There’s just something about first party games – doesn’t matter the console. I firmly recall playing ZLA on my Gameboy back in the day and enjoying the hell out of it. It was also a 5 year wait until we got OoT, so time a plenty to get every ounce of joy out of it. Color me intrigued when they announced a remake for the Switch in 2019. I still didn’t own the console (and wasn’t planning to for a remake) but with that in hand, I’ve been giving it a shake.
First though, a slight time travel back to the days of the Gameboy. Two main things are important here – the fact that it ran on 8lbs of batteries and lacked an easy-to-use save feature and that it had 2 action buttons. That concept is crazy to anyone under the age of 30 (as are punch cards to me). So imaging playing one of the best games of all time with 2 buttons, no easy way to save, and a ticking clock that you could not predict. Batteries run out at the end of a long dungeon? Too bad. (the fact that it was all in grayscale is another matter)
The first big thing about ZLA now is that the game looks spectacular. It has a blurred focus effect, so that it feels like you’re playing in a diorama world, where the focus is all on you. I can’t spoil a near 30(!!) year old game, but it does also give that dream effect. The controls are reminiscent of the GB version, with only 2 items being useable at any given time. This’ll sound crazy, but having DASH, SHIELD, ATTACK, and LIFT not bound to those 2 buttons is awesome – I can’t believe I had to write that. There’s a certain pace of movement in a Zelda game that is present here, a sort of dance to the underlying beat. It feels right.
The game isn’t terribly hard by any stretch. It is however somewhat obtuse in what you should be doing. There’s a literal help line in the game that gives hints as to what the next steps should be. I still recall getting stuck at the monkey bridge section, no idea how to progress. It was a really weird thing to have a trading mini-game be a gatekeeping exercise for progress – and back in the day I was taking notes of who wanted what.
There are plenty of other mini-games here too – most are clear precursors to what came out in OoT, like the actual ocarina. It’s probably here that my love of fishing took root too. Dampé’s shack is a strange addition, where as you clear dungeons you get “tiles” of those dungeons you can use to solve other puzzles. The concept is ok, where you need to slot in the right tiles to complete a puzzle, but the actual running of said dungeons feels somewhat tedious. There’s no way I could achieve the focus/flow in a 5 minute effort compared to a game designer spending weeks on it.
It’s a complete joy to play this game on the Switch.