Posted by: seanmalstrom | June 14, 2014

Email: Zelda never had any puzzles

Hi Malstrom,

with all this talk of Zelda allegedly being about puzzles I really have to question the sanity of some people. Zelda never had puzzles, not in the past and not even in the present.

What classic Zelda had was *secrets*; sometimes a passage was hidden and required a certain thing to be done. That’s not a puzzle though, in a puzzle the rules are all clear and you have to use them to solve a given problem. In Zelda figuring out the rules was what made things happen. No one told you to push a block, run against a wall or shoot an arrow into the eye of a statue. It’s like watching an Indiana Jones movie: Indy doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do and watching him piece the clues together or spot something odd is what makes it interesting. Everyone knows the famous idol scene, there is no direct indication that picking up the idol will trigger the trap, but it looks odd and out of place, so chances are that simply picking it up will make something happen.

Modern players complain that Zelda 1 is too cryptic, but it really isn’t. It simply requires the player to pay attention to the surrounding and notice things that look out of place. You don’t have to bomb every wall in the dungeons, you can often deduce the secrets by studying the map. You don’t have to burn every bush to find one of the dungeons when you notice that there is only one bush in the entire game blocking a path. When you are stuck in an empty room with a block you will of course try pushing it. The point is, it makes me feel clever for spotting these irregularities and finding the secrets. it makes me feel like Indiana Jones exploring a dangerous place. (Yes, some of the secrets were really cryptic, but the player wasn’t expected to find them all)

In modern Zelda games you don’t have puzzles either, you have chores. Lighting four torches or hitting four switches is does not make me feel clever, it makes me feel like a lab monkey. There is no challenge in it, you can figure it out in a few seconds or just by a few random attempts. The only time I might get stuck is if the rules are not obvious, but that’s not challenging, it’s just cheap. The challenge in a puzzle should be figuring out the solution, not the rules. Most of the time though it’s just pointless walking back and forth, flipping switches, laying bombs in obviously marked places, using the gimmick-item of the dungeon at designates place, or just talking to people. What’s the point of it all? What’s the point of placing a bomb at an obvious place, why not just save me the hassle and cut bombs altogether from the game? Why do I have to get out the boomerang and flip four switches? It is no more challenging than just getting the yellow keycard in Doom and simply being allowed to pass through all the yellow doors. It’s not a puzzle because there is no thought involved. Often times Link’s companion will even flat.out tell you the solution, so really there is no reason I should have to do any of it anymore.

I like to use the term *downtime* for the time when you are technically playing a game, but you are not really playing it. It’s the time when you just walk back and forth, wait for something, do some chore or anything in general where your decisions don’t really matter. Some games have little to no downtime by their basic nature, mostly arcade-style games, but also PC games with arcadey roots (like old-school FPS). Some games are quite heavy on downtime due to their genre, like RPGs. In classic Zelda there is some downtime from walking around through the world, like in every RPG. In Zelda 1 the downtime was very little though, mostly because the overworld remained dangerous even when you had good equipment, while aLttP had more downtime due to its easier difficulty (it was much easier to just walk by without paying  attention and not get hit once). Modern Zelda games are full of downtime where you just follow instruction, either spelled out directly by the NPCs or though the obvious level design. And when you are doing what you want none of it really matters either, it’s just empty padding.  Contrast that to Zelda 1 where even just randomly roaming the overworld could be fun because there was danger and you always had to keep making quick decisions. It doesn’t matter if the new Zelda is open-world or not, and open world is a means to an end, not the end itself. If there isn’t going to be anything interesting it might as well be just a sequence or rooms, at least that will save us the time of walking from one chore to the next.

Yep. Legend of Zelda and even Zelda II were cloned by other game companies. How do those games play? Certainly they are not about puzzles!


Skip to 3:00 to get past the intro. This is Golden Axe Warrior for the Sega Master System. I need to play this one. It is Sega’s take on Zelda.


Skip to 2:00 for the gameplay. It is Neutopia II which is Hudson’s take on Zelda.


Crusader of Centry! It is Sega’s take on Link to the Past. Looks crazy fun!


Skip to 5:00 to get past the beginning junk. Beyond Oasis! It plays more like Secret of Mana at times which isn’t a bad thing.


Landstalker! Although it gives me Ultima 8: Pagan deja vu due to the isometric view, it’s still pretty good.


There are so many more. Soul Blazer. Illusion of Gaia. Final Fantasy Adventure. Secret of Mana.

There is even a website devoted to Zelda Clones.


Excuse me. After I finish Bad Mojo, I’m going to go play Golden Axe Warrior. Man, that game even included NPC PORTRAITS! Wow!



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