I actually want to talk about the save corruption a little bit as I feel like it will effect my decision. Losing 3 hours of gameplay, being close to halfway through was incredibly demoralizing. The game did warn me to hold down the reset button as I turned my console off, and I did. Except one day I came back to see the cartridge with no save. It has saved fine since then, but now I am highly suspicious of it. This can be a major issue because there is absolutely nothing more frustrating in a single player game than to lose all your progress. As these cartridges age, the batteries in them will slowly lose power and require you either beat the game in one go, or replace the battery yourself, which I do not have the gamebit screwdriver for. Except if it was a battery failure for my copy, the save wouldn’t be fine now. Either way, it makes me suspicious
I mostly had fun while playing The Legend of Zelda, but it has one little itty bitty problem. It is cryptic as all hell. A guide is a necessity if you haven’t played the game to completion before, which is a clear relic of the era of buying strategy guides in the 80’s and 90’s. Specific placing of bombs and fire revealing what are necessary secrets to finishing the game feel like it’s just made to pad out your play time with annoying searching. Some secrets have hints which range from easy enough to understand, to almost impossible to get. Others have literally no hints attached to them, and you’re just expected to find them through what could be hours of looking. If I didn’t have my strategy guide thanks to the internet, I don’t even know if I would pursue playing the game as much as I did. When you know where things are, it is incredibly fun to slowly understand the world. But without that knowledge, I don’t think I would have sunk as much time as I did.
This game is also difficult. Like, annoyingly difficult at times. There are some moments where I feel like I am truly learning how to master the game through trial and error. Others where I feel like the limited controls truly stopped me from doing what I needed to do. An understandable limitation of the controller, but still frustrating. And then there’s moments where the game is just being mean to me for the sake of “teaching me the level”. I am not asking for this game to hold my hand, I do enjoy difficulty in my games. I just wish some of those gotcha moments weren’t there. So the difficulty ranges from “fun challenge” to “turning off the console and taking a break”.
I also want to acknowledge the elephant in the room that is discussed when people bring up getting physical copies of old games. The option considered forbidden to many, or an obvious choice to others: Emulation. For the sake of not making certain companies mad, I want to discuss emulation like the Wii Virtual Console, Nintendo Online, game collections, or other legal options that developers have released. There is absolutely an argument to be had about this route. Why should you get the old copy of Zelda when you can get it for cheaper on the WiiU or Switch?
People collect retro games for many reasons. For some, it is an excuse to delve back into their childhood, playing the games that kept them happy for countless hours by the TV. For others it is more of a history thing. The NES is the console that saved North American gaming, and an important part of the history of the hobby. That piece of hardware and the cartridges it played kick-started a prolific Japanese toy company into arguably the world’s most well known video game company. For me and many others, it’s a mix of both. My sister had an NES that I would play whenever I went to her place as a small kid. I played a lot of Super Mario Bros and Metroid, but not Zelda, which means this was my first play through.
So where does that leave us with recommendations? Well, if you are nostalgic for this game, you probably already are looking into getting it! If you are committed to making an NES collection for yourself, then absolutely get this one. The Legend of Zelda is one of the NES’ best games by far and an absolute necessity for your collection. But let’s say you’re a goody two-shoes who loathes the idea of emulation that isn’t licensed by Nintendo, but has no way to play it legally. Is it worth paying for an NES or NES hardware emulator, as well as getting a copy of this game? I’d argue no at that point. Get a Switch and Nintendo Online if you need to play the original Zelda that bad, at least then you also have cloud saves to keep you from having a save corruption like me. You could even still get a WiiU at the time of recording if you want, and buy the game for cheap on the Virtual Console! That method is still up (for now).
Would I recommend you get an NES and Zelda just for the heck of it? No, absolutely not. The NES is an antiquated machine limited by tech that would really blossom in the next generation with the SNES. There’s a reason a lot of retro-inspired 2D games look more like the 5th generation of consoles than the 4th. The NES is not a console that holds up, but if there is any game that gives it its best shot at being something worth playing on merit alone, it is The Legend of Zelda. It may be the best NES game, but even now the best NES game doesn’t hold a candle even to games made 5-7 years later.
Is it a classic? Absolutely. Is it one of the most important games released? Without a doubt. Is it good 35 years later? Arguably. Should you spend the money just for the chance to play it? Only if you like the history of it at large, or you have a personal history with the game yourself.