Feature Review: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Within palaces and caves, Doomraddles--men cloaked in shawls--hurl ladles and spoons with a vicious abandon.

Monsters appear if Link leaves the road.

In spite of what a certain, whimsically-named Australian may declare from deep within the entanglement of a sudsy, beer-afflicted worldview, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is a bad game. Moreover, it is one of the worst games ever misrepresented as a great game. Zelda fans may claim that it is misunderstood; they may claim that critique of it has to do with reading modern expectations onto a title released in 1987; they may claim that disappointment stems from it being different than the original The Legend of Zelda. In that latter point alone they can be accused of having hit upon the edge of a corner of a shard of the truth. For, there are obviously great differences between the two titles, and the greatest difference of all is that The Legend of Zelda is a good game.

When the game begins, Link finds himself standing before Zelda, who is asleep on a bed. Walking out into the world, directionless, he may wander hither and yon seeking some method of advancement or guidance in his quest to wake the sleeping princess. However, the restricted capacity of NPC text means that anyone Link encounters will provide, at best, only vague and cryptic advice. Many players, befuddled by the formless nature of Link’s quest, quit the the game at an early stage–oh, fortunate, happy players!–never progressing beyond the first palace.

But if one is burdened with the task of finishing the game at all costs, and if one is similarly burdened with a bevy of staff members bearing poorly-written FAQs from the internet, then excuses about a lack of direction simply will not do. And, consequently, my investigation of the game progressed apace for the first time in five years, when this reviewer last played and completed the title. Surprisingly, despite the entirely negative memory of that experience, this most recent playthrough of Zelda II managed to be even more aggravating, frustrating, and genuinely horrible.

...to (relatively easy) Blue Face... Bird... Fire... things.

Bosses range from (relatively easy) HorseKnights…

Zelda II may be a directionless wanderfest, but the actual difficulty of the game stems from the primitive RPG-style experience system combined with enemy encounters. Enemies, when first encountered, tend to be very difficult. Orange knights, for example, attack at two heights, and Link must be standing or ducking in order to parry the thrust properly. Red knights are the same, except faster, requiring white-knuckle, split-second reflexes in order to avoid taking significant damage. Finally, Blue Knights are not only faster and stronger, but their attacks are ranged, so they can hit Link at a great distance, making even advancing towards these foes incredibly irritating (the knights often endeavour to stand just out of the range of Link’s pathetic butter knife).

Spoon-throwing mumu-clad men hurl scarlet flatware at Link as he runs through caverns and palaces filled with Stalfos (skeletons) and Bots (slimes). Pursued still farther, he will encounter floating head enemies of the sort found in Mario and Castlevania games, and at the end of his adventure will additionally encounter–inexplicably–Bird Men, who tumble through the air with circus-like aplomb, hurling daggers whilst remaining infuriatingly impenetrable to the weary thrusts of the green-clad Hylian. Without the assistance of rapid-loading save states or a rewind feature, Zelda II would be an exercise in anger-management, with players of a choleric disposition likely surrounded by the wreckage of many controllers, shattered in a pique of rage.

In a stark contrast with the monsters found in the course of exploration, the boss encounters in Zelda II tend towards being very easy, with each fight having an exploitable mechanic. Carrock (Giant Wizzrobe) is the easiest of the lot, and can be defeated simply by kneeling in a corner and reflecting its attacks back at it until it dies. The most difficult fights are those which are most similar to difficult enemy encounters: the Knight on Horseback, for example, is very easy whilst mounted–but, when dismounted, becomes simply another annoying Blue Knight, which must be defeated with split second reflexes, and quite a bit of luck, to avoid damage. Consequently, the difficulty of the game pitches and yaws more than storm-tossed ship: this reviewer had to repeat a temple because the traversing thereof left insufficient life to complete the boss fight–but the boss fight itself was quite easy at full life. And, in a move reminiscent of Deadly Towers, Zelda II brings back the concept of reappearing enemies that can hit Link the moment he walks through a door.

When the game is completed, a Triforce symbol is added to the save file, allowing one to claim veteran's benefits from the government.

You really are a hero for completing this game.

The graphics of Zelda II are roughly average for 1987. All areas of gameplay tend to be visually repetitive, but this was not uncommon in 1987 (although better had certainly been achieved on the NES by that point). A similar explanation will suffice for the music: the anthems employed are aurally interesting, but their repetition and a lack of diversity in the soundtrack means that even the best themes (the temple music) quickly overstay their welcome–especially given the amount of time that must be spent, occasionally, in a single area. This reviewer spent more than an hour in some of the temples–upwards of two hours in one–and the music, on repeat throughout, had the shine knocked right off of it.

The storyline–traditionally a focus of later Zelda games–suffers a lack of development: there is no story to carry the player through the experience. Like the original The Legend of Zelda, the sequel is a series of dungeons which must sustain the story delivered in a scrolling introduction on the title screen. This was understandable in the original game, which had no towns and few NPCs with whom to interact. But in the sequel, it makes less sense: there are numerous towns and scores of NPCs, and yet no one seems even remotely interested in the curse that afflicts their princess. Instead, Link dutifully performs the task cusorily assigned to him in the introduction, and this alone must carry the player though a long, difficult, and tiresome experience.

Many games from the NES era have not aged well. Zelda II disappointed players when it was originally released and, nearly thirty years later, little has changed: lacking the sophistication of design found in other Zelda series games, and with a style of gameplay that focuses attention upon the game’s shortcomings, rather than a style that would minimise those drawbacks, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link remains a bad game in design if not in execution. Diehard fans of the Zelda series may be content to heap praise upon Zelda II without ever actually having to shift their arses and play the game themselves, but the simple reality is that the experience is not only tiresome, but–no thanks to the game’s incredibly short ending sequence!–deeply unfulfilling as well. There are plenty of Zelda adventures worth experiencing, but The Adventure of Link is best left unexplored.


Zelda II: The Adventure of Link Box Art

Box Art

Review Grade D

Review Grade


Game Information

Title: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Genre: Adventure

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Platform Reviewed: Nintendo Entertainment System (NA)

Release Date: 1 December 1988

28 comments on “Feature Review: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link”

  1. “Spoon-throwing mumu-clad men hurl scarlet flatware at Link as he runs through caverns and palaces filled with Stalfos…”

    I can’t stop laughing XD

  2. It wouldn’t be a Lusipurr review without some patented Lusipurrean Sentences and Neologisms.

    Word of the day: wanderfest.

  3. This game is second only to the Phillips Zelda games in their sidescrolling glory. The original Zelda’s cave areas were the clear best parts of the game and only this title in the series really embraced what made it great.

    A “D” for “Damn Good!” indeed!

  4. It was a baffling game to me as a child. Without Nintendo Power, I’d have had no idea what to do or where to go. All these years later I’m still not sure what to make of it. I couldn’t even say if I liked it or not. It was just… a curiosity I guess.

  5. @Wolfe: The difficulty of the game is really astronomical at points. This is made worse by some TERRIBLE design decisions: dying three times erases any XP gain to the next level and sends the player back to the start point, and there are enemies that drain XP in addition to life.

    Taking away XP is not, and never has been, a ‘fair’ mechanic, nor does it serve any purpose from a development standpoint. It’s just a dick move.

  6. No arguing that. Even back then I remember thinking that I just -had- to be doing something wrong. When I got the collection on the Gamecube years after I finally concluded that the game just hated players.

  7. @Wolfe: Ah, but you WERE doing something wrong: you were playing it!

  8. If I’m remembering this correctly from Retronauts… You guys are playing the Easy Mode gaijin version. The original masterpiece didn’t allow you to raise your HP, Magic, and Attack out of step with one another by more than one and if you ran out of lives it rounded your one or two stats down so all three were even.

  9. @evilpaul: My stats were always within one level of parity (I did them sequentially as intended) and I never ran out of lives. So there.
    Click the last picture in the article. :p

  10. Having listened to Lusi playing the game twice, I actually feel like giving it a go myself. Then I remember I have good games still to play.

  11. so basically is not only bad but boring, episode one boring. I thought you were going to give the game a F though.

    In the famicom era ( there was never a nintendo entertainment system era in Argentina) there was never a zelda game around, not the first or the second, but I don’t think it would have been possible to complete the first one since all the famicom games are in japanese.

    Always a joy to read your reviews . I wonder what is worse, this game or the Vanilla Ice movie….

  12. @Ferchu: It is a poor game, but it is not *broken* or unbearable. It is entirely possible to complete it and to do so reasonably, although it would be tiresome so to do. D, not F.

  13. evilpaul? That’s a blast from the past…

    Also Zelda 2 is a butt-pile.

  14. @SN: 1) You’re an idiot.

    2) When have you ever played through Zelda II?

    3) See 1.

  15. Zelda is my favorite game series. I only played Zelda II for about an hour. Didn’t need it in my life.

  16. The first time I rented Zelda II, dad and I stopped at an Olive Garden on the way back from Blockbuster. I was reading about it in a Nintendo Power strategy guide, and we ate the worst goat-ass-cheese pizza ever. That game and that pizza are forever correlated in my mind.

  17. I’ve made it a point to track down and play every Zelda game in some form, even Zelda train simulator, except for this and CDi titles. Despite what people have told me about this being good for the era I still can’t bring myself to try it and after this review I feel justified.

  18. @DM: Trust me, the nasty pizza was better.

    @Ashes: It really is a pile of poo. Truly, Zelda Train Simulator is a far better experience (and more fulfilling withal).

  19. I can’t even understand why someone would think it was “good for the era.” I feel like it was developed kind of like Super Mario Bros. 2. It was a completely different non-Zelda game, but they just redid some of the sprites and pasted a Zelda logo on it.

  20. I never liked it as a kid. I loved the original Zelda and couldn’t figure out why they took a step backwards for the Adventure of Link.

  21. @Bup: It was actually always intended to be a Zelda team, but it was done by a completely different team than the original LoZ team, and it was produced in a very, very short time so that it could follow up LoZ inside of a year.

    @Rabid: It’s terrible, and the best that can be said is that Nintendo recognised it was a mistake and did not repeat the error.

    I sat down today for my first few minutes of streaming with Milon’s Secret Castle. It is far worse than Zelda II.

  22. “If at first you do not succeed, try fire.”

    This game was frustratingly obtuse to 5-year-old me. I got to the Thunderbird and quit.

  23. @Lane: You missed out on five seconds of being told that you were a hero.

    5-year-old you would have appreciated knowing this.

  24. One thing I regret not mentioning in my review are the single-use (or near-single-use) spells, most glaring of which is the Thunder spell (only used to make the Thunderbird vulnerable to attacks). Lazy design. Very lazy.

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