On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.
Let’s get back to talking about other Zelda games than the 800-pound, battery-powered, flame-spouting, spike-studded elephant in the room.
I make no apologies for it: I love Zelda II: The Adventure of Link! It’s second only to the original game for me, and I’ve probably played it, in its unaltered form, more than The Legend of Zelda by now. Because you can play enough of TLoZ that it becomes kind of boring, but a game of Zelda II is never a guaranteed win. There’s just enough randomness in it to mess you up once in awhile, even for speedrunners, and while you can do things to account for it, you can never completely negate it. Bots, those blue blobs that jump at you, exist to humble overconfident players. They look like weak enemies, and don’t do much damage once you have some Life levels, but there is always the chance that they’ll ding you. I love that. It has a very high skill ceiling.
Zelda II has long been regarded as the black sheep of the series, like how many Nintendo series have second installments that play with the formula. It’s the only Zelda with an experience system, it’s the only one with a separate combat screen, and it’s the only one with a system of extra lives.
It is also the only Nintendo-made Legend of Zelda game, released pre-Breath of the Wild, that has never been remade in any way! Zelda I had BS Zelda, the first Satellaview one; Link to the Past had both a Satellaview update and one for GBA; Link’s Awakening has been remade twice. Ocarina of Time has Master Quest and the 3D version, Majora’s Mask is also in 3D on the 3DS, and Wind Waker, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword all have HD revisions. That leaves Zelda II.
To further heap laurels upon it, I say it’s the Zelda with the best combat! The newly-teenaged Link has a sense of weight and inertia to him that fits swordfighting well. It works so well that it seems like an obvious thing, but the fact that so few other games do swordfighting so well proves how difficult it is to get right. Breath of the Wild and its sequel have good combat, but silver-level enemies in it are just a bit too much of a damage sponge, and appear too often in the late phases of the game.
Now I’m bending the rules a bit by including this game because it’s not a romhack, it’s a fan remake. But it looks like a romhack. And the game follows Link’s movement from the NES game very closely. If he moves any differently than he did in that outing 36 years ago, I can’t point to how. Any skills you have from playing Zelda II will transfer over exactly, which is good, because they are hard won.
Unlike A2MR, the fan recreation of Metroid II: Return of Samus that Nintendo cruelly quashed, this game has only slightly upgraded graphics, it all looking like it could have been done with the original engine. It’s not, it’s made with Unity, and it pulls out just a couple of effects it’d have been hard, if not impossible, to have done on Famicom-level hardware.
Beyond that, the game’s structure is not greatly changed. The basic map of North Hyrule is similar to the NES game. There are differences, sometimes big ones, but the game still has the same feel, enough so that people who have played a lot of it on the NES will immediately know much where to go and what to do. There’s just a new wrinkle in some places.
ZIIAOL is, I must emphasize, an even harder game than Zelda II. It’s really made for people who are familiar with the original. To pick just a few instances of its higher difficulty: you only start with three units of health and magic instead of four, you must find three Magic and Heart Containers to improve that stat, there are new subquests and places to find, and some areas are slightly randomized. (The game also has its own built-in randomizer, if you really want to mix up your game.)
Yet, of many of the enemies that had tricks to beating them, the tricks still work. I’m thinking especially of its infamous knight enemies, the Ironknuckles, which sent a generation of kids screaming away from the TV. Yet, once you know their trick, to jump and hit them high on the way down, in the helmet, they become fairly simple to beat. The same trick works here, which is a huge relief. (If only it worked in the combat Timer game on the recent Zelda Game & Watch!)
Anyway. It’s free on itch.io, and if you have any interest in the original, or NES games in general, it’s worth it to give it a shot. You’re going to die a lot, but that’s probably going to be true of the original too. But they’re fun deaths.
Why is it called by its initials, “ZIIAOL?” My guess is, it’s probably to help it stay off of Nintendo’s radar. I have used the name from their itch.io post in case it helps them in this goal.
ZIIAOL (itch.io, $0)