Let’s set the scene: the year is 1992. You’re sitting in your living room, probably wearing something with massive shoulder pads. Guns N’ Roses is on the radio. Social networks do not yet exist.
It’s into this peaceful scene that we can add a sprinkling of gaming magazines, splattered with an impressive number of loud, large fonts, the inside full of phone helplines and oddly aggressive advertisements. And, on the cover of one of the 1992 issues, a new game: The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, the third in a series that was previously only available on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
This new game, however, promises more color, more story, and, unbeknownst to you, a whole new world separate from the Hyrule you know and love. This is the first time a Zelda game has introduced the concept of geographic and/or time dichotomy, but let’s be honest – it’s 1992 and you don’t know what those words mean. You’re just thrilled to have a new Zelda SNES game for your birthday, and we don’t blame you. Plus, the magazines say it’s really Well.
And now, 30 years later (to the day!), we’ve combed through magazine archives to find a handful of those magazines, to examine what the gaming world was like back then – and what the people really thought of A Link to the Past. It was only the third Zelda game, and although Zelda was obviously very popular, it was nowhere near the cultural saturation of today, where a Zelda game can sell millions in its first week of release and reduce adult men to fits of rage if not is not quite what they want.
It’s fascinating not only to look back at the general perception of a game that would eventually land on “greatest of all time” lists, but to see exactly what game reviewers found useful for their readers back in 1992.
Nintendo Magazine System
Nintendo Magazine System, the British magazine that would later become Official Nintendo Magazine (RIP), has a lot to say about the game in its walkthrough/tip/review:
“Zelda is excellent…. Buy it and you won’t regret it. What you’ll get is a game of tremendous depth, excitement, even humor, but most importantly quality. It’s the quality of design and implementation that’s most striking about Zelda. The graphics are amazingly designed to appear 3-dimensional with brilliant colors and the animation is wonderfully detailed: just to witness levers or fights.
“Laying aside all the technical wizardry, Zelda impresses me most as a brilliantly thought-out adventure. The puzzles are ingenious and challenging but never too obscure, and the feeling is that progress is always possible.
“It’s one of the few games that rewards exploration, and there’s plenty underneath the exterior still waiting to be discovered (by me!).”
“It’s always hard to think of things to say about games that are practically perfect… What impressed me most, however, was the enormous degree of thought that went into the controls. It There’s an absolute stack of objects to manipulate, people to talk to, and actions to perform, and each one is handled with logic and user-friendliness.
“Anyone with the slightest urge to investigate the role-playing adventure genre should grab this one with both hands, and anyone who doesn’t has that urge needs their brains tested.”
- Zelda: “A brave little girl” who has “the annoying habit of getting caught regularly”
- Hyrule: “A kind of country in the shape of a square bounded by rocks”
- Chart: “Delicious” with “excellent animation” but “maybe…a little too colorful sometimes”
- Reactivity: “Excellent”
- Gameplay: “Engaging from the start” but “wandering monsters are sometimes a boring distraction”
- Sustainability: “This game is absolutely huge…it will take weeks or months to complete”
- Difficulty: Medium/Hard
Nintendo Power’s coverage seemed to be mostly focused on how to cheek Link to the past, and also spoil all the cool secrets. But that’s just the thing – back in the day, talking about the cool powers you’d eventually get, like the ability to swim or traverse the Dark World, were just tantalizing reasons to buy and play the game. That wouldn’t fly today!
Nintendo Power also published an LTTP comic for 12 issues alongside the game’s release, from January 1992 to December 1992. The series was illustrated by Shotaro Ishinomori – an influential manga artist who created many tokusatsu series, such as the precursor to Power Rangers, Super Sentaiand the very popular Riders come. It’s a really cool video game relic, especially for someone who writes about Zelda as much as we do – there’s tons of Link artwork in there that we’ve never seen before!
Although Nintendo Power’s cover is a little more “here’s a bombable wall” than “here’s what we think of this game”, there’s still some great prose to be found:
“A Link to the Past could be called the ultimate adventure. There’s action for players who love adventure, mysteries for those who love secrets, two worlds to explore and a story that ties it all together The quest has only just begun, although it already seems like it’s been a long road.
Link’s path will pass through the seven levels of the World of Darkness and the Golden Pyramid. He will meet unlikely friends and face dangers in the worlds of light and darkness before he hears the dreaded name of Ganon whispered.”
Holy Triforce, what an amazing way to describe the game! It makes us want to dig up our own copies and start all over again.
Computer and video games
“I didn’t half-like the first two Zelda games,” writer Frank O’Connor says in a very British way when he said he actually liked the first two Zelda games a lot. “This one is a real sight for sore eyes.” He goes on to say that “Zelda III”, as they called it, retains the “immediately accessible arcade style of gameplay” while introducing “elements of strategy and adventure”. It’s worth noting that CVG played the game on the Super Famicom in Japanese, which they say is “intimidating” at first, but “all you need to know is the difference between yes and no.”
- Link: “A little elf” and a “strong boy” who “died brave”
- Zelda: “A smart and sexy little princess” (ew)
- Chart: 85/100 — “very simple”
- Sounds: 87/100 — “spot-on”, whatever that means
- Gameplay: 90/100
- Sustainability: 90/100
- Total score: 89/100
CVG’s review is a little muted, especially with the modern knowledge that “Zelda III” is considered a masterpiece, but we admire their work in bringing the Japanese import to play early. The other thing about this review is that it’s almost comedic 90s British stuff. Watch:
“Zelda! For some people it’s the definitive RPG and it now appears in its third incarnation on the Super Famicom. The game features the exploits of a little elf named Link. Zelda is a smart and sexy little princess who passes the most of her time getting kidnapped by evil magicians, causing endless trouble for the hapless Link, as he is the one who always has to bail her out.
Link is a strong and brave boy too. He must be strong though, as he can carry quite a large amount of stuff in his magic pockets…”
The review is a single page and they spend a lot of time talking about Link inventory. We guess they couldn’t really talk about the story, since it was entirely in Japanese…
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – Nintendo Gamer’s Guide
It’s the early 90s and you can’t play a video game without a game guide. Whether you’ve spent hundreds of pounds/dollars/local currency on printer ink and dial-up charges to print yours, or whether you’ve managed to convince your parents to spend their hard-earned cash on one of the bulky guides at the newsagents, it’s the same — but this official Nintendo glossy, illustrated guide (it even has the seal of quality!) is quite nice.
Plus, just like Nintendo Power, there are even more Zelda images we’ve never seen before!
Super NES Buying Guide
If you own a Super NES (or SNES), you might want to know what is worth buying. Trick question! The first thing you need to buy is a buying guide, silly!
Much like Nintendo Power, the Super NES Buyers Guide is more of a “how to play” than an actual review, but it seems to give potential players the information they need (difficulty level, format, genre, etc.) and their lets decide for themselves. Not really a buyer’s guide, is it? It’s basically just a blurb at the bottom of the box, and we could have, you know, looked at the bottom of the box. Well!
What a beautiful trip down memory lane. Nothing shocking, of course – we were sort of hoping for a surprisingly negative review that we could laugh about in hindsight, but sure everyone loved A Link to the Past. It’s not only a great game, but it was the template for Zelda games from then on. We wouldn’t have Ocarina of Time or Breath of the Wild without ALTTP, let alone all the other brilliant non-Zelda games that have been inspired by Link’s Dark World adventures since.
Happy 30th anniversary, The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past. You changed the landscape of gaming forever, and we love you for it. And thanks for giving us a reason to read old gaming magazines too.
Give us your link to the past and your gaming magazine memories in the comments below!