The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past review

When people talk about ‘The Best Games Ever Made’, The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past is never far away from that conversation. I played through this game when it first came out, and I’ve now gone back to it in 2022 to see if it holds up. I’m happy to report it’s still magical, full of wonder, secrets to uncover and great characters, and it’s still a gem of a game, and one of my favourite Legend of Zelda games in the series.

The Legend of Zelda A Link To The Past originally released in 1991, and I still remember playing through this game with my childhood friend, Jamie, at his house one summer. I believe the game released in Japan first and then came out in the US and Europe later, but Jamie had a Super Famicom, and we could play scart US imports. It was a great summer, two Legend of Zelda fans playing through this brand new adventure in Hyrule, and this was a huge step up from Zelda’s we’d played before on the NES. This was different, and we knew we were about to embark on a great journey.

A Link To The Past was the game that would almost be the template for a great Zelda game, until Link broke into the 3D realm with Ocarina of Time. Link’s Awakening, The Minish Cap, A Link Between Worlds, Spirit Tracks among others, would always try to capture what made A Link To The Past great. Having played through A Link To The Past in the past few weeks, I think it’s fair to say these other games, while good in their own right, never really match the great heights that are reached in A Link To The Past.

I’m a big Legend of Zelda fan, and am probably biased towards the series, but today I want to try and describe why I like it, and why it’s had such a profound impact on my gaming history, and why to this day, I eagerly await the next Legend of Zelda game (at the time of making this review, we’re just under 200 days away from Tears of the Kingdom for Nintendo Switch). It’s the sense of adventure, the weapons, exploring Hyrule, the Dungeons, secrets, plus A Link To The Past has something many Zelda games don’t have; The Light World and Dark World.

First of all the weapons. Here we have an array of weaponry, and many classics are introduced. Link’s inventory for A Link To The Past is huge when compared to previous Zelda games. We start out with the simple lamp, we then get our first sword and sheild pretty early on in Hyrule Castle, and as we progress through the game and the dungeons we gather loads more items. Bow and Arrows, The Hookshot, Bombs, The Magic Hammer, various medallions that act as attack techniques often destroying everything on screen, but also allow us entry into the later dungeons. We have the Ice Rod and Fire Rod, meaning Link has a wide array of attacking options in this game.

Something that is missing from Breath of the Wild are the unique items and Dungeons. I know that Breath of the Wild was the series attempt at switching up the formula because the Zelda audience had grow tired of the series traditions including items, dungeons and a linear path through the game. A Link To The Past represents the start of this journey, ultimately to where it ended with Skyward Sword. While the formula changed somewhat when we went into 3D with Ocarina of time, The Legend of Zelda stayed true to the formula perfected in A Link To The Past.

The items also make the world feel alive and magical. We have Zora’s Flippers, which we acquire from King Zora, albeit for a mighty price of rupees, classic items like the power glove, or upgraded Titan’s Mitt to allow us to pick up heavy objects and remove them from our path. We have the Pegasus Boots, probably the best item in the game allowing us to traverse the environment nice and quickly, the mirror shield, red and blue armour upgrades and more. The magic powder is an item I remember being totally memerised by as a kid, you can sprinkle some magic dust on something and it’ll turn into something else. I didn’t realise back then this is a useful tactic for creating fairy’s in dungeons, but you live and learn. It’s good to know this old dog can learn some new tricks in a 30 year Zelda game.

The items are useful for getting around Hyrule itself, but there’s some great lore in there too. Getting the flute is a particuarly heart-breaking story where you have to travel to and from the dark world, talking to a character who once played the flute. It’s buried underground and you are given a shovel to dig it up, and asked to play his song one last time before he fades away into the background. There’s another similar story of reunited the two blacksmith brothers who temper your sword, as well as playing the flute in Kakariko Village and freeing the bird from inside the statue. The items are useful to Link’s adventure in the game, but they come with memorable story moments too.

Hyrule is larger this time, when comparing it to the two NES games that came before it. We have Death Mountain, the swamp, the desert, Lake Hylia and the Lost Woods. All the classic locations you would expect to be in a Zelda adventure. The Lost Woods in particular are a delight, shrouded in mist and fog, and when you finally find your way through the opening chapter of the game to pick up the Master Sword, I love the music, the cute little animals running from side to side to greet you and your prize.

At this point it’s worth talking about the structure of A Link To The Past. It has one of the best opening sequences to a game ever, Link starts out in bed, Zelda visits him in a dream, and says she’s trapped in Hyrule Castle, with an Evil Wizard about to kill her. Link then has to set off on an adventure, save Zelda from the Wizard, before she’s whisked away once again. Your first job is to collect 3 pendants, once you do this you can collect The Master Sword, and then the whole world changes, and we’re introduced to the Dark World.

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The hairs on my arms stand up when I start to think about the first moment going into the Dark World. You find a portal on the top of Death Mountain, step in and everything changes. Suddenly, you aren’t Link anymore, you are a creature in a bunny mask, in a strange world where suddenly everything hits harder and does more damage. That moment where we first see the Dark World is up there with getting the Master Sword and that opening sequence going to Hyrule Castle in the rain, all iconic scenes from the game.

From the moment of getting into thh Dark World then you have to save seven maidens, complete the dungeons, beat the bosses and then finally face off against Aghanim and Ganon. The dungeons in the game start simple, and incrementally get more difficult over time. We’re introduced to new dungeon mechanics like crystal switches, tiles on the floor, and holes in the floor to fall through to new areas. The standard formula for a dungeon is enter, find the keys, the map, compass and Big Key, then find the dungeon item, and then use that item to help solve the puzzles and defeat the boss.

The bosses range from fairly simple, to some which are downright impossible, and if it wasn’t for a few strategically saved fairy’s in bottles, I would be here telling you this story. The dungeons are creative, the bosses are tough, but not overly obtuse. Each dungeon took around an hour or maybe just over an hour, and I never felt stuck. Switching up the standard formula later in the game is a dungeon where you save a maiden roughly half way through, and then have to bomb open a hole in the floor to let the sun light shine through, and when the sun light hits the maiden she turns into the dungeon boss. It’s a spectacle and one of many in the game.

Another aspect of A Link To The Past I love are the secrets. There are hidden fairy fountains across Hyrule where you can throw weapons or items into the pond and you’ll get upgraded versions, for example, you can throw in your shield for an upgraded fire sheild, then again later you do this in the dark world to get the silver arrows and the golden sword, two crucial items for defeating ganon at the end of the game. I love things like finding the mushroom in the forst and taking it to the witch to trade for the magic powder, and all the cracks in the walls where Link can place bombs. At one point there is a huge crack which cannot be opened by anything short of a super bomb, it’s very satisfying.

It’s not as obtuse as the first Legend of Zelda game. That dropped you into the world and didn’t tell you anything and Nintendo were like “Off you go young one”. At least here in A Link To The Past you have cracks on the wall to signify there is something there. A Link To The Past builds on the first two Legend of Zelda games, takes what was great about them both and combines them. Nintendo quickly reverted back from the 2D scrolling version of Adevnture of Link, although it retained the magic meter, some of the sword fighting mechanics and some of the items. A Link To The Past takes advan tage of the power of the SNES, more complex sprites, great music, more complex enemy AI and more enemies on screen at once.

There are so many elements here that would go onto become THE Zelds formula. The music here in the game are where many of the staple Zelda tunes got their start. The formula for finding items in dungeons, using those items, that would stay with the Legend of Zelda series for years.

Another element I love about A Link To The Past is the communities that have spawned around it. The speed running community, and the randomiser community. Both are very welcoming and are really happy you are playing the game and joining into the community activities. Both features are something I’d love to see Nintendo embrace, biut they haven’t so far which seems like a missed opportunity for them.

Overall, it’s a classic game, and one that still feels great in the modern day. Many games try to emulate the greatness of A Link To The Past and few live up to it, even few of the Zelda series itself. If you have played Breath of the Wild, or Skyward Sword and you’re interested in The Legend of Zelda, then I couldn’t recommend A Link To The Past more, to find out where the Zelda formula was perfected. It may have been spawned in the original Legend of Zelda, but it was perfected here in a Link To The Past, plus there’s so much more to enjoy.

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: SNES, Nintendo Switch Online
Release Date: 21 November 1991

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