Unlike movies, video game sequels are usually expected to be better than their predecessors, though third entries can still see some mixed results even in games. This is an area where Nintendo differentiates from other developers. While many developers see their franchises meet high points with their second entries (such as Capcom with Street Fighter 2 and Mega Man 2), Nintendo’s second installments are often seen as the black sheep of their franchises, while their third entries break new ground.
Super Mario Bros. was a revolution, while both the Japanese and English versions of Super Mario Bros. 2 were relatively less well-received (with the Japanese game being extremely difficult, and the American game being wildly different from the original). Then Super Mario Bros. 3 served as the benchmark for 8-bit gaming. This also occurred with the 3D Mario titles, with Super Mario 64 once again serving as a gaming revolution, its follow-up Super Mario Sunshine receiving a lukewarm reception, then Super Mario Galaxy becoming one of the most acclaimed video games of all time. The same thing even happened with the Metroid series, with the NES original kicking things off, the Gameboy sequel being largely forgotten, and Super Metroid giving the series a whole new level of acclaim.
Simply put, Nintendo’ experimentations with the initial sequels to their franchises often have mixed results, and this was as true as ever with The Legend of Zelda.
The second-ever Zelda game, Zelda 2: The Adventures of Link, is often seen as the black sheep of the series, due to its different gameplay from the rest of the series. While some of its criticisms are fair, Zelda 2’s status as a black sheep doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad.
Zelda 2 works like a combination of a 2D sidescroller and an RPG. It’s actually an interesting combination, and in some ways ahead of its time (RPG elements find their way into many different genres these days). Link travels across an overworld map and can gain experience points to level up, like in an RPG. But the individual stages are played like a sidescroller, with Link being able to jump and strike enemies with his sword, as well as cast spells once they are obtained.
Gameplay-wise, it’s a solid experience, though it’s easy to see how today’s Zelda fans might feel a little alienated by its different structure. But it was only the second entry in the long-running series, so with that context it makes a bit more sense why Nintendo would experiment a little, it’s not like the series had long-standing traditions by this point.
Again, Link is a fun character to control here, with all his actions working fluidly with the button presses, and leveling up to increase your attack power, hit points and magic is a feature I kind of wish the series would return to. The only real complaint to be had with Link himself is that his sword is a bit on the short side, meaning you have to be pretty close to strike enemies.
The overwolrd is nothing special, but it works for getting to each dungeon or town. But things can get a little harry with the frequent appearances of enemies on the world map. When these enemies touch you, you are taken to a mini-stage where you can face off with these enemies to gain experience points. The fact that you actually see the enemies on the overworld means that these encounters aren’t anywhere near as annoying as the random battles of Final Fantasy, but the frequency of their spawns – couple with the fact that they’re hard to outrun – makes them a bit of a nuisance if you just want to get to the next area.
Another problem arrises in the forms of never-ending waves of particular enemies (such as Moblins) who show up during some of these encounters. The constantly spawning enemies take away experience points if they come into contact with Link, nor do they give Link any experience points for defeating them, making them feel like a cruel addition to the game.
Still, the levels themselves are pretty fun, with a variety of enemies that require different strategies to defeat, and some challenging boss fights. Some may lament the lack of puzzles to be found, however, as the sidescrolling setup favors quick action over problem-solving.
Though as fun as the action is, it must be said that the difficulty of the game picks up incredibly fast. It doesn’t take long for Link to find himself against waves of unrelenting enemies, or foes who do more damage to you than you do to them. If the difference in play style weren’t alienating to some players, then the difficulty might be what turns them away nonetheless. There’s nothing wrong with a good challenge, but Link’s Adventure cranks up the difficulty pretty early on, and doesn’t really let up.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to the game, however,is how cryptic it can be. Admittedly, the original Zelda’s cryptic attributes haven’t aged well either, but it may have benefited Zelda 2 if it had learned from its predecessor’s mistakes.
One infamously cryptic moment comes in the form of unlocking one of the dungeons with a magic spell. Normally, this particular spell simply changes enemies (turning more difficult foes into something easier), but there’s one instance where you stand in a certain corner of a certain stage, where if you use the spell there, it unlocks the dungeon. And it’s not like there’s anyone that informs you of this, either.
In fact, the citizens of the towns don’t inform you of a whole lot. Most have them just have generic, flavorless dialogue that doesn’t help out, and those that do help out do so incredibly vaguely (“Only the hammer can break roadblocks” one might say, long before you even know where to get the hammer). It’s not quite to the levels of vagueness as Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest, but it’s in that same field.
Zelda 2: The Adventures of Link is still a fun game with colorful graphics and a memorable soundtrack, and its merging of platforming and RPG elements set the stage for many great games that would follow (such as Symphony of the Night). But its quickly increasing difficulty and overly cryptic elements may be off-putting to many players. Zelda 2: The Adventures of Link is a fun game, and an interesting piece in the series’ history, but some of its more dated elements may alienate players, that is if its difference in direction didn’t do so already.