ZELDA 2 / Nintendo / NES (1988)
Zelda 2 is part of a sort of tradition Nintendo had on the NES, of taking wildly successful games and giving the sequel some completely different gameplay style (see also Super Mario Bros. 2). Zelda 2 is a radical departure from its prequel, and while the side-scrolling fighting engine used here is better than similar swords-and-sorcery fare in this era, it loses a lot of what made the original game great and introduces some major annoyances.
Zelda's been put to sleep, and somehow placing magical gems into the foreheads of statues all over the land will wake her up. However, each of these statues happens to be in some fiendish palace guarded by a horde of monsters. Additionally, the followers of Ganon are trying to revive him, which they can apparently do somehow by sprinkling Link's blood on his ashes (a morbid little detail I still remember from the original instruction manual). So you're up against a lot here.
I shouldn't say that Zelda 2 is a bad game, because it isn't completely, but it is a major disappointment in comparison with both the prequel and the rest of the series. What are the two things that people love the most about Zelda? Clever dungeon design with lots of puzzles, and open-ended exploration. Guess which game in the series has neither of the above?
The side-view combat is pretty smooth, and for the first bit of the game you may be thinking "OK, this is different, but still kinda fun, I can deal with this". By the time you've explored a couple caves and dungeons, you'll be tired of it. The new perspective means the emphasis is on combat, so the dungeons are now basically just simple mazes packed with repetitive battles and Super Mario-esque jumps over lava pits. The 40th time you ride some samey looking elevator to some samey looking hallway where you fight yet another Dark Nuts who blocks 90% of your attacks as you tediously hack at him, or some asshole lizard who runs at you and throws rapid fire axes, you'll be seriously thinking about what else you could be playing besides this game. And aside from the occasional blocks falling from the ceiling or making you use the Fairy spell to fly through some narrow corridor, there's not a whole lot going on here that's worthy of note, just the same lame fights over and over again.
Oh, and speaking of the Fairy spell, you'll be spamming the hell out of that one trying to get through many of the projectile-filled nightmare screens that Nintendo has set you up with here. The level design is not only boring in most areas, it's ridiculously tough with these long chains of hard-hitting (and hard to hit) enemies reinforced by tons of shit flying everywhere, and plenty of long jumping sequences over pits with heaps of enemies and projectiles flying at you to knock you in for an instant kill.
And exploration? Yeah, there's some hidden stuff around such as a few heart and magic containers, but it's either a matter of walking into some random forest square on the map or using an item (all of which are in the dungeons) at some obvious spot. The game world is fairly small, but here's a nice touch - when you lose all of your lives, you start back *at the very beginning* and have to walk all the damn way over to wherever you left off. Yes, Zelda 1 basically did this too ... but it had multiple routes to get everywhere, the time of travel was shorter, there was plenty of other stuff to do lying around and it didn't put you through scores of masochistic side-scrolling levels just to get from point A to point B every single time you turned on the game.
What else sucks about this game ... it doesn't let you save until after you've burned up all your lives, so if you want to quit you have to go hunt down some convenient place to kill yourself off. There's an experience point system, and it saves the level you are currently at but doesn't save the amount of experience points you have between games - so let's say your next level comes at 2000 points, you run around and grab some of the one-time-only hidden EXP boosts, you build yourself up to 1890 experience ... and then some dick of a lizard or something runs along and takes your last life, guess what? You lose all that EXP, the bonus boosts you grabbed are gone forever, and you get to start all over at 0/2000.
Except for the memorable Temple theme, the music is generally shrill and weird and unpleasant (this is one of the few Zelda games that Koji Kondo did not handle the soundtrack for). The graphics are flat, boring, lots of stretches of the same color and black backgrounds, and the monster designs are uninspired. Zelda 2 was kind of a strange experiment that didn't work out as well as Super Mario 2 did (while it implemented some of Shigeru Miyamoto's concepts from the first game's development, it was not overseen by him). Fortunately Nintendo recognized this and righted the ship with Link to the Past ... Zelda 2's only legacy is the Phillips CD-I games.