1987 Silver: When Zelda Came to America

Looking back at the list of titles that graced 8-bit consoles (and PCs) in 1987, you find that’s it’s a veritable parade of first entries in what would in time go on to either greatly influence gaming or spawn literally dozens of sequels between them. This is the year that modern video gaming was born, as simple left-to-right platforming was starting to experience previously unseen variations and mutations, while the standard bearers of fighting games and RPGs experienced their genesis. Take a look back at some of these classic titles celebrating their 25th anniversary as part of the 1987 Silver series on MTV Multiplayer.

You can find earlier entries in this series here.


Shigeru Miyamoto didn’t think the original The Legend of Zelda for the Famicom was going to be much of a success. Miyamoto, who was director and producer on the first game worried that it was both “very plain” and not mainstream enough for Japanese audiences when it was released in ’86. In the West, we were already kind of past our fascination with sword and sorcery, Legend having completely died at the box office in ’86.

But what changed things up in Japan in 1986 and a year later in the U.S.? In fact, how was a series with only tenuous ties between entries*, wildly varying art styles between games, and a mostly wordless protagonist able to ultimately sell over 67 million copies across the life of the franchise?

At least in the U.S., I put it all squarely at the feet of that wonderful marketing tool Nintendo Power, which actually began its life in 1987 as the free Nintendo Fun Club. Between 1987 and 1988, there were a total of 15 titles released for the NES, and if you didn’t have The Legend of Zelda, there was Nintendo Power and its predecessor (for a while, at least) making the case for you to pick it up with previews, guides, and art by Katsuya Terada (whose art adorns the top of this post).

But that’s not to undersell the gameplay: along with Metroid from the previous year and fellow ’87 release Kid Icarus, The Legend of Zelda was one of the few early NES titles to embrace exploration. Here was a game that felt (in its way) open and unlimited in a manner than everything else on the shelves did not. Besides Link, it’s been the one integral element to nearly every title in the series in one way or another.

But more important, I think, is that along with Nintendo’s flagship character, Mario, and Samus Aran of Metroid, Link represents one of the three faces of publisher. Mario is the family-friendly, loveable mascot, and is definitely the most visible of all of the character in their lineup, while Samus is the strange, somewhat more mature sci-fi edge that the company decides to push against every few years. Then we come back to the idea of exploration with Link: he’s the face of exploration for Nintendo, the character that typifies the experience of jumping into a game and inhabiting a character for 10, 20, 30 hours and living in his world.

In the 25 years since the first game hit our shores, we’ve almost never been without a new title in the franchise, a total of 18 games hitting whatever new Nintendo platform was available at the time. At the same time, I think Link is the most “pure” in terms of the company’s titles: with one notable exception detailed in “Missteps,” Nintendo is very deliberate with their Zelda releases, and each new title is kind of a big deal when it hits shelves.

Best moments in 25 years

For me there are two titles that speak to the breadth and depth of the Zelda experience: 1988’s release of The Adventure of Link and 2002’s Wind Waker. Both titles dramatically flipped the format, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link taking the top-down exploration of the first game and turning it into a side scroller, while Wind Waker rethought the visual style and allowed Link to not only explore the dungeons, forests, and cities but also the high seas.

Looking back over the list of games, I believe (and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) that The Adventure of Link is the only numbered entry in the series, the sole title in a franchise that defies connective tissue.


I know the easy route would be to talk about Nintendo and Phillips’ partnership to bring Link to the CD-I… so that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

The three titles released for the failed disc-based platform, Link: The Faces of Evil, Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, and Zelda’s Adventure, came out between 1993 and 1994, and their 2D action-adventure format weren’t in and of themselves offensive in terms of what had come before in the franchise**. Their real offense (as you probably know since you have the Internet) was their use of deeply unfunny, mood-breaking animated sequences in between the action to tell the game’s story.

You can see the video proof below:

In recent years

More Zelda, more money. Last year, we got two remakes for the official, for-reals anniversary (Four Swords, Ocarina of Time 3D), along with the second and final entry for the Wii, Skyward Sword. As ever, the question is “when are we getting another console game?” The Wii U is on the way this holiday season and it’s completely possible we might hear about a 2013 or 2014 release at Tokyo Game Show this year, but I highly doubt it. Although we saw a Wii U tech demo for the game at E3 2011, according to a recent Miyamoto interview, the next game is currently in the R&D phase, so expect to hear little if anything on this front for a while.

Again, Nintendo is very protective of Link and Zelda and it might be a little while before we hear anything concrete about another game.

*Wikipedia reprints an official chronology linking the games, but with the exception of the first two, they could all be standalone.
**Note, I said “inoffensive,” not “good.”

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