Miyamoto is the undisputed master of the videogame. His creative
genius is the standard by which all others are measured. If you
asked me in 1985 who the greatest games designer in the world was,
I would have said Miyamoto. Almost 20 years later, computer technology
has grown by leaps and bounds, but the Master remains the same.
most famous character, of course, is Mario, who first appeared in
Donkey Kong in 1981. After two follow-ups (Donkey Kong
Junior in 1982 and Mario Brothers in 1983), Miyamoto
unveiled the landmark Super Mario Bros. in 1985. It was
more than an extension of previous games; it was as though the videogame,
as a form, had reinvented itself. The level of scope and imagination
was far beyond anything seen before, and became the blueprint for
practically every scrolling platform game ever since.
1986, Miyamoto followed up with a new character named Link. The
Legend of Zelda was released on Nintendo's 8-bit NES console,
introducing players to the modern adventure-role playing game. Instead
of Super Mario's side-view, Zelda is presented
in an overhead perspective. The game draws an obvious influence
from Warren Robinett's seminal Adventure, but creates a
viable fantasy world full of puzzles, fierce battles, and endless
is, in a sense, Mario's twin. While the Zelda
series takes a Tolkien-esque, slightly more serious, tone than the
psychedelic primary colors of Super Mario, the sense of
wonder and surprise is very much the same. If these games seem to
take years to be made, there's a reason. To date, there has been
only seven Zelda games (not counting the two Capcom productions
on the Gameboy) since 1986, and the wait has always been worth it.
week, I've been playing the third game in the series, A Link
to the Past. I personally consider The Ocarina of Time
on the Nintendo 64 to be the pinnacle of the series, but Link
to the Past is often a favorite of the diehard fans, and it
remains among the finest 2D videogames ever made.
Legend of Zelda seems oddly named, since the hero of the saga
is a young boy named Link. Zelda is, instead, the princess of Hyrule
whose only talent seems to involve being kidnapped. But then again,
doesn't that describe most videogame maidens? Perhaps she should
learn how to use a sword and defend herself for once.
I've mentioned before, Zelda is very much the twin of Super
Mario. There is a sense of wonder and surprise to both games;
you feel that you are exploring a vast world, where the next surprise
is right around the corner. The world of Link to the Past
is littered with these little teases. In one area, there may be
bushes, trees, rocks, boulders, ponds, and tombstones. There may
be a surprise behind every one.
Mario, there are really two game worlds: the one which
is on the screen, and the one that is hidden away, just beyond view.
Sure, you could play through this game with only Link's basic sword
and shield, but what fun is that? Aren't you at all curious to find
what lies behind that wall?
are so many examples that I could spend hours describing them all.
Some secrets reveal extra weapons or items. Some reveal needed information.
And some are just to be enjoyed on their own whimsy terms. In one
house, you will find a picture of Mario. Tug on the picture and
a number of coins pop out. This, in itself, reveals one of Miyamoto's
traits: curiosity will be rewarded.
convention of his style is the difficulty curve. This game does
get progressively challenging, but you are never truly over your
head. When a new skill is introduced, there is always an opportunity
to practice those skills before they are later needed. The game's
trademark dungeons are loaded with clever puzzles that are never
too hard, but are rarely giveaways.
dungeons requires you to find a map and compass, but these are never
found right away; you must explore for a while first. Miyamoto once
remarked that when he travels, he prefers to explore his surroundings
for a while before buying a map. When I read this several years
ago, a light clicked in my head. Suddenly, it all makes perfect
sense. Most games would be more concerned with difficulty, or padding
out the play time (an overrated measure of a videogame's worth),
but Miyamoto doesn't do that. He just wants to share the experience
of visiting a new place for the first time.
master imbues his games with, more than anything, a sense of fun.
There are many moments in this Zelda that stick out: a
thief in the woods who steals your items; fairies which can be caught
by a net and bottled; a monkey who follows you around; a race around
an obstacle course; a pond which is drained (an effect which is
masterfully recreated in Super Mario 64). Then there are
those lovable chickens. Some villagers own chickens, which usually
mind their own business, but can be picked up and thrown by Link.
There's no real point to tossing the birds about; laughing at their
flailing feathers is its own reward.
does no one else offer an adventure game with a sense of purpose?
This is not another by-the-numbers game that only wants to be beaten;
Zelda wants to be loved. Every moment is a party, and everyone
is invited. Link to the Past was released this past year
on the Gameboy Advance, and time has taken none of its charm. If
anything, the experience is more enriching than most anything on
the contemporary scene. Such is the magic of Shigeru Miyamoto.