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My first time playing A Link to the Past and boy it holds up

At age of 33, I've had my first experience with Super Nintendo games.

This began in a rather roundabout manner. As it happens, I'm a fan of AGAAs: ability gated action adventure games. Ok, that's never going to catch on, let's just say it: Metroidvanias. Aquaria, Guacamelee, Shadow Complex, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, and Ori and the Blind Forest are all games that I played in the last few years and enjoyed immensely.

So when looking for games to play over my holiday vacation, I decided upon Axiom Verge. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the first generally well liked entry into the genre that I found myself not particularly enjoying. The amount of hidden upgrades in the game and the obfuscated manner in which most are hidden really rubbed me the wrong way. Tracking everything down become a chore and I'm partially to blame for that as I'm a bit of a completionist, but even so,I felt that the game made this process far more laborious than it should have been. As a result, I rarely felt rewarded when finding a hidden item; instead it was more like I had just successfully chanced into jumping through the developer's invisible hoop. Beyond that, I felt the graphics were too slavishly retro and I didn't like the controls for the dash mechanic.

But I digress, my point isn't to criticize Axiom Verge. However, as a result of not particularly liking that game, it got me thinking about how I had never played the genre's namesake and the game Axiom Verge specifically pays homage to: Super Metroid. While I was at the right age to appreciate the SNES when it was contemporary, I didn't really get into video games until the Playstation generation (I had a Genesis, but only five games for it which I probably never even got half-way through). As a result, I missed out on some historically important and well regarded games.

With vacation time left to burn, I decided it was time to remedy that. Without knowing how strict Giant Bomb rules are about discussing this sort of thing, let's just say I found the most sane means to play the game which was available to me - one which I feel a little guilty about, but was the only option I had apart from spending over $300 merely to play 20 year old games.

In any case, originally I intended to play only Super Metroid, but with the "hard" work of hunting down how to play the game out of the way, the flood gates were open so to speak. So I went on a tear of messing around with a dozen or so of the system's most popular games. Super Mario World, Mega Man X, F-Zero, Donkey Kong County, Star Fox, etc. I played them all for an hour or less. While I could appreciate all of them from a historical perspective, I obviously didn't have any nostalgia for them - and lacking that, they weren't something that I felt I'd like to stick with and finish - even Mario World. Super Metroid, my whole reason for starting this process, held my attention longer than the others, but ultimately I got to a point where I felt I had seen enough to satisfy the perspective I wanted to gain by playing it. It didn't really change my opinion of Axiom Verge; in fact, I think Super Metroid is the better game despite its age.

There was one exception to my feeling on these classic games: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

An hour into Zelda, I was just as engaged and entertained as I've been with any great modern game. I am in awe of how well the game holds up. You could place it next to any current, highly rated 2D game and I'd appreciate it just as much, if not more. While old games often feel overly difficult to me (which I understand is largely a conceit to extend their playtime with limited content), Zelda felt fair and nearly perfectly balanced. The mix of logical puzzle solving in focused, linear dungeons and the more free form exploration of the overworld is excellent. I just finished the game tonight and loved nearly every minute of it.

My only minor criticism, something that I feel would have been remedied if the game come out today, is that it could use a slightly better hint system or some other means to guide the player to the objective when they're lost. There are a few dungeons that are gated by finding items in the general overworld (as opposed to the mostly unmissable items in other dungeons) and often those are only found via exhaustive exploration. The fortune teller provides a mechanism for this, but is often a little too obtuse or unhelpful with regards to main quest progress. Ultimately, I did end up having to consult a guide once to find a particular item I needed to progress (one of the spells), something which I haven't needed to do with modern games. However, this is small potatoes and certainly not unreasonable for the era in which the game was released.

So when A Link to the Past places high on "Best Games Ever" lists, I now completely understand that sentiment.


Addendum: I have already played Ocarina of Time. My first experience with that game was with the Gamecube release in 2002. I adore the game, but its quality was known to me prior to that point, having seen it been played by friends with N64s. It didn't come as quite the shock to me that it held up at 4 years old as A Link to the Past does at 22 years old. Since the greater of the two titles is often a subject of debate, I'll weigh in and say that I'd have to give the nod to Ocarina. However, Ocarina is a game I have nostalgic feelings for, whereas I obviously can't have such feelings for A Link to the Past yet. I believe it's impossible for a person to truly divorce themselves from nostalgia, so it may very well be the case that my preference, like others', is determined simply by which I played first.

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