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A look back at the swords 'n' sorcery gaming series

The legend of "The Legend of Zelda" 

The princess and the Wii

Last week's much-anticipated debut of Nintendo's new Wii console also saw the release of an even more anticipated arrival: the newest Zelda game. For almost 20 years the Legend of Zelda franchise has been one of the top --- if not the top --- properties in the video game industry. Mario may have the sales and number of games, but Link has the near-universal critical and fan acclaim. In honor of the release of The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess, here's a look back on Link's most noteworthy adventures.

The Legend of Zelda: The original Zelda title arrived for the original Nintendo system in 1987. Who'd have thought that the adventures of a little fairy boy trying to rescue an unseen princess from a giant pig monster would capture the world's imagination so completely? The basic concepts are all here: the sword-wielding Link, damsel-in-distress Zelda, big bad Ganon, complicated dungeons crammed with bizarre monsters, the magical land of Hyrule, and the all-powerful Triforce. Gamers scoff at the clunky graphics now, but at the time the game's scope, difficulty, and sense of adventure really were revolutionary. And graphics aside, the game's still a thrill to play.

Zelda II: The Adventures of Link: Link, now a teen, has to again save Zelda, who's kicking it in a coma Sleeping Beauty-style. Released in 1988, the second and final Zelda game for the original NES was a huge departure from the original, switching from an overhead angle to a bizarre side-scroller/RPG hybrid. The game was still a success but is largely considered the worst of the series.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: Link got a couple years off, returning in 1991 on a new, more powerful system to --- you guessed it --- once again save Zelda's bacon. The first and only game released on the 16-bit Super Nintendo switched back to the original Zelda's overhead style, but dramatically amped up the graphics and the breadth of gameplay, as Link travels between the Light World and the Dark World, mirror images of one another, and must explore dungeons and perform tasks in both.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening: The first Zelda game for the portable Game Boy came out in 1993 and continued A Link to the Past's continuity. But in a big shocker, Zelda herself is nowhere to be found. In this game, Link is shipwrecked on a far-flung island and needs to free the magical Windfish to get home. It's also the first Zelda game to feature an item-trading side quest, which has become an (often maddening) staple of the series ever since.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Considered by many gamers to be the single best game of all time, Ocarina hit the 64-bit N64 in 1998 and brought Link and Co. into the third dimension. The game both resets and expands on the series' mythology, as fairy boy Link once again sets out to save Zelda and take out Ganon, but this time goes back and forth through time itself using a magical flute thingie (Zamfir would be proud). Amazing graphics, a sprawling, fully interactive 3D world, and insanely creative dungeon puzzles make this a tough game to beat. And did I mention that it adds a pony for Link and cross-dressing for Zelda? Hot damn!

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask: Mask is a direct sequel to Ocarina and features nearly identical graphics and gameplay, even though it's set in the totally separate world of Termina. Sometimes referred to as the Empire Strikes Back of the franchise, Mask is a dark, twisted game in which Link has to relive three days over and over again (using that time-traveling flute-thing) in order to stop a creepy-looking moon from literally smashing into the planet. Definitely weird. In addition to his typical arsenal of swords and arrows, Link also uses a variety of masks on his quests, some of which transform him into other "races," like the water-breathing Zoras.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: Another huge departure for the series, this 2003 entry for the GameCube abandoned Ocarina and Mask's realistic look for a decidedly cartoony, cell-shaded adventure. The result is visually stunning, with some gorgeous classical Japanese flourishes. With a new look came a new setting, as this game is set hundreds of years after the previous games and features a young boy who just happens to be named Link who sails around a flooded world and gets roped into stopping the machinations of evil dude who just happens to be named Ganon. The wind-directed sailing portion of the game is novel at first, but had a tendency to grow tiresome after a while.

The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess: Apparently another different Link and Zelda reunite in this new adventure for the Wii and GameCube, in which Hyrule has been overtaken by the Twilight Realm and young farmer boy Link has to save the world and the princess to boot. The revolutionary Wii remote completely changes the gameplay (no more button-pushing to swing your sword; now you actually have to swing your remote to make a cut), and the game has added a form-changing element as Link becomes a wolf while in the Twilight Realm.

Speaking of Zelda

  • A look back at the swords 'n' sorcery gaming series

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