I didn’t actually play Zelda II. What I did instead is to binge-watch episodes of Game Grumps.
I’ve never been able to play Zelda II for more than an hour; it’s too damn hard. Last summer I taught myself to play the first Zelda game, which is also hard, but Zelda II is on a completely different level. I kept meaning to schedule training sessions for the purpose of git gud, but after spending a few hours watching a skilled player with a walkthrough die repeatedly, I now realize that I am never going to be git gud enough for this game.
Something that Dan and Arin bring up repeatedly during their playthrough is that there’s no way that even an experienced player would be able to figure out certain mechanics necessary to advance in the game. For example, there are no clues to suggest that the player should jump on the roofs of the houses and press down to enter a chimney in a certain village, a mechanic that’s only used once. There are also no clues guiding the player to jump into a death pit in a certain dungeon, a strategy that is, again, only used once. Because the game is so punishing, there’s no reason a player would experiment enough to consider the possibility that either of these mechanics exist.
What Japanese players had at the time (1987) was an extensive series of publications devoted to video games in general and Nintendo games more specifically. If you and your friends couldn’t figure something out, you combed magazine racks for several weeks until someone arrived at a solution. Since many people in Japan tend to sell their stuff to used bookstores instead of throwing it away, a lot of these publications are still around. They are brilliant, with hand-drawn maps and super unofficial fan art and letters from frustrated gamers that use surprisingly colorful language.
Meanwhile, players in the United States were more or less shit out of luck (although one of the first issues of Nintendo Power had a feature on Zelda II), and it’s my understanding that not that many hardcore Zelda fans have gotten farther into the game than I have. Even the walkthroughs on sites like Zelda Dungeon are garbage, as if the people writing them either have no idea what’s going on or can’t be bothered to care.
When people like Tevis Thompson talk about the joy of unguided exploration in the early Zelda games, I don’t think they’re referring to Zelda II. They don’t talk about this game because no one plays it; it’s not challenging yet fun in the way that Castlevania II and Super Metroid are. I sometimes get the feeling that “hardcore” attitudes regarding gaming are not necessarily always backed by “hardcore” gaming experience, because let’s be real – unless you’re certifiably obsessed with a certain game, hardcore gaming kind of sucks most of the time.
Now that I can say I’ve seen Zelda II all the way to its conclusion, I wonder if I can find a good playthrough of Wand of Gamelon…?
( Header image screencapped from an episode of Game Grumps )