What’s So Great About Zelda 1

What’s so great about LoZ? There aren’t any advanced mechanics are there? inb4 muh micropositioning

M-Muh micropositioning!

I’m not gonna claim it’s the most deep game of all time, but it really emphasizes player movement around enemies in a way few other games do. The 2d top down action game roster is actually fairly limited (apart from twin stick shooters) and the original legend of zelda is one of the few successful games in that lineup.

There are a few advanced mechanics, but they’re not really why the game is deep. (spin attack, some weird reverse bomb thing that works on darknuts, and forcing bomb drops on the 10th enemy)

In 2d games, enemies tended to be dangerous because they inherently had a movement style that was dangerous. We’ve kind of moved onto movesets since then, specific animations. Then advanced techniques are typically manipulation of these animations.

This is why 2d games have medusa heads, and 3d games don’t.

Look at the various Zelda enemies and consider their movement patterns. A lot of them are simple and just wander around aligned to the grid, but most of them have some sort of trick or a different movement style.


Bubbles rapidly patrol the edges of the surface they’re aligned to, making them helpful in tandem with other enemies, Darknuts can only be hit from the sides or behind, so they need to be lured and attacked while crossing over into the next tile. Goriyas throw boomerangs, threatening a space in front of them for an extended period of time. Leevers appear out of the ground and move at link, red ones chase him, so you need to react to both as they appear. Like-Likes have no pushback when hit and take a lot of hits to beat and will eat your shield, so you need to fight them by swinging and retreating. Lionels, Moblins, and Octoroks all shoot projectiles that can be blocked with the right shield if you face towards them. Peahats can only be hit when they stop and unlike other enemies they do not move aligned to the tiles. Pol’s Voices and Tektites jump around in different ways and the Tektites can even go on terrain blocks. Ropes wait until you’re aligned with them, then rush at you. Wallmasters come out of the wall and have lots of health, making them work well with other enemies, by ambushing you from the sides and overwhelming you. Wizzrobes appear in tiles aligned with link and shoot projectiles and are usually on screens with a ton of blocks arranged so you walk down long thin rows where it’s hard to avoid their projectiles. Zora and statues will shoot fireballs at link from afar that are not aligned with the grid, making them effective with other enemies, and force link to keep moving. Blade traps will work well with enemies in the center of the screen, restricting your range of movement.

As for the bosses, Aquamentius is kind of basic. He just moves up and down and shoots sets of 3 fireballs that always move leftward, but are angled in the direction you are relative to him. The blocks around him make sure that you can’t move to a position where he can’t hit you with the fireballs, so you need to go through phases of moving around the fireballs and moving in to stab him. It’s not amazing, but it works. Dodongo is even more basic, he’s barely a boss. Walks slowly, needs to be killed with bombs, not that impressive. Does better later in the game in rooms where there are 3 of them. Is uniquely the only enemy to take up 2 tiles at once in the direction he’s walking, so with 3 of them on the screen they do an alright job controlling space, but still not the most impressive boss. Manhandla is cool. Moves around randomly at you, occasionally shoots an array of fireballs from each head at asynchronous times. You need to get in close to stab it or plant bombs near it, which also exposes you to the danger of its fireballs. You need to move dynamically both to avoid the fireballs and to avoid being in its movement path, while still positioning yourself so you can attack it. Gleeock is probably my favorite. It has heads that move around randomly and shoot fireballs, which is sort of like Manhandla and Aquamentus put together, but what makes it really interesting is when you kill one of the heads, it splits off and starts shooting fireballs at you from another point in the room, so you need to avoid both at once. Digdogger is kind of a bust. Use an item that makes it vulnerable, then stab it. It’s a slower moving version of a regular enemy. They use the fireball statues to help out, but those are used elsewhere with common enemies to greater effect. Gohma’s alright. You need to align yourself below it to shoot an arrow into its eye at the right time, and avoid the fireballs at other times. There’s also blocks placed in your way that make it trickier to line up a shot, but which don’t restrict Gohma’s fireballs. Gleeock makes a return appearance on Level 8 with 4 heads. This makes the battle much more dynamic than the first time. Ganon’s a disappointing design. Can’t really justify him in any way. He shoots fireballs from random positions onscreen. You need to stab randomly without any visual feedback and hope you get lucky. The dungeon leading up to him is great though.

There’s a lot of disparate movement styles between all these enemies, and many screens, even early on, combine enemies that cover each other’s weaknesses or target specific player behaviors, such as to create a greater threat to the player.

They all require you to move around them. They all require you to attack and defend at the right times (you can’t block ranged attacks with your sword out). Some cannot be killed. Some specifically punish inaction. Some have random factors you need to react to. They all deal an appropriate amount of damage and are generally difficult to deal with.

Since you mentioned the bomb drops on the 10th enemy in Zelda… I recall there was an article that explained item drop mechanics in quite a lot of detail, which I believe you linked to on twitter, but no matter how hard I google, I can’t find it. You wouldn’t happen to have it bookmarked?

A quick google search turned this up, which should have any information you could possibly want on Zelda 1.

2 thoughts on “What’s So Great About Zelda 1

  1. kn83 February 20, 2020 / 11:49 pm

    I wouldn’t say TLoZ absolutely “sucks,” as it was an important game for both the adventure and RPG genres. But I’m a bit fed up now by the praise the game gets from the “hard-core” gamers because I honestly think its one of the worst, least fun game in the series. Every time I read about how Zelda needs to “return to its roots” and recreate the experience in TLoZ, I just roll my eyes. If Zelda needs to look to its past (I don’t agree with this), why not follow ALttP, an infinitely better game?

    I think TLoZ has aged incredibly poorly, and I personally find it to be a boring, annoying, and tedious game to play. Part of it can be attributed to technological limitations, part of it to bad design choices. It’s pretty comparable to another game that people tend to hold in high regard but also aged terribly, the original Metroid.

    In both titles, the lack of an in-game map really hurts the experience, and combined with the limited early-NES graphics that made just about every screen look the same as the one before it, you will spend more time being lost than feeling like you’re making progress. Also in both games, there’s no context for the adventure or a clear objective to look forward to, just some vague idea of killing the big boss and saving the day. Both ALttP and Super Metroid have actual stories, and they utilize maps and mark the location of the destination on there, so you always have a goal to look forward to and a general sense of direction that you should go in.

    There’s also the awful, dated controls and combat. In TLoZ, you can’t even move diagonally and your pathetic sword only hits the few pixels right in front of your face, so any swordplay revolves around running into enemy head-on and mashing the sword. But the boomerang can hit diagonally, so that means preventing diagonal movement and sword swinging was a design choice, not a limitation. In Metroid, you can’t even shoot diagonally or downwards, yet almost all the enemies are either too short to hit or too high to get a good shot of. In either case, the “action” part of action-adventure just isn’t fun.

    Then there’s the cryptic bull crap. In that article “Saving Zelda” (where the author said each Zelda game was worst than the last), the guy praised the difficulty of discovering secrets in TLoZ and criticized the cracked walls in ALttP for being too obvious. I still can’t get over that because I think that aspect of TLoZ was just awful and deserving of no praise; does he praise “hit Deborah Cliff with your head to make a hole” for being difficult to figure out too? And it’s not something you can just ignore too, since even the entrances to dungeons and key items are hidden in these cryptic, obscure locations.

    In TLoZ, there usually aren’t even HINTS to where the secrets are, and when there are, they aren’t even in English. To find a secret cave, you have to stock up on bombs and randomly bomb all the walls you see, hoping that there will be a secret behind it and memorizing which of the identical, bland walls you’ve already tested. That is NOT fun; that is tedious and stupid, and that type of trial-by-error game design philosophy is best left behind to the 80’s when it was acceptable. Back then, if you wanted to beat an adventure game like TLoZ or Castlevania II, you’d share discoveries with friends or buy yourself a copy of Nintendo Power, since the whole point of the cryptic crap in NES games was to artificially extend the length of the game while getting kids to buy the magazine for basically essential information.

    Summary of TLoZ:
    -no map, context, or clear objectives
    -awful controls and combat
    -cryptic bull crap and trial-by-error game design

    So yeah, being non-linear and having no handholding doesn’t save TLoZ from being a mediocre game, just like they didn’t save E.T. the Extraterrestrial. It’s definitely not the “roots” we want Zelda to turn back to, if that’s a good idea at all.


    • Chris Wagar February 21, 2020 / 12:54 am

      “In both titles, the lack of an in-game map really hurts the experience,”
      Draw your own map or remember where you are.

      “you will spend more time being lost than feeling like you’re making progress”
      That’s a you problem. I didn’t get lost. You can avoid getting lost by paying more attention.

      “Also in both games, there’s no context for the adventure or a clear objective to look forward to, just some vague idea of killing the big boss and saving the day.”
      Who cares?

      “There’s also the awful, dated controls and combat.”
      This is vague and unsupported by everything else you say here.

      “In TLoZ, you can’t even move diagonally”
      This isn’t a good or bad thing.

      “and your pathetic sword only hits the few pixels right in front of your face”
      It hits a full tile in front of you. It has more range than the ALTTP sword. It means you need to be careful how close you get before slashing, because the enemy could move forward at the same time you do, closing the gap and hitting you before you hit them.

      “But the boomerang can hit diagonally, so that means preventing diagonal movement and sword swinging was a design choice, not a limitation.”
      1. You don’t know that. You don’t know how much memory was left over for additional link sprites. The boomerang is a projectile, so it doesn’t require a unique sprite of link facing diagonally.
      2. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a design choice or a limitation. It is what it is, for better or for worse.
      3. Having limited movement isn’t inherently a bad thing.

      I’ll agree with Zelda 1 being too cryptic in its hints and having puzzle solutions that are frequently too obscure. The japanese version had more clear explanations of things. There’s still barely enough to figure out what you’re doing for yourself.

      Are you seriously searching for every reference to zelda 1 on this blog to complain, or what?


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