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How Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda Showcases the Franchise’s Best Innovations

Are The Legend of Zelda’s graphics relatively quaint today? Yes, but revisiting it 35 years later, one can still appreciate the game’s unique environmental design filled with castles, beaches, waterfalls, and high-fantasy trimmings. The Legend of Zelda represented a huge leap over the choice-based text adventures players had to rely on in years prior if they wished to replicate a grand fantasy adventure like The Lord of the Rings

The Legend of Zelda was a sword-and-sorcery journey that looked as grand and epic in scope as the best fantasy tales, and it remains the foundation that almost every other Zelda game has been built upon ever since. In many ways, it also laid the groundwork for the next 35 years of gaming by raising our expectations and changing the conversation about what a video game could be.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link – A Sequel Unafraid To Take Risks 

Sequels to successful games typically played it safe back in the day. That was certainly not the case for The Legend of Zelda, though, as its follow-up, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, incorporated a 2D plane perspective and placed greater emphasis on RPG elements. Such a stark change did nothing to dampen the second outing’s thrills, but it did let fans know that not every entry in this series would play out quite the same. It was a bold approach that still defines the spirit of the franchise all these years later, as seen by the striking differences between 2011’s Skyward Sword and 2017’s Breath of the Wild.

Certain hallmarks like Hyrule, Link, Zelda herself, and the Master Sword may always remain, at least for the most part, but The Legend of Zeldahas never been a franchise content with standing still. That’s quite a good thing for gamers everywhere, though, as when the opportunity to revisit an especially unique entry (as many consider The Adventure of Linkto be) comes up, it makes it that much easier to appreciate how even the earliest entries into this series were so committed to exploring bold new ideas.

The series would never return to the side-scrolling format featured so prominently in that sequel, yet The Adventure of Link is responsible for introducing lasting concepts like Dark Link, magic spells, and the presence of notable NPCs that you meet as part of the quest. Beyond those franchise innovations, The Adventure of Link also advanced the evolution of the ARPG genre as well as granted a generation of gamers a new perspective about what a video game sequel could be. 

Link’s Awakening: Bringing An Ambitious Fantasy World to the Small Screen

The first The Legend of Zelda delighted gamers by presenting a strange and mysterious fantasy world for them to explore, but the ability to explore such a world in Link’s Awakeningfor the Nintendo Game Boy was arguably an even more impressive accomplishment. This was the game that placed the rich beauty of Koholint Island within the palm of your hands. Better yet, recognizable elements such as exploration, puzzle-solving, and key items all comfortably carried over. It made for a hero’s journey that felt different due to being set outside of Hyrule, while still unabashedly looking and feeling like a Zelda game.

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