Monday, December 19, 2016

The Legend of Zelda: a small retrospective

The Legend of Zelda released in Japan on February 21, 1986.  It wouldn't make its way to the States until the next year, but 2016 is its true 30th birthday, so this is the time for a little reminiscing...

My experience with video games started early in life, mainly because my grandpa loved them.  I remember playing Pitfall, Outlaw, Mouser, Pole Position, and E.T. on his Atari.  There was a convenience store by my house (I grew up way out in the country...two convenience stores were all we had) that had a Super Mario Bros. arcade machine.  My grandpa would take me there to play it all the time.  I also always ended up renting Gorgo.  That movie ruled.

Gorgo was the British Godzilla, for those who are curious.

One Christmas, my grandparents handed me a gift that would change my life forever.  I tore off the wrapping paper to discover a Nintendo Entertainment System, and with it, Super Mario Bros!  I was shocked and excited that I could now play this amazing game in the comfort of my own living room, and play it I did!  Constantly.  (As an aside, my grandma told me that my grandpa had the NES for a while before Christmas and would take it out everyday while I was at school and play it!)

I just thought I was obsessed with video games.  It wasn't until a couple years later that my life was truly changed.  Pawpaw (my grandpa) called me to tell me about this new game he just rented that had a little green dude with a sword fighting all these crazy monsters.  I couldn't wait to see what he was talking about!

So I finally get back to their house and this is what I see:

Just look at this cartridge! (Kids, a cartridge is what games used to come on) It's so shiny!  And gold!  Oh, the gold!  I had never seen such a thing in all my six years of life.  Thirty years later and it is still a sight to behold.  And then when you actually put the cartridge in and turn it on...

This screen combined with the music really sets the mood for what is an epic adventure.  Then you get the back story:

Come on, Nintendo.  Don't make me Gannon-ban you.

Awesome!  We get to be the hero who rescues a damsel in distress, but who also is pretty heroic herself, seeing as how she was proactive in trying to keep Ganon (misspelled here as "Gannon") from getting the Triforce of Wisdom.  Such a simple concept, but perfect for six year old me.  Okay, let's play! what?  Kids, back in the day, games didn't hold your hand.  Most of the time, they didn't even acknowledge that you had a hand.  Or an arm.  LoZ just thrust you right in the action with no direction on where to go, no weapon...all you had was a choice: north, east, or west.  Or, if you were brave, a random cave entrance in the rock in front of you.  If this game came out today, there would be a one-hour guided intro that told you how to do everything you needed to complete the game.  Back then, we were expected to figure it out, take some chances.

Link starts out facing north, so most people probably went that way (I don't know if that's true).  If you did go that way, you encountered these weird things spitting rocks at you.  And you had no way to fight them.    As I'm sure most people know now, the best course of action (unless you're one of those people who do crazy things like attempt to beat this game without a sword) is to enter the cave, where you meet this guy:

I know we're always told not to take candy from a stranger, but what about a sword?

And so the fun began!  I'm not really going to go into much more detail about this, because there have been thousands of reviews of this game in the last thirty years.  I want to spend the rest of this post just hitting on some high points of the Legend of Zelda, specifically its merchandise.

I don't know if it's just because I grew up in the middle of nowhere in south Mississippi, where the nearest Walmart was over thirty minutes away and "going to town" was something we planned a week in advance, but it seems like merchandise for video games or movies or cartoons was hard to come by.  In third grade, I bought a little cross at the Santa Shop and used it at recess as Link's sword.  I remember making my own t-shirt of Link fighting an Octorock.  It was awful.  I wish I still had it.  One day, however, I got this:

The Legend of Zelda Game Watch.  This was what dreams were made of!  I don't remember when I got it, I just remember loving it and playing with it a lot.  I really do wish I had more specific memories of it, but alas, time, like waves on the seashore, has wiped away those little episodes from my mind.  This, though, still lives on in my thoughts...

The Legend of Zelda Maze Game.  When I was a child, much like today, I wasn't crazy about doing outside stuff.  Granted, I loved riding my four-wheeler and playing football in the backyard, but that was about it.  Before I got the "sword" that I mentioned above, recess was not my favorite.  The slide was too high for me climb (I'm still scared of heights) and I actually loved the seesaw until I managed to fall off while I was at the top.  But then I got the LoZ Maze Game.  I sat for hours under the tree next to the swings and attempted to navigate the little ball from the top corner to the opposite bottom corner.  It wasn't hard, but it didn't matter, because it was the Legend of Zelda!

The Super Mario Bros. Super Show was a game changer.  It was one of my favorite games in cartoon form!  And it had Capt. Lou Albano!  I was pretty excited to have this show in my life.  Things got kicked up a notch when at the end of the first episode they showed a preview for The Legend of Zelda, which was coming on Friday!  My mind melted.

I. Love.  This. Show.  Even today, 27 years later.  Is it mainly because of nostalgia that I love it so much?  Probably, but I'm okay with that.  Look, we all know that unless we're talking about Batman: The Animated Series, the cartoons from our childhoods just don't hold up.  This is no exception.  If I didn't have such fond memories of watching this in the morning before school while eating Pop-Tarts or Fruity Pebbles, I'd probably have a hard time getting into it today.  But I do have those memories and I love this show.

I, like most people my age, had a subscription to Nintendo Power back in the day.  When A Link to the Past came out, they did a comic every month that was loosely based on the game.  The comic was collected in a trade paperback many years ago, but unfortunately sells for way more money than I'm willing to spend.  Since I'm missing more than half of those issues of Nintendo Power, I had given up hope.  Until last year...

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past by Shotaro Ishinomori was finally rereleased with a new cover!  When I was a kid I used to copy so many pictures of Link from this series.  Looking through it today I still want to pull out the ol' mechanical pencil and get to drawing!

Things have gotten much better for collectors over the years.  Gone are the days of lucking up and finding a measly little LoZ maze game.  Now you can walk into any store that sells pop culture merchandise and find LoZ coffee mugs, puzzles, t-shirts, socks, playing cards, lanyards, toys, statues...I could keep going.

Action figures are my poison of choice.  I've tried to rein in my collecting habits by buying only action figures of DC characters, Star Wars, and Legend of Zelda (unsuccessfully, by the way, especially since Hasbro seems to be releasing classic X-Men characters as part of their Marvel Legends line).  Here's my current Link display in my office at work.

As you can see, there's no shortage of Link action figures or figurines these days.  There are tons more that I want, but I do have a family to provide for.  I guess I shouldn't spend all my money on a little pointy eared guy with an awesome sword.

Thanks for looking back with me at some of my favorite pieces of merchandise from one of the greatest franchises ever!  As next year brings us what is sure to be the biggest and most highly anticipated game in the series, here's hoping for some more awesome merch!  Comment with your favorite memories or memorabilia from Legend of Zelda!