Every video game family has a black sheep. I'm talking about that game where they tried to be "different" or "innovative" but instead ended up being "mediocre" or "lame." In the NES era, it was the second game of franchises that tended to trend this way. Castlevania II was noticeably different from its predecessor, though maybe in that case it was a good thing. Super Mario Bros. 2 was obviously quite a departure from the first game. I could go on, but you get the idea: the sequels to popular NES games are usually odd. And thus I present you Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
The astute among you may have noticed that we are no longer speaking of The Legend of Zelda, but just Zelda II. Which might normally cause you to believe that Zelda will be more prominent in this game than in the last, but she is, if possible, even less involved than before. You see, apparently some years after Link saved Hyrule and dipped out of town for a while, Zelda's spoiled brother wanted the third Triforce piece (that one we wouldn't discuss last time around) and when Zelda wouldn't tell him where it was, he had some wizard stick a sleeping spell on her so powerful that the wizard died while casting it. So, you guessed it: while Zelda spent the entire first game kidnapped, she gets to spend the entire second one unconscious. At that point I can't even fault them for officially declaring her life less legendary. Sheesh.
So anyway, you've got to go find the third Triforce (now called forevermore the Triforce of Courage) because it's the only thing that can awaken Zelda. To do that you've got to take some crystals and stick them in six palaces/temples across Hyrule, which will reveal the resting place of the little golden triangle that everyone's so worked up about. Meanwhile Ganon's loyal minions found out that you're back in Hyrule and they want you dead. Evidently if they sprinkle your blood on Ganon's ashes, he'll come back to life. Gross.
Unlike the last game which used an overhead perspective, this game is comprised of a bunch of sidescrolling "action screens." You'll walk around the overworld map in the usual way, but periodically shadows of enemies will appear and chase you. If one touches you, you enter the action screen to do some 2D battle with it. It throws you off a little at first for a couple reasons. For one, Link is just abnormally big and blurry. You don't notice it too much until you go into a village and see the other people, but you are huge and obviously a lower res than the world around you. And if you see how low res the world around you is, well... The second odd moment will be when you first kill an enemy and see experience points awarded. Like a real RPG. People usually try to claim that the Zelda games are all RPGs, and they're all clearly wrong. Still though, Zelda II comes closer than any of them to crossing that genre.
When you reach your experience goal you'll get the option to increase one of your only three stats: life, magic, or attack power. They have differing levels of cost, but if you just buy the cheapest thing every time you'll progress fairly evenly. You can also find hearts and magic potions hidden in the world that increase your gauges at the top from 4 all the way up to 8. But all is not well on the experience front. Zelda II can save, which is great and all, but here's the catch: the game doesn't save your experience. Oh it'll save your purchases, so all your stat upgrades will be there, but it'll reset your actual experience pool to nothing whenever you exit the game. So let's say you need 5000 experience points to buy something, and you get to 4995 but then have to quit. When you load back up, it's 0/5000. BONED. Maybe that's why they stick P-bags around the world too, that just give free experience. But they're one-time use too, so if you used one then quit, your experience is gone and so is the bag. Ruthless.
You also never get life back from enemies. Oh sure, they'll drop the occasional magic potion or the rare P-bag, but never any health. It makes each section of progress a sort of gauntlet, because you can't heal until you get back to a town or luck into finding a fairy hanging out in some meadow, begging you to touch it. It's like that scene in Hook where Julia "Tinkerbell" Roberts tries to have sex with Peter Pan. It gives you the willies. And come to think of it, Link and Peter Pan aren't really dressed that differently, they're both boys in their teens......you know, I think we're getting off track here.
If you've read my Castlevania review you know there is one kind of enemy attack pattern so heinous its inventors were executed for crimes against humanity: the medusa head. Unfortunately for gamers, the people behind Zelda II saw that sine wave-looking unavoidable onslaught of death and said "Hey, that's a good idea!" In Zelda II it's skeletal fish heads instead of medusas, but the effect is the same. Except that these ones spit rocks at you too. And oh yeah, if you touch one you lose experience. What the hell man! I might have even given all this a pass because at least they can't cheese you off instant-death ledges like in Castlevania, until I remembered that they most frequently appear on bridges over lava or, you know, nothingness. The only thing the medusa heads still have on these guys is that the Zelda bonefish move a little slower and Link is a little more agile than Simon "Belmondo." Dear game developers: NEVER DO THIS AGAIN. Regards and etc., Homicidal Gamer #749201.
Link's got a couple helpful abilities though. For one thing, his sword shoots out energy when he's at full health. This is, of course, completely unexplained, but you'll take it. Later on in the game he'll find recluses in towns who will teach him how to stab upward and downward in midair with his sword. You wouldn't think someone would actually have to show you how to angle your sword, but whatever. When you get these attacks, they will become all you use. Jumping on someone's head and holding down, you'll become a living pogo stick of death and destruction. Some of the fiercest enemies in the game (like knights in blue armor who are absurdly strong) can just get destroyed by this.
Towns are awesome. They're full of villagers, though almost all of them look the same, and most of them will just tell you that they can't tell you anything. But each village has a house with a hottie in a red dress who invites you in for a little sumthin-sumthin' to restore your life. That is glorious. There's another house with an old hag who invites you in to restore your magic, though I'ma wager she just offers you tea. Or maybe some stew. You'll also find random stuff like a fat dude in a purple tunic saying "I am ERROR." Great work guys on checking that text for bugs. In one house there's a disembodied voice from under a table. You're so intent actually on invading people's homes that you'll even occasionally pull a Santa Claus and jump down their chimneys. And nobody even seems to mind! Hyrule is laid. back.
Every town also contains an old man with a pulsating beard anxious to teach you some magic. None of it's super impressive - we're talking about jumping higher, or taking less damage...utility-type stuff. Of course, one of them teaches you the Heal spell and your life stops sucking that instant. But in order to earn the spell you usually have to complete silly errands for the chick guarding the house's door. "A child in the town went missing, please bring him back!" "I lost my trophy! Please find it!" Or, in the case of one haughty broad, "Fetch me some water." You should take pointers from the lady at the sex hut, hun. That girl knows what's up.
A couple more complaints and observations before we hit the last area. First, why do some of these temples look straight-up like Bowser's castle? And second, why is it that if I try to quickly turn around I pinball all over the screen? No lie, if you move in one direction, then quickly turn the other way and back again, you will launch off to the side of the screen, taking damage from everything in your way. After a time you'll slingshot back the other way automatically. I don't know why this happens and I tried it on multiple copies of the game to make sure it wasn't just the one I was playing, and they all had this problem. It's easy enough to say "Well just don't rapidly turn around anymore," but that invites all kinds of other problems in combat when you're moving all around trying to avoid things like, oh, say, bony fish skulls spitting rocks and stealing your experience. That's a pretty major glitch, Nintendo.
But if you persist through it and get to the Great Temple, you'll see the giant laser beams blocking its entrance disappear and you can go inside. It's a long journey but when you finally reach the boss pictured here, guess what? It's invincible. LOVELY. There's a sort of "spell to end all spells" you have to get to damage this boss, but there's no indication of that until you're at the boss itself. If you reach it without the spell, you've got to kill yourself repeatedly until you use a continue, then journey all the way back from the temple to hunt down this last spell, then go all the way back to and through the temple again. And using the spell doesn't kill it; it just makes it vulnerable. But your bread and butter up/down strikes won't hurt it either. This is one of those Yoda "Unlearn what you have learned" type moments, I guess. Couldn't you throw that out a little earlier?
When you defeat the thunderbird you find some old friar guarding the Triforce. I guess he lives in the temple or something. He makes you fight a shadow version of yourself, which causes some immature chuckles because of where Link holds his sword when he gets hurt. When you put that into a silhouette, well. So you kill your clone, take the Triforce, wake up Zelda, and she makes out with you. For serious. That's the game. It's not as good as the first one, for sure, and a lot of the changes to the basic gameplay were the culprits for detracting from the enjoyment. But that said, the score ceiling for a game with medusa head style enemies isn't very high, and you might argue that Zelda II comes near it. It's almost the epitome of average gaming. So at least it's the best at something.
Bottom Line: 10/20