In the early 90s, Nintendo seemed to be establishing a formula for their video game systems: Mario got the system in the door, and Zelda kept the customer loyal. It happened with the NES, and they made it happen again in 1992 with "A Link To The Past" for Super NES. The game looked at both previous Zelda titles and brought forth elements of both, realizing Hyrule with gorgeous, bright colors and cutting-edge art design and animation. In 1992, "Link to the Past" was the game to be, the game to beat, and most importantly, the game to play.
The question, then, is "How does it hold up?" I chose to play the Game Boy version of the game (mainly because I was broke that week and didn't feel like spending $8 on a game I'd already played many times before - I sold my SNES cartridge on eBay last year) which is more or less identical to the 1992 SNES release. There are a few minor improvements to the save system, but I won't go into those too much. It makes the game slightly easier, but all in all it's a pretty minor correction. There's also an additional palace, but it requires that you play "Four Swords" to unlock it, and that was not something I had planned on this time around.
The game opens with what is probably the first "cut scene" in a Zelda game (not counting the endings of the previous two games) as Link's uncle is called to the castle to rescue princess Zelda from the dungeon. After the uncle is gone, Link awakens and immediately, you are in the action. What continues is one of the most engaging and exciting sequences in the entire franchise - the dungeon rescue.
As the rain pours down overhead, and the music creeps up to a crescendo, Link engages in Royal Espionage, princess-napping Zelda from her captors. From there, you are deposited out into an immense, immense world. Compared to Zelda 1, this Hyrule feels twice as large, if not larger - and that's just the beginning. Within a few hours of gameplay, you find yourself in the Dark World - a complete mirror of the map with slight changes, and all new hidden caves and treasures. The amount of secrets in this game feels immense compared to Zelda 1 and II. It's not difficult these days to notice that games like Zelda require a greater time commitment than they did in the 80s, but "Link to the Past" is a great illustration of that process IN ACTION. This is one of the first games that had THIS MANY things to do. It's amazing.
The entire game reeks of polish; the graphics are beautiful, the music is delightful and catchy, the puzzles are well thought out and in some cases pretty tricky. I played this game about 2 years ago, so I didn't have a whole lot of problems remembering how to solve most of these puzzles, but I did have to consult a FAQ on a few minor points.
I managed to track down all but 3 of the heart pieces (once again, I did use a FAQ to get a handful of them, but most of them were found from memory) leading to an almost-full 19 Heart Containers. This is also the first Zelda game that split up the Heart Containers into quadrants, giving you much much more to do in the overworld.
There were a few magic spells, a concept brought forward from Zelda II, but none of them are all that useful and I pretty much never used them in combat. It's nice that they continued with the idea of magic, but the difference is that in Zelda II, magic almost completely replaced items - there WERE no "active" items in Zelda II, it was all magic. Bringing back the active items in "Link to the Past" (the classics like the boomerang and the bombs, but also a whole slew of great new items like the magic cane and the magic cape) relegated magic to the back burner.
I'm not sure how many more things I can say to convince you that this game is great. Not only is it one of the best Zelda titles, it's one of the very best video games ever produced by Nintendo or anyone else. This game set in stone many of the staples of the franchise that are still used in modern Zelda titles. This is, in a word, classic.
RANK THE GAMES: (The list is now quite topheavy):
LINK TO THE PAST