no mistake, both are tried and true Zelda experiences.  There are still plenty of enemies to take down in Ages, and there’s also plenty of dungeon puzzles to solve in Seasons.  I expected to enjoy Ages more as I usually like the Zelda puzzles, but I actually ended up preferring Seasons.  The problem I have with Ages is just that a lot of the puzzles felt really drawn out and the constant switching between items (since there are only two action buttons on a GBC, everytime you need to re-assign something you have to go into the menu and do it) could get tiresome.   There are also plenty of “Zelda Puzzles,” which to me mean puzzles with no logical solution that forces the player into trial and error mode.  These types of situations seem to crop in every Zelda title and are often the result of the game just not being consistent.  There was one dungeon where I got stuck for a while because I couldn’t figure out how to get a pot onto a floor switch that needed to be pressed in order to open a door.  I tried all kinds of different things and just couldn’t get it.  Then I just stepped on it with Link and walked off and the door stayed open.  Every other switch in the game necessitates an object being placed on it to keep the door open.  I was so annoyed.   That’s a Zelda puzzle.  There were some of these in Seasons too, but they just felt more prevalent in Ages.

One of the optional bosses from a linked game:  Twinrova.

One of the optional bosses from a linked game: Twinrova.

Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons share many of the same dungeon items.  Both also have a trading game which leads to an improved sword for Link and both feature seeds.  All around the map are soft patches of soil where Link can plant a seed.  After a certain amount of enemies are slain a tree with a nut will sprout and inside the nut will be an item.  Usually this item is a ring, which is the only equip-able accessory for Link in both games.  They usually add some function or improve another such as Link’s throwing distance or damage output.  They’re not all that essential to the experience, and both games seem to have the same rings.  There’s also a password system that allows players to transport items back and forth between games.  This is the only way to get some traditional Zelda items like the mirror shield and master sword.  These items just make the game easier, and to be honest, they’re easy enough as is, so I never did much with them.  I did take advantage of the game-link where beating one game provides a password for the other game which alters the story.  The story in both games is basically crap, but if you want to face the ultimate boss you have to link the games and it does add a little more fun to the experience.

I’ve been a bit nit-picky with these games, but both are enjoyable and worthwhile entries in the Legend of Zelda series.  If you were to play only one, I would recommend Oracle of Seasons as I found it to be the better overall experience.  One thing I liked about Seasons over Ages is how it’s a total nostalgia trip for gamers who played the original Legend of Zelda.  Oracle of Ages is basically just as good though, and if you can, you really should just play both.  These two games, together with Link’s Awakening, are among the best portable games ever created and are still the best portable Zelda games ahead of The Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks.  Hopefully, the upcoming A Link Between Worlds is able to give them a run for their money as these games have reigned supreme for long enough.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Zelda II:  The Adventure of Link (1987)

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1987)

What?  Three Zelda entries in a row?!  I guess I’m on a roll.  This one should come as no surprise though, since I mentioned I just finished up playing the original Legend of Zelda on my 3DS, and what’s a more logical next step?  Why, Zelda II of course!  I received a free copy of Zelda II along with the original (and several others) as part of the 3DS Ambassador program that was launched by Nintendo in 2011.  I mostly have kept myself busy during my daily commute to and from work with retail 3DS games.  I’ve also spent time with my Vita (what’s that?) so I haven’t had much reason to play those free games Nintendo bestowed upon me.  I currently don’t have any unfinished 3DS games though so it made sense to finally start digging thru these titles, especially since Nintendo has updated them since they were released to include that ever so lovely save state feature made famous by illegal emulators in the late 1990’s.

The Legend of Zelda is an unquestioned classic.  It is beloved.  People today who pick it up having never experienced it might not quite get it, but anyone willing to invest the time will be able to at least appreciate the game for what it is and what it means to the franchise as a whole.  Zelda II, on the other hand, is often regarded as the worst entry in the series (developed by Nintendo) and is sometimes the target of much hate from the Zelda faithful.  It’s the black sheep of the franchise, the Jan Brady of Zelda games, because it’s so different from other games in the series and no one loves it.  That’s somewhat of an embellishment as the game does have its share of fans (or as some like to call them, apologists) but you would be hard pressed to find someone willing to argue it’s among the elite.

In theory, there actually isn’t a whole lot different about Zelda II when compared with its predecessor.  The player still controls the hero Link as he journeys across Hyrule collecting items to help him in his quest to recover the Triforce of Courage.  The music still kicks ass.  Link will encounter some familiar enemies like keese, stalfos, and moblins as they seek to avenge the defeat of their master Ganon, whom Link bested in the original game.  Where things change though, is in how the player interacts with Hyrule this time around.

No longer do gamers have to stare down at the top of Link's head.

No longer do gamers have to stare down at the top of Link’s head.

In the original Legend of Zelda, Link was viewed from a top-down perspective; kind of like over-looking a chess board.  For a Nintendo game the map was pretty large and the enemies would come onto the screen and Link could run up and stab them or take them down from a distance either with his sword or other means.  In Zelda II, the player controls Link from a more traditional side-scrolling perspective.  He plays more like a Belmont than a Mario, but he’s a pretty solid jumper considering this is his first go-around at platform action.  He still attacks with his sword and can block certain attacks with his shield.  When his health is full he can shoot little beams out of his sword which can damage some enemies.  It’s kind of surprising that fans seemed to be so put off by this change in perspective given that this was only the second game in the series.  It’s not as if it was much of an established property at this point.

Switching to a side-scrolling style of gameplay was just the beginning.  The RPG was just starting to gain momentum in the gaming world and Nintendo saw Zelda II as an opportunity to introduce some RPG elements into one of their games.  Link no longer travels the world in search of heart containers to increase his health (though there are still a few) or relies on getting a better sword to increase his damage output.  Instead he gains experience points for defeating enemies and at certain intervals he’s able to level-up one of three attributes:  Life, Magic, and Attack.  Life should be thought of more as defense as it doesn’t increase Link’s health meter, just reduces how much damage he takes.  Magic more clearly is tied to actual magic points, but upgrading the stat doesn’t visually impact the magic meter.  Attack is rather self-explanatory and increases how much damage Link can inflict with a single sword swipe.  There are a limited amount of magic containers and health containers that permanently increase each attribute respectively, but there’s no master sword for Link to find.  There’s also a world map which is similar to one from a Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy game.  When Link is roaming the world map enemies can appear on screen and attack him, which bring the player to a side-scrolling area to face off with some monsters, or run away.

Link can converse with the townsfolk, some of whom will help him out by refilling his life or magic.

Link can converse with the townsfolk, some of whom will help him out by refilling his life or magic.

The magic itself is also something that’s new.  Link is able to travel to towns now and interact with the locals, most of which have nothing of interest to share with the hero.  Hidden in each one though is a wizardly looking character who can teach Link a magic spell.  Link will come to rely on these throughout the game, some more than others.  Some examples are a shield spell that reduces the damage Link receives from enemies, and a jump spell that lets him jump higher.  All spells, except for the life spell which restores some of Link’s health, last for one screen.  The more powerful spells, naturally, consume more magic than others.  Interestingly, enemies no longer drop rupees or hearts (there’s no need for currency in this Hyrule) but will drop magic potions from time to time making magic one of the few ways Link can restore his health.  The game also has an extra life system, like most games, which perhaps makes up for the lack of restorative items.  There is still the occasional fairy hiding in a dungeon or roaming the world map that can fully restore Link’s health, but that’s it.

This approach is one reason why Zelda II is often regarded as the hardest game in the series.  That’s just one contributing factor to the difficulty though.  The main contributor early on is simply in how the game plays.  It takes some getting used to because Link is armed with perhaps the world’s worst sword.  The thing is tiny and Link’s attack range, simply put, blows.  In order to attack, Link needs to get in pretty close.  Having full health and the beam attack can be useful, but the beam doesn’t travel very far and most of the enemies in the game are immune to it anyways.  Most gamers will adapt though and eventually the game becomes easier.  Link even learns some additional moves, the downward thrust and upward thrust, which help to open things up.  Just when you’re starting to feel like you have this game figured out though it takes it to another level.  The first couple of dungeons (palaces, actually) are pretty straight-forward.  The game gets much harder around palace 3 or so.  Older enemies get stronger, and new, more powerful ones are introduced.  Most will come to loathe the blue knucklehead, an armored knight who throws knives and has a tendency to want to back away from Link making it hard to get in close.  And just when you’re getting used to taking them out, a bigger lizard like one will take it’s place or a jumping bird one that’s truly a pain in the ass.  Link also suffers from that same affliction that has killed many a Belmont in that he gets pushed backwards if struck by an enemy.  The game exploits this by filling the air with flying skulls and flaming eyeballs to get in Link’s face while he’s trying to jump across some laval pools.  The game will utilize pretty much every cheap trick in the book to try and kill you.  The player can continue as many times as he or she likes but doing so brings Link back to the beginning of the game and takes away his current experience points, which is really annoying if you’re deep into a palace or nearing a level-up.  The only aspect of the game that isn’t very challenging are the boss encounters.  It’s actually strange for that to be but most of the bosses in this game just aren’t any harder than the regular enemies.  I’d be hard-pressed to even name which one was the hardest since none of them are all that difficult to conquer, so long as you know what you’re doing.

Some of the boss fights are pretty lame.

Some of the boss fights are pretty lame.

The game plays differently, and is definitely harder than the first game in the series, but there are other areas where the game seems to invite criticism.  Just like the original Zelda, Zelda II has the hero traversing dungeons and finding new items that help Link to advance further in the game.  In the original Legend of Zelda, many of these items had multiple uses like the bow or the boomerang.  In Zelda II, many end up being single use items that have no impact on the gameplay.  There were some duds in the fist game like the raft and ladder, but just about every item in Zelda II is like the raft (which makes a return!) and essentially does nothing.  The magic spells kind of make up for this, but most of them are kind of dull too.  The game is also pretty lazy in the dungeon layouts.  The original game was too, but Zelda II is an even bigger offender with some palaces having the same room repeat upwards of three times!  And there’s “puzzles” like the thirsty woman in town with a water fountain right next to her house.  It’s not exactly thought-provoking.  And just to add one more kind of oddity with the game is the absence of Ganon.  He only appears if the player receives a game over, otherwise he doesn’t show his pig face.  Other games in the series do not feature Ganon too, but most of the main ones do, though I can’t say it bothers me to have a different antagonist this go-around (not that there’s much of an in game storyline).

Zelda II:  The Adventure of Link is certainly a memorable title, though some would say for the wrong reasons.  It’s legacy is defined by the fact that it was such a change from the first game in the series and for its punishing difficulty.  If not for the save state feature on my 3DS version of the game, I likely wouldn’t have had the patience to make it all the way thru this one. It’s not really in the running for hardest game on the NES, but it’s definitely in the top 20, maybe top 10.  As a video game, it’s actually a pretty solid title.  For all of the things people didn’t like, there are some good ideas that would be carried over into future Zelda titles.  It wouldn’t bother me in the least to even see Nintendo revisit some of the RPG mechanics of this game for a future Zelda title, or even to attempt a brand new side-scroller.  I think there’s a better game to be found than what’s here.  As a Zelda game, this one definitely is lacking but not because it’s different.  It’s just missing something, that special ingredient, that makes a Zelda game truly special.  Zelda fans certainly owe it to themselves to experience the title, just don’t expect to find a new favorite.

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