My 30-year quest to beat Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

I've lost count of how many times I've let Ganon back

Thirty-one years ago, The Legend of Zelda became the first video game I beat. A year later, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link became the first video game I quit.

To be honest, I didn't finish too many games in elementary school. We had maybe five titles in total for our NES, and everything else was rented. So most of the games I played in the early 90s had come back before I had a chance to see the credits roll.

But that's not what happened with Zelda II. Sure, it was a rental to keep me busy for another stormy weekend in western Washington, but I gave it up long before we had to take it back to the rental store. As enthralled as I was with everything Zelda followed after my victory over Ganon in the first game, trying to play The Adventure of Link made me want to cry like the little sissy boy that I was and I am always.

Maybe the game isn't designed to be beaten by six-year-olds, but I couldn't beat it when I was 18 either and it's re-released on The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Bonus Disc Edition, when I was 22 and I bought it for the Wii Virtual Console, when I was 26 and got it for free under the 3DS Ambassador Program, when I was 31 years old and tried to beat him in time for the franchise's 30th anniversary, and four years ago when I set to conquer him on my NES Classic Edition. This game has destroyed me all my life, but this year I finally found a way to see it through.

I cheated on my ass.

To be clear, I tried for years to beat Zelda II legitimately. I never got past the second dungeon on the NES, but on my GameCube I tried it the old fashioned way. Without having to worry about sending the game back to the rental store, I knew I could take my time with it and fully devote myself to mastering it the same way I had mastered the original and A Link to the Past. I even printed out a GameFAQs guide to point me in the right direction. And while it helped me go further than ever, it couldn't get me past Rebonack.

For those who don't know, Rebonack is the boss of the Island Palace dungeon. On paper, this looks like a pretty easy fight. He starts off by riding on floating horse armor, charging at you from left to right. You need to jump over him with a downward thrust as he passes to reduce his energy. However, halfway through the fight, he will jump off his horse, recover all of his health, and come at you as Blue Iron Knuckle. This is a part that has given me problems throughout my life.

As much as I admire Nintendo for not resting on its laurels when crafting a sequel to The Legend of Zelda, the shift to side-scrolling action combat has introduced a host of common issues to NES games from the era that the original was able to avoid. Anyone who's played Ninja Gaiden has probably lost a life or twenty to a bird that appeared out of nowhere to hit you mid-jump over a pit.

It's something Link had to contend with on his second outing, though in his case it was the flying eyeball Moas that darted from the left or right side of the screen to knock him into the lava. It's cheap and frustrating nonsense. You need to have incredible reflexes and hand-eye coordination to successfully complete Link's Adventure, as the enemies you'll face are almost supernatural in their responses to your actions. Your enemies can turn on a dime to hit you, and Iron Knuckles and their ilk are so adept at blocking your attacks that it would be comical if it weren't so exacerbating.

That's why I could never beat Rebonack. As soon as he switched to his second form, I had to deal with an enemy who could easily block all of my attacks, who could attack me almost nonstop, and who could be pushed off screen where I I couldn't reach them, but they could still hit me. Iron Knuckles and the Gerus Lizard are pretty frustrating when they have walls or pits where you can hit them. But the one that can just leave the screen while dealing damage will turn your hair gray.

So yeah, when I was 18, I said fuck it and stop at Rebonack. When I played it back on Virtual Console, I said fuck it and quit at Rebonack. On the 3DS? You guessed it. I said fuck it and stop at Rebonack. Then on my NES Classic, I drove past the Island Palace, and hea – just kidding. I said fuck it and stop at Rebonack.

For over 15 years, that bastard has been the bane of my existence. I'm sure if I had held it I would have eventually passed it and found that the difficulty of the bosses goes downhill from there. But after battling so many Iron Knuckles throughout my quest and knowing that the journey ahead of me would be strewn with even more, having to challenge one as a boss immediately wore me out, as if my soul were throbbing his hands in the air and exclaimed, "Not that shit again. " 

For years, that's been my dominant opinion of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It's a grueling game, seemingly designed to ensure players spend dozens of hours trying to fight their way through extremely fast and powerful enemies. I didn't hate the game. I didn't even think it was a bad game, it was just more complicated than I would have liked it to be, like playing with Earthbound Beginnings.

I mean, did you know that you lose XP when certain enemies hit you and they take away way more than they give when you kill them? It's like the game is trying to be as much of a dick to the players as possible. If not for the fact that you keep the tools and levels you unlock throughout your many attempts, this could be the most antagonistic game Nintendo has ever made.

With a few tweaks, I don't think The Adventure of Link would be the black sheep of the series that it is today. But after about XNUMX years, the only noticeable change was the elimination of the flickering screen when Ganon returns when you die. It's just as hard now as when I was still wearing velcro shoes because the laces intimidated me. The only difference is that today I have the rewind function of the Nintendo Entertainment System – Nintendo Switch Online.

I probably could have made my way through the NES because we had a working Game Genie. The only problem is that we didn't have a working codebook, and honestly, I didn't really like the idea of ​​breaking a game to be able to beat it. The clues were fine as I needed a lot of help finding my way around Hyrule in the first game, and we had a few NES Max controllers lying around, but the Game Genie codes always struck me as a curiosity rather than a a legitimate means. to an end. It's one thing to activate Moon Jump in Super Mario Bros, it's another to give yourself permanent star power.

But that was stupid, six-year-old me. Soon to be 36 years old, I am okay with cheating, or at the very least, mocking the system to my advantage. And there's no better way to blast your way through The Adventure of Link than to abuse Switch Online's rewind feature.

To be honest, I didn't even realize there was a rewind function when I first started it. I set myself the goal of beating the game for the birthday so I could write this post, and at first I experienced it as before. I beat the first dungeon with ease, died a lot when reaching the second dungeon, died a lot when finding the hammer, and finally started kicking ass after unlocking the down thrust. Then I hit Rebonack and the game immediately started to get on my nerves.

As I was preparing to leave, it occurred to me that I had completely ignored the Switch Online interface until now. This is where I saw the rewind function. I thought I might as well give it a try, so I rewound my fight with Rebonack and challenged him again.

He beat me, but I did better this time. So I backed off and did even better. On my fourth comeback, I almost beat him. Then I started rewinding every time he hit me, and soon enough, like the samurai from Katana Zero, I had spun around in a perfect run against my nemesis. A few hours later, I pulled off a perfect run to revive Sleeping Princess Zelda. A big smile spread across my face as I watched the credits roll. I had finally beaten a game that had been giving me grief all my life, even though I needed a little help doing it.

Looking back, I realize that the rewind feature is a substitute for what I've really been missing all these years: patience. I'm just not a patient enough person to handle the bullshit of this game.

If you're someone who beat Zelda II: The Adventure of Link without any tech assistance, hats off to you. You are a better player than me. But if you're like me, a person who's been wanting this title off their backlog for years, don't feel bad about using all the help you can get. Rewind the game, go for the SP version which maxes out Link at the start of his adventure, do whatever it takes because Zelda II is a gaming slut, but with meaningful ideas that were way ahead of its time.

And once you've beaten it, you can rest easy knowing that now that you've conquered it, you'll never have to think about it again.

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