The Zelda Games The Whole World Hates

Over the past 25 years, not every single Legend of Zelda game has been made by Nintendo. Some were developed by Capcom, and are outstanding in their own right! And some were made by other people, and are supposed abominations.

At least, that’s what popular opinion will have you believe whenever the topic of the Philips CD-i Zelda games is brought up. They’re seen as horrors, games unworthy of the brand or a place in its canon. Games that should be, were it possible, dragged up out of the dustbin of history only so they could be set on fire and erased from living memory.

And that’s putting it mildly. People really hate these games. The thing is, are they actually that bad? Worth all the spit and venom? I don’t believe they are.

For those unfamiliar with what we’re talking about, in the early 1990s, Nintendo and consumer electronics giant Philips had a very strange few years. The pair had originally teamed up to produce a CD-ROM add-on for the Super Nintendo, which would compete with the ill-fated Sega CD, but when those plans were scrapped Philips found itself in possession of the rights to make some games based on Nintendo characters.

A total of four games – Hotel Mario and these Zelda titles – would be released for Philips’ own multimedia machine, the CD-i. Nintendo would not develop them, nor publish them, it would simply…give them its blessing and look on from a distance, no doubt praying that the developers chosen to work on the beloved franchise didn’t screw things up.

They did. By the time the deal was up three Zelda games had been released for the CD-i: two side-scrolling titles that were developed by Animation Magic (fun fact: they also worked on the abandoned Warcraft adventure game) and a top-down adventure title that was developed by Viridis.

When people are talking about the Zelda CD-i games – and telling you they were the worst thing ever made by man – they’re usually talking about the first two. Called “Link: The Faces of Evil” and “Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon”, they’re platforming RPGs in the vein of Zelda II, combining 2D sprites and backgrounds with colourful, if amateurish animated sequences.

The intent was to create a more cinematic Zelda experience. The result was a disaster. The platforming sections were crude and stilted compared to Nintendo’s titles, while the game’s storyline (and animated sequences) took their cues from the Zelda animated series and not the Nintendo titles. Meaning all the worst parts of that show were repeated here, only they were somehow worse.

The third game, “Zelda’s Adventure”, people don’t talk about. Ever. You’d think they would, since unlike the other two it played like a traditional top-down Zelda game. It was also full of live-action cutscenes, making it the closest we’ve ever come to an official Zelda movies.

There is of course a reason people don’t speak about this game. Not even to joke about it. And you can see that reason in just about everything shown in the clip to your left.

For the time, these games – and the platform they were released on – were considered failures. The CD-i was useless for playing video games on, and the Zelda games were not only poorly received, but were commercial disappointments as well.

They were so bad, in fact, that Nintendo now publicly disowns them, and whenever the topic of Zelda’s history and canon comes up pretends they never existed.

Ironically, though, they’re now quite valuable commodities, the fact nobody bought them coupled with their notoriety making them surprisingly sought-after by collectors.

I think there’s more to their value than just their rarity. Like I said above, I think people are a little unfair when it comes to judging these games, as they hold them to a standard of production expected of a “proper” Nintendo game in the series.

Like the animated series, I think we need to approach these differently. Simply labelling them the “worst” Zelda games is too easy, since as you now know, these weren’t really Zelda games at all. Made by small teams with a small budget a world away with barely any input from Nintendo, we should judge them like we would, say, a kid’s play based on Zelda. If those kids had only ever played the first two games in the series (which is all these developers had to go on when development began).

It’s going to be terrible. It’s going to hurt the series faithful. It’s going to look cheap, and it’s going to make you cringe. But at the end of the day, there’s a certain charm to a “rogue” production like this, one that should exempt them from a lot of the truly spiteful and hateful comments often directed their way.

In other words, they’re so bad they’re good. In their own, stupid way.

There are even things to genuinely admire about these games! Wand of Gamelon and Zelda’s Adventure, for example, had the player controlling not Link, but Zelda, giving the normally passive character a chance to get her hands dirty and play a truly starring role. The first two games were also, considering it was 1993 and the CD-i wasn’t really a games console (it was more of weird multimedia application thing), not the worst games ever made.

For anyone who’d like to really roll up their sleeves and read up on this unique, if slightly tragic chapter of Zelda’s history, you can’t go past this interview with Dale DeSharone, the driving force behind the CD-i Zelda titles.

Stay tuned for more stories like this throughout the week, as we continue to 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.

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