I Love Zelda 2
(^^ How about that generic Stonehenge header graphic? That's your humble author feeling too lazy to pick out unique images.)
I opened my email yesterday to find a note from Nintendo praising me for reaching gold status and offering me a free download from the eShop.
Wait. What? Gold status? What does that mean? I don't know. Something to do with Club Nintendo, a sort of social thing where you get points for registering games you buy and taking surveys about them. I dunno. Who cares? FREE GAME! As a gold member, I was limited to a handful for NES downloads from the Virtual Console. One of those was Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, one of my favorite entries in my favorite series.
Zelda 2 gets a lot of unwarranted flak. People loved Zelda 1's top-down, action-adventure style. Link's grand return on the NES switched things up; you roam the overworld from a top-down view, but when you enter a new zone or bump into an enemy, the perspective shifts to a side view. For reasons I still don't understand, this drove people insane. People don't like things that are different. Well, that, and Zelda 1 was excellent, so I get where the haters are coming from.
The thing is, whipping Zelda 2 for being different is part of the frustrating double standard that gamers apply to Nintendo. When Nintendo turns out a new Mario or Zelda game, people yawn and say, "Oh, lookie, another Mario/Zelda. Do something different!" But when Nintendo does something different and puts out a Zelda 2, or a Mario Sunshine, or a Zelda: Majora's Mask, people flip out and say, "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY MARIO/ZELDA?!"
Zelda 2 is awesome, and two factors contribute to that awesomeness. First and foremost, Zelda is about discovering a world, and Zelda 2's world is huge. Massive. Bigger than the world we explored in the first game, even.
Second, Zelda 2 had amazingly complex combat for a game played on a controller that only had two input buttons. You could attack high and low, perform diving and jumping thrusts, and cast a number of spells that affected your odds of survival in combat. Enemies were just as flexible, and every enemy had to be dealt with in a different way. The Iron Knuckles (knights) could stab high and guard low, and vice versa, forcing you on the offensive.
The most interesting wrinkle to combat was that you couldn't attack and defend at the same time. By default, Link holds his shield up. All you have to do to block a fireball is stand still. But attacking lowered your shield. By mid-game, you find yourself in encounters where enemies are dashing at you from all sides while projectiles fly in from every angle. The franticness of these attacks forces you to analyze situations carefully, picking and choosing when to attack and when to keep your shield up. It's exhilarating and a real blast, especially late in the game when you're wearing the shield spell and splitting skulls with the downward stab.
I can lay only one fault at Zelda 2's feet. It's the only Zelda game that requires you to earn experience points to level up, and like any XP-driven game, you invariably have to stop and grind enemies to beef up your health, attack, and magic before entering super-tough areas at the end of the game.