Nearly every single Legend of Zelda video game is revered, if not as an all-time classic, then by at least being good. The franchise’s one major departure onto TV screens? It was not good. Not at all.
While Mario was turned into a big Hollywood movie and Metroid was long rumoured to be following suit, Nintendo has done little with the Zelda franchise aside from a few excellent manga and an animated series. Considering the classic lore and popularity of the series that may sound strange, but it’s not. It’s only strange if you haven’t seen the animated series, because if you have, you’d know that it has scarred Nintendo for life.
Airing in 1989, The Legend of Zelda animated series was part of Nintendo of America’s big “multimedia” push of the late ’80s which saw cartoons, comic books and even a few motion pictures made starring the company’s characters (and… peripherals). While the series at first appears somewhat faithful to the source material, as it stars Link (who wears green), Princess Zelda (who needs rescuing) and Ganon (who is the bad guy), it won’t take long before you realise that… something is wrong.
Part of the appeal of Link as a video game character is that he is largely mute. Sure, it’s implied that he’s speaking (since other characters respond to questions), but the fact you only once hear him speak words in a Nintendo Zelda game (Wind Waker’s boyish “come on!”) and can rename him at the beginning of every game shows he’s supposed to be the silent hero. The every-man, a character – like Half-Life’s Gordon Freeman – which you’re able to project yourself upon.
In the animated series, however, he speaks. Actually, saying he “speaks” doesn’t do it justice. His whining drawl is like a poison-tipped barb cascading violently down the inside of your ear.
By injecting him with an outside personality, the show’s producers instantly mark “this” Link as being nothing like the “real” Link, an impression only reinforced by his behaviour in the show, which usually involves trying – and failing – to lay the moves on Princess Zelda.
This would be excusable if, the fury of Zelda purists aside (and mark my words, they can be a furious mob), the show itself was any good. But it wasn’t! Shoddy animation, poor voice work, execrable humour and terrible writing make it one of the decade’s worst cartoons.
And yet…despite all this, who can honestly say they hate the show? Not me. For all its flaws, there’s something about it that defies genuine ridicule. Something charming. Sure, as fans of the game there’s plenty to be angry about, but the show’s tagline has grown to be something to be laughed at, like an idiot little brother, not derided, like an asshole little brother.
It also deserves credit for its looks. It’s easy to forget with all the bad writing and character murder going on, but the TV show was alarmingly faithful to the look of the original Zelda game and its artwork, especially with regards to Link (and his equipment), Ganon and his hordes of bad guys. The show also featured great renditions of the game’s most memorable music, especially the intro’s version of the trademark title theme, which in 1989 must have been the best version of it most people had ever heard.
In all, only thirteen episodes of The Legend Of Zelda were ever made. If you’ve never seen one, American readers can actually jump on Hulu and watch every single one for free. Those outside the US, the series is available on DVD in most regions.
Oh, and one last thing: note I said this is the worse “thing” Zelda ever did. It’s not the worst game. There’ll be more on that later in the week, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Legend Of Zelda.
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.