It's fitting that Nintendo's top holiday game release is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, because it has been 25 years since the debut of the franchise that helped usher in a new era of gaming.
When The Legend of Zelda debuted in Japan in February 1986, it was a turbulent time in gaming. Just a few years earlier, industry giant Atari had essentially imploded after game companies flooded the market with low-quality titles for its console. Nintendo debuted its NES with the innovative platform game Super Mario Bros., but one game can't support an entire system. The company decided to bring Zelda, its puzzle-solving action-adventure game, over for American gamers in 1987, introducing millions to the land of Hyrule.
The Legend of Zelda told the tale of a hero named Link, who rescued Princess Zelda from the evil clutches of a pig-like creature named Ganon. To do so, he had to collect fragments of a powerful ancient relic called the Triforce of Wisdom. It had all the makings of a classic medieval tale. Link even resembled Robin Hood, with his green garb and excellent archery skills.
The game was hugely successful, earning the title of top-selling NES game until Super Mario Bros. 2 came along. (The first Super Mario Bros. doesn't count, because it was bundled with the console for sale.) It also introduced a new feature, allowing players to save their games. Gone were the days of leaving your NES on so you wouldn't have to start the game all over.
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Today, The Legend of Zelda holds a special place in gamers' memory. I, for one, replay the game annually. It continues to amaze me how I can continue to find new places to explore. Every location on the board seems to hide places where goblins might give me money or an old man might charge me for burning down his home. As I accumulate weapons throughout the eight dungeons where the Triforce pieces are scattered, I begin to decide to leave, say, a magic wand behind to make the game slightly more difficult.
It's also intriguing to go back to the original and see the origins of the enemies who have continued to torment me in games ever since. I still think the sword-wielding Darknuts in the original are tougher than any other of their incarnations.
Another feature of the original that spawned its legacy and devotion was the inclusion of a second quest. After triumphing over Ganon in the original, you were rewarded by being told you could do it again. Except this time, the dungeons are all in different places, and the enemies are more difficult. For 25 years, the "Second Quest," as it's officially called, flummoxed me. But this year, I triumphed — without looking up any hints. (My only advice is play the recorder in every area and bomb and burn everything in sight.)
If there's a Zelda fan on your holiday gift list this year, Skyward Sword for the Wii is the obvious choice. And for longtime fans, there's a bonus: a CD featuring eight songs from the series history, performed by orchestras. It pulls pieces from the series' many games and is a treat for old-school fans.