The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Link upgrades to 16-bit for his third console adventure

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date published: 9.8.23
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It’s 1999. I am four years old and my aunt just gifted me an old Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) with two cartridges and a piece of plastic shaped like a gun. The two cartridges I received were the Super Mario Bros / Duck Hunt combo and the beautiful, shiny, golden Zelda II: The Adventure of Link cartridge. I was only four, but I had played other games on the NES at my babysitter’s house, so I knew what’s up. My Dad hooked up the console to the TV and I obviously chose to play the beautiful, shiny, golden cartridge rather than the dull gray one. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have ever been more disappointed in my life. It was my understanding that the gold plastic cartridge meant that the game was going to be amazing. In reality, it was quite the opposite. The second Zelda game is extremely difficult and punishing. Many proficient video game players have trouble beating this in 2023 even with the help of emulators/save states/etc, so it goes without saying that Zelda 2 was not the best introduction to Zelda for four-year-old me. If I am being honest, it kind of ruined my perception of Zelda. So much so, that I never played another Zelda game until years later. My life was almost entirely Zelda free up until college, where I ended up playing through Link’s Awakening, loving it, and then completing every other Zelda game that was released after it. But even after playing like 12 Zelda games, there was a giant, gaping hole in my Zelda knowledge — A game by the name of

The game begins on a stormy night, Link is in bed and he receives a telepathic message from Princess Zelda. She tells Link that the evil Agahnim has her trapped in the dungeon of Hyrule Castle and asks him to help. Link wakes up and his uncle tells him he ‘will be out for a while’ and that Link shouldn’t leave the house. After this, the player gets control over Link and… Probably leaves the house. Link sneaks his way into Hyrule castle where he finds (a little too early on) his injured uncle slumped against a wall. Link’s uncle presumably dies right there, but not before giving Link his sword and shield. With weapon in hand, Link begins to cut his way through the dungeon of Hyrule Castle and manages to escape with Princess Zelda through a secret passage that leads to the sanctuary northwest of the castle. In the sanctuary, you meet a sage who offers to hide Princess Zelda from Agahnim while Link searches for the Master Sword (The only weapon that can destroy Agahnim). The sage sends Link off to find an elder who knows more about how to find the Master Sword. Once you find the elder, your REAL journey begins — he tells Link that he must find the three Pendants of Virtue if he wants to claim the Master Sword. The elder mentions the pendants are hidden in three palaces across Hyrule. With this information, Link is off to track down the pendants and retrieve the Master Sword.

Game Art

If Gamers ever agree on a better term for ‘metroidvania’ games, Zelda games would probably be included in that category. The only reason I can see that they aren’t in that category already is because the term ‘metroidvania’ is specifically referencing two games that are played from a side perspective while 2D Zelda games are played from a birds-eye view. As with all Zelda games, the reason why most people like A Link to the Past is not because of its story, but because of its gameplay. This game has the player delving deep into abandoned palaces, dank dungeons, and tall towers. Inside each area, you will fight monsters, open chests, solve puzzles, find new gear, and battle a boss. To get from area to area, the player traverses a wide-open map of Hyrule. Where they will inevitably stumble upon power ups, fairies, special items, and many, many more monsters. Delving into a dungeon, spending some time in the overworld, and the moving to the next dungeon makes for a flawless gameplay loop that is a large part of why players continue to talk about this game 30+ years after its release.

I had actually played bits and pieces of this game before, but never spent enough time to really get into it. I always thought the game was: Save Zelda, retrieve three pendants, get the master sword, defeat the bad guy. To my surprise, once you defeat Agahnim with the master sword, the game does not end. Instead, Link is sent to ‘The Dark World’ — an alternate version of Hyrule where everything sucks. Monsters are tougher, puzzles are harder, and there are wayy more dungeons. By the end of the game, you will be traveling through Hyrule and jumping back and forth between the light and dark worlds to solve puzzles and grab hidden items.

Game Art

I can pretty confidently say A Link to the Past is the best 2D experience the Legend of Zelda series has to offer (even taking into account the 3DS sequel to ALttP). If you include 3D games in the ranking, it might be a different story. Everything about this game feels like the developers knew exactly how it needed to be. Games have done similar things better in the years since, but not with the limitations of the Super Nintendo. The movement feels great, weapons and items all have unique powers and the colors and environments are expertly done (Link has pink hair in this game). If I were to fault the game, I think I would really be nitpicking, so I will leave it at that.

With A Link to the Past in the rear view, the only hole in my Zelda knowledge is the new Switch release ‘Tears of the Kingdom’. It is really interesting to see how far the Zelda series has come and how different the games are now. The new Zelda games for Switch have an almost completely different formula and allow the player to do just about anything they can think of in the world of Hyrule.



"Legend of Zelda peaked early (until BotW)"

"Could see myself living in this version of Kakariko Village"

"Change all the battles to turn-based"

"Z-Axis needed"

"Hard to believe this game was made in 1992"