A Link To The Zeldalikes

Hey peeps, back to words this week. I wanna discuss Zeldalikes today, that odd sub-genre begot by some game from the olde timey days called The Legend of Zelda for the NES. Yeah, that one. The Zelda series has a very specific formula that it sticks to religiously, which makes non-Zelda games that attempt to do their own thing with the same formula stick out as copycats and are subsequently relatively rare occurrences. Contrast this to Metroid or Mario - two equally popular NES games that went on to produce not only several sequels and spinoffs of their own, but dozens of imitators that vary from audacious knock-offs to highly inventive proteges.
 
So here's my three favorite Zelda games that don't actually have anything to do with Link, Hyrule or giant pig demon wizards. As always, feel free to add your own in the comments. Neutopia seems to be the big one I've not included.

Darksiders

Death Metal Zelda
Possibly the most well-known Zeldalike in recent memory, Darksiders follows the adventures of a Mr War as he rectifies his premature annihilation of Earth by attacking Warhammer 40k characters and creatures inspired by middle-school textbook doodles. While it contains many trappings of the contemporary "action-adventure" game, which generally features a lot of tearing things apart with QTEs and growling, it also borrows a lot from the Zelda franchise with its themed dungeons.
 
Each dungeon, true to the core values of any Zelda game, are a slightly maze-like series of areas where the goal is to first collect the map and compass for navigation; the dungeon "item", which generally opens up other parts of the dungeon; the boss key, which opens the way to the dungeon boss and then defeating the boss itself and claiming whatever McGuffin it was guarding. Darksiders cheerfully (or as cheerful as a broody manifestation of carnage can get) conforms to this dungeon formula for the whole game, giving the players ample areas to explore on the overworld too as their powers expand. It's not a game that has a lot of ideas of its own, but at least it steals them with style.
 
Sticking with the "stolen game form" system the Death game will be a metroidvania (so ironic, considering he dies in half of those), the Pestilence game will be one of those "infection" zombie flash games and Famine will be based on Cooking Mama. My uncle works for Nintendo, so he knows this stuff. 

3D Dot Game Heroes

Blocky Zelda
3D Dot Game Heroes is unrepentant with its Zeldalike status. A deliberate attempt to elicit nostalgia from a huge fanbase of Zelda worshipers, it adheres strictly to the many tropes and fixtures of the original NES Zelda. It has the boomerang, the bow, the bombs, the annoying Wizzrobes, the Moblins and a series of elemental "Sages" that the player must assist. Even the Boss Key has the same little devil horns.
 
Where 3D Dot Game Heroes sets itself apart is how gleefully it lampoons all these age-old tropes, eviscerating not only Zelda but similarly po-faced medieval fantasy games like Dragon Quest (especially the fourth one), Final Fantasy and the Dragon Slayer series. The blocky NPCs that populate the world freak out about the inexplicably high value placed on empty bottles, signposts, creating a 3D Mech game and curses that turn people into animals for often dubious reasons. The (admittedly slight) Zelda shenanigans are really just the framework for a good-natured pastiche of the 8-bit era that depends on an audience that is super familiar with its subject matter. It joins hilarious but flawed games like Cthulhu Saves The World, Anachronox and Psychonauts which really work best as vessels for comedy and parody than they do as games.
 
Also, for some reason, the music for the otherwise aggravating "Dash Circuit" mini-game is amazing, whereas the rest of the soundtrack is merely competent. I don't know why this is. Why are you so random with your level of quality, From Software?

Alundra

Grim Zelda
Alundra, now available on PSN from what I'm hearing though I'm not going to check because the Europe PSN store is godawful, is a Zelda game in all but name. The main hero is an elfin youth, there's a village of superstitious but otherwise regular dudes and the villain is a nebulously evil spirit of some kind.
 
However, Alundra goes to a much darker place as its narrative arc progresses, as each dungeon means another NPC death in the hub village. Most dungeons actually take place in the dreams of these NPCs, and you're constantly discovering the dark secrets behind the town, its occupants and especially its ominous church. It's also difficult as hell, with the usual Zelda traps like spinning saws, zig-zagging blades and collapsing platforms turned up to eleven and unremitting in their brutality, with equally difficult Zeldalike puzzles to figure out too. I'm not sure if it was ever promoted as a more mature Zelda, but that's clearly what Alundra creators Matrix Software were aiming for.
 

Bonus Comics

With my Chantelise blog gaining some notice for featuring a bunch of stickmen doodles doing stuff (I guess?) I've decided to add a feature to this and future blogs where I create an observational comic for every game I've played this week. This should be fun, probably.
 
Deus Ex
I'm always doing this. I rarely have any multitools as a result. I'm the worst agent ever.
3D Dot Game Heroes
 USE ALL THE SPACE. ALL OF IT. I spent the whole goddamn game as a midget.
41 Comments
42 Comments
Posted by Mento

Hey peeps, back to words this week. I wanna discuss Zeldalikes today, that odd sub-genre begot by some game from the olde timey days called The Legend of Zelda for the NES. Yeah, that one. The Zelda series has a very specific formula that it sticks to religiously, which makes non-Zelda games that attempt to do their own thing with the same formula stick out as copycats and are subsequently relatively rare occurrences. Contrast this to Metroid or Mario - two equally popular NES games that went on to produce not only several sequels and spinoffs of their own, but dozens of imitators that vary from audacious knock-offs to highly inventive proteges.
 
So here's my three favorite Zelda games that don't actually have anything to do with Link, Hyrule or giant pig demon wizards. As always, feel free to add your own in the comments. Neutopia seems to be the big one I've not included.

Darksiders

Death Metal Zelda
Possibly the most well-known Zeldalike in recent memory, Darksiders follows the adventures of a Mr War as he rectifies his premature annihilation of Earth by attacking Warhammer 40k characters and creatures inspired by middle-school textbook doodles. While it contains many trappings of the contemporary "action-adventure" game, which generally features a lot of tearing things apart with QTEs and growling, it also borrows a lot from the Zelda franchise with its themed dungeons.
 
Each dungeon, true to the core values of any Zelda game, are a slightly maze-like series of areas where the goal is to first collect the map and compass for navigation; the dungeon "item", which generally opens up other parts of the dungeon; the boss key, which opens the way to the dungeon boss and then defeating the boss itself and claiming whatever McGuffin it was guarding. Darksiders cheerfully (or as cheerful as a broody manifestation of carnage can get) conforms to this dungeon formula for the whole game, giving the players ample areas to explore on the overworld too as their powers expand. It's not a game that has a lot of ideas of its own, but at least it steals them with style.
 
Sticking with the "stolen game form" system the Death game will be a metroidvania (so ironic, considering he dies in half of those), the Pestilence game will be one of those "infection" zombie flash games and Famine will be based on Cooking Mama. My uncle works for Nintendo, so he knows this stuff. 

3D Dot Game Heroes

Blocky Zelda
3D Dot Game Heroes is unrepentant with its Zeldalike status. A deliberate attempt to elicit nostalgia from a huge fanbase of Zelda worshipers, it adheres strictly to the many tropes and fixtures of the original NES Zelda. It has the boomerang, the bow, the bombs, the annoying Wizzrobes, the Moblins and a series of elemental "Sages" that the player must assist. Even the Boss Key has the same little devil horns.
 
Where 3D Dot Game Heroes sets itself apart is how gleefully it lampoons all these age-old tropes, eviscerating not only Zelda but similarly po-faced medieval fantasy games like Dragon Quest (especially the fourth one), Final Fantasy and the Dragon Slayer series. The blocky NPCs that populate the world freak out about the inexplicably high value placed on empty bottles, signposts, creating a 3D Mech game and curses that turn people into animals for often dubious reasons. The (admittedly slight) Zelda shenanigans are really just the framework for a good-natured pastiche of the 8-bit era that depends on an audience that is super familiar with its subject matter. It joins hilarious but flawed games like Cthulhu Saves The World, Anachronox and Psychonauts which really work best as vessels for comedy and parody than they do as games.
 
Also, for some reason, the music for the otherwise aggravating "Dash Circuit" mini-game is amazing, whereas the rest of the soundtrack is merely competent. I don't know why this is. Why are you so random with your level of quality, From Software?

Alundra

Grim Zelda
Alundra, now available on PSN from what I'm hearing though I'm not going to check because the Europe PSN store is godawful, is a Zelda game in all but name. The main hero is an elfin youth, there's a village of superstitious but otherwise regular dudes and the villain is a nebulously evil spirit of some kind.
 
However, Alundra goes to a much darker place as its narrative arc progresses, as each dungeon means another NPC death in the hub village. Most dungeons actually take place in the dreams of these NPCs, and you're constantly discovering the dark secrets behind the town, its occupants and especially its ominous church. It's also difficult as hell, with the usual Zelda traps like spinning saws, zig-zagging blades and collapsing platforms turned up to eleven and unremitting in their brutality, with equally difficult Zeldalike puzzles to figure out too. I'm not sure if it was ever promoted as a more mature Zelda, but that's clearly what Alundra creators Matrix Software were aiming for.
 

Bonus Comics

With my Chantelise blog gaining some notice for featuring a bunch of stickmen doodles doing stuff (I guess?) I've decided to add a feature to this and future blogs where I create an observational comic for every game I've played this week. This should be fun, probably.
 
Deus Ex
I'm always doing this. I rarely have any multitools as a result. I'm the worst agent ever.
3D Dot Game Heroes
 USE ALL THE SPACE. ALL OF IT. I spent the whole goddamn game as a midget.
Moderator
Posted by august
Edited by ryanwho

Landstalker yo. Isometric graphix/giant monster feet are the future.

Posted by Mento
@august: It's criminal how little of the Legacy of Kain series I've played. They are pretty Zelda-like though, you're right.
@ryanwho: Only thing I know about Landstalker (besides that it's an isometric Genesis game) is that the sequel is called Lady Stalker, which I just find hilarious. Truthfully, I might do a separate blog on isometric games in the future (Equinox is very Zelda-like too) so I'll put it somewhere in the back of my mind. And then forget about it probably.
Moderator
Posted by spankingaddict

  Okami and Legend of Kay are other great Zeldalike games.

Posted by Beforet

Okami is basically Ocarina of Time but with more wolves, right?

Posted by ryanwho
@Beforet said:

Okami is basically Ocarina of Time but with more wolves, right?

Twilight Princess is OOT with more wolves. Okami is TP with morer wolves.
Posted by Video_Game_King

Crap, you didn't include Neutopia? But it's the only one I've played. If I remember correctly, it was a cool Zelda clone with Ronald McDonald armor.

Posted by Icemael

Can't we just call "Zelda-likes" metroidvanias? Because they're totally metroidvanias. Think about it. Metroid Prime is just Metroid in 3D, but it's also just Zelda with first-person shooting. Zelda is metroidvania. Metroidvania is Zelda.

...Zeldoidvania.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

Who could forget everyone's favorite Zelda-esque?

Because everyone loves furries and pointless bastardizations of beloved game licenses! Also: Fetch quests.
Posted by Video_Game_King
@Icemael said:
Can't we just call "Zelda-likes" metroidvanias? Because they're totally metroidvanias. Think about it. Metroid Prime is just Metroid in 3D, but it's also just Zelda with first-person shooting. Zelda is metroidvania. Metroidvania is Zelda....Zeldoidvania.
Probably not. Don't Zelda-esque games usually have a more rigid structure and focus on individual dungeons and stuff?
Posted by Mento
@Icemael: @Video_Game_King: I've considered the similarities and it's a tough call. I'm with VGK, in that the dungeons all follow a very specific formula. Though the overworld areas between dungeons is entirely back-tracking and using items where you couldn't before to get extra shit and reach the next target, so in that sense they're in the same ballpark.
 
I tend to think of Zeldalikes as episodic, and Metroidvanias just being one huge world. Clearly the distinction is a little blurry though - if you want to argue that Norfair and Tourian are separate dungeons, I'm not going to stop you.
Moderator
Posted by LordXavierBritish

I hate you for saying Zeldalikes.

No I didn't read your blog.

Posted by Video_Game_King
@LordXavierBritish said:

I hate you for saying Zeldalikes.

No I didn't read your blog.

What other options did he have?
Posted by Mento

Linkalikes? Or perhaps Ganondistinctives?
 
No-one really likes saying metroidvania either. It's just preferable to the way more unfortunate "castleroids."

Moderator
Posted by buzz_clik
Moderator
Edited by SuperfluousMoniker

I don't think a 3d game can be a Metroidvania. The term loses all meaning when you start doing that.
 
Edit: I actually haven't played it, but isn't Startropics pretty similar?

Posted by Icemael
@Video_Game_King@Mento: Castlevania and Metroid games totally have "dungeons", and you usually need to go through them in a specific order (Symphony of the Night offers some  freedom in terms of dungeon order, but then, so does A Link to the Past's Dark World). They feel less separated than Zelda dungeons, but I think that's mostly due to aesthetic differences (a clock tower and a library that are part of the same castle will naturally feel more connected than, say, a cave in the desert and a palace at the bottom of a lake).

@SuperfluousMoniker said:
I don't think a 3d game can be a Metroidvania. The term loses all meaning when you start doing that.
How so? "Zelda-likes" have all the metroidvania elements. The term would just expand to include 3D games, like a million others before it. Hell, it already has -- both the Metroid Prime series and Batman: Arkham Asylum are commonly referred to as 3D metroidvanias.
Posted by SuperfluousMoniker
@Icemael: To me, Metroidvania describes a very specific style. It's more about that type of 2d platforming than the concept of revisiting areas with new powers. That's why it loses all meaning if you associate it with 3d, whereas now when you say "Metroidvania" I can be pretty sure you mean a 2d platformer with multiple vertical paths and floaty jump physics.
Posted by Mento

I think my first mistake was attempting to define this as a genre (and obviously the second mistake was the stupid name.) 
 
It's really more an attempt to highlight an assortment of games that deliberately reproduce Zelda's format (very specific stuff like dungeons with floors and compasses and maps, boomerangs, pushing blocks into corners for chests with keys to randomly appear, etc.). It starts making my head hurt when anyone tries to classify Zelda as something broader than just Zelda. I remember back when people argued over whether or not it was an RPG. Man, was that crazy.

Moderator
Posted by Icemael
@SuperfluousMoniker: That can be solved by putting "2D" or "3D" in front, as we do with platformers, fighting games et cetera. We didn't need to come up with an entirely new term to separate games like Dead or Alive from games like Street Fighter.
Posted by Video_Game_King
@Icemael
 
Fair enough. Then again, there are some rules that both genres never seem to break. Have you ever seen a top down Metroidvania? (Actually, that's not a bad idea.) Likewise, once you're done with the Water Temple or the Gargoyle's Domain, that's it. There's really no reason to go back to those places, and you can get everything to be had in those places in one go. Obviously, there's some overlap between the genres and can get hazy, at times, but they're still pretty distinct.
Posted by Omega

Beyond Good and Evil is a great Zelda'ish game. 
 
also Beyond Oasis for the Genesis was a pretty fun Zeldasimilar. 

Edited by Icemael
@Video_Game_King said:

Have you ever seen a top down Metroidvania?

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the past and the other top-down Zelda games are essentially top-down metroidvanias.

@Video_Game_King said:

Likewise, once you're done with the Water Temple or the Gargoyle's Domain, that's it. There's really no reason to go back to those places, and you can get everything to be had in those places in one go.

"Metroidvania" doesn't have to mean that there's a reason to backtrack to every area. There are usually plenty of places you have no reason to return to in Castlevania and Metroid games.
 
@Video_Game_King said:

Obviously, there's some overlap between the genres and can get hazy, at times, but they're still pretty distinct.

Zelda games are pretty different from Metroid games, but keep in mind that Metroid games are also pretty different from Castlevania games. They all share the metroidvania traits, however: they're fairly linear, but connect the different paths you need to take in order to make the world feel more open and organic; they feature a variety of path-blocking obstacles and, at regular intervals, give you items allowing you to overcome said obstacles; and finally, they encourage, reward and often force backtracking by placing many of the obstacles in such a way that you can't overcome them the first time you see them.
Posted by Video_Game_King
@Icemael
 
Crap. That's a really cheap point, but I can't pin down why.
 
True, but isn't the focus in those games more on backtracking than in a Zelda game? I can't really remember many times when I had to backtrack to previous dungeons in Zelda games, and if I remember correctly, Ocarina of Time was pretty anti-sequence breaking (you couldn't just grab an item and continue with the game; you had to play by its rules or no progress for you).
 
Which Castlevania games are we talking about? I should play more of them. That's irrelevant, though, because again, the dividing factor between the two genres seems to be the emphasis on backtracking. Zelda-esque games don't really have a ton of backtracking and exploring previous areas for upgrades or new items, but Metroidvanias (better than Castleroid) are all over that shit. I'd illustrate the point by drawing basic paths for games like Aquaria and Majora's Mask (I don't think there was any backtracking in that game), but I'm incredibly lazy.
 
(I really hate how you kick my ass in every argument we have.)
Posted by Oni

I'd add Soul Reaver 2 to this list. Okami is not very good.

Posted by Icemael
@Video_Game_King: There's constant backtracking in Zelda games. The Zelda formula is "travel to a dungeon while finding obstacles you can't get past, enter the dungeon, find more obstacles you can't get past inside, find a cool item, backtrack to whatever obstacles you found inside the dungeon, use the item to get past them, fight the boss, exit the dungeon, backtrack to whatever obstacles you found outside the dungeon, use the item to get past them, thereby opening the path to the next dungeon" repeated X number of times, followed by a final boss fight. It's true that you usually don't need to backtrack to a dungeon you've already beaten (there are exceptions, like that bullshit dungeon in Phantom Hourglass that you had to go back to after every single boss fight), but the backtracking you have to go through to reach and beat a dungeon in the first place more than compensates for that.
Posted by Video_Game_King
@Icemael
 
But that seems to be limited mainly to dungeons. Again, it's not like there's a lot of backtracking outside the dungeons (outside the (I agree with you) bullshit dungeon in Phantom Hourglass), and Zelda's still fairly linear; you can't really complete dungeons outside the already chosen order, at least not without the game being a bit of a pain in the ass about it. Besides, a lot of that backtracking is based less on gaining new weapons/abilities and more on just not having a key. Not sure that counts.
Posted by TepidShark
Posted by Icemael
@Video_Game_King said:
@Icemael:   But that seems to be limited mainly to dungeons. Again, it's not like there's a lot of backtracking outside the dungeons (outside the (I agree with you) bullshit dungeon in Phantom Hourglass), and Zelda's still fairly linear; you can't really complete dungeons outside the already chosen order, at least not without the game being a bit of a pain in the ass about it.
There's plenty of backtracking outside the dungeons (the overworld is full of areas you need to revisit and obstacles you can't get past until you've gotten item X in dungeon Y), and the Metroid and Castlevania games are mostly very linear. Unless you sequence break there's usually a predetermined order you need to complete all the areas in (Symphony of the Night offers you a great deal of freedom, but that game is an exception rather than a rule).
Posted by prestonhedges

Yeah, and what's with all these recent video games ripping of DOOM, something which didn't happen when DOOM was originally released.
 
...what.

Posted by Video_Game_King
@Icemael
 
...Odd, since Symphony of the Night kind of created the genre, kind of. but I'll ignore that. But what about Aquaria? You can complete a lot of the areas out of sequence, like grabbing Spirit Form at the very end of the game, or crossing the Veil without the Beast Form.
Posted by Mento

The DOOM thing is just like Metroid and Mario, in that it wasn't necessarily the first of its type but its huge amount of success led to so many imitators that they eventually had to be legitimized by being re-classed as an entire genre. I think a major problem with the video game genre system is because a lot of them had a single, novel "origin point" game that spawned way too many replicas. It starts getting a little messy when they overlap like this.

Moderator
Posted by Icemael
@Video_Game_King: That's also an exception. Most metroidvanias have set area sequences that can only be circumvented through glitches or other roundabout tricks. (Also, note that The Legend of Zelda and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, two of the earliest games in the series, allowed you to take on a bunch of dungeons in whatever order you like.)
Posted by Video_Game_King
@Icemael
 
I'd name more examples, but I can't really think of any. I'll just chalk up the first Zelda's non-linearity to rough design choices (given the logic of Hyrule, buying keys kinda makes sense, but still...).
Posted by BraveToaster

Moar Stickmenz!

Edited by dungbootle
@Icemael said:

Zeldoidvania.

You don't know how much I would want that game.
Edited by brehonia

@Mento said:

The DOOM thing is just like Metroid and Mario,

I think (could be wrong!) that most people would say "platformer" instead of "Mario clone", unless there was a very specific Mario angle to it like, I dunno, pipes or hats or something. "Mario Kart" is a genre for sure though, applied to any racing game with weapons.

Posted by drag
@Mento said:
I think my first mistake was attempting to define this as a genre (and obviously the second mistake was the stupid name.) 
You didn't make any mistakes.
Posted by rafoXxX
Posted by Daveyo520
@ArbitraryWater: i have seen that game played too much to be healthy....by a furry.  
Posted by Dan_CiTi

Okami is obviously the best Zelda ever.