Odd as it may sound, I owe my entire childhood to a man named Masayuki Uemura.
In the mid-80’s, while I was trying to figure out the world’s most pointless video game, Nintendo was putting the finishing touches on an Italian plumber and an 8-bit gaming system. That system was designed by Uemura and ultimately led to a video game revolution that introduced the world to characters like Link, Sonic, Guile and, unfortunately, Pikachu. As my teachers would surely tell you, I didn’t get much homework done after dinner. I didn’t know the capital of North Dakota or what a postage stamp was used for, but I knew damn well that the princess was in another fucking castle.
Throughout my life, I’ve owned Atari 2600 (twice), NES (thrice), Gameboy, Genesis, Lynx, N64, Gamecube and Yobo. At one point, I even seriously considered making my parents purchase a Sega Saturn. I’ve also played nearly every one of the newer systems, with their fancy graphics cards and 47-button controllers, but I don’t care for them at all. They’re too real and too complicated. Video games are supposed to be a break from reality. Shooting hookers and taking their hard-earned cash? I can do that in real life. Stomping midgets and turtles while spitting fire? That’s where it’s at.
Above all else, a video game has to have a really cool premise in order for me to lose myself in it. Something interesting. Something different. Something like a little kid with a sword, who wanders aimlessly around uncharted land and beats the shit out of a fat piggy monster. So, yea, the Legend of Zelda. And just how awesome was the original Legend of Zelda? I’d be inclined to say that it was seven different kinds of awesome.
First off, the landscape was huge. Too often, in old school video games, the amount of real estate you could travel to was severely limited. I can only watch a screen scroll sideways for so long before my mind implodes. The makers of the game obviously felt the same, and decided to combat that with 128 different screens, not counting the inside of caves and dungeons. Altogether, there were probably closer to 300 different screens that could grace your television. Zelda was such a convoluted maze of landscapes that, at one point, as a child, I actually got so lost and frustrated, that I turned the game off and sat on the couch, flustered and fuming. The game almost sent me to a psychiatrist. That’s how awesome it was.
Another thing about Zelda; the music selection was absofuckinglutely perfect. The musical accompaniment, while strolling around the overworld of Hyrule, was just upbeat enough that you felt like a fucking superhero, but not peppy enough that you wanted to jam the controller in your ear. Once you entered into a dungeon, though, the music turned downright creepy. (Super Mario Bros. tried this and failed miserably.) I mean, the kind of creepy where you’re 100% terrified of what’s going to appear once you open that unlocked door, even though it’s probably just a room full of Hershey Kisses. To my recollection, Legend of Zelda is still the only game to ever make me wet myself.
One of the most important aspects to any game, though–aside from psychological meltdown and pants-pissing–is its ability to make you work to win. It’s my biggest problem with games like Arkanoid and Tetris. There are no secrets hidden within those games. You just play until you’re bored out of your mind and finally decide that slamming your head into the wall is infinitely more fun.
In Zelda, even if you manage to find the old man with the map, you have to bomb the shit out of walls, set fire to trees and push a bunch of obscure objects around if you plan on finding anything of value. Try running through this game without using the map (the one from one of the previous links) and in 6 months, you’ll have completed almost all of, ohhhhh, Level 1. But that’s what was so great; when you did find something new, you called everyone you knew–even the girl you only spoke to once a month to copy her homework–because they’d all be equally as ecstatic. Zelda has produced more short-term friendships than alcohol and strippers combined.
The best part about Zelda, though, is what happens afterward: the Second Quest. When you beat Super Mario Bros., you get to kiss the princess and put the game in the closet. Zelda? Why don’t you play again? Only, this time, all the shit you figured out the first time around, you can forget, because it’s all in a different place now. Hey, why the hell is there a dungeon where my fairy used to be?
I loved this game. Still do. I can’t imagine there’s ever been a more mind-blowing way for a kid to waste 7 hours a day. Having said that, it’s fairly easy to see where my childhood went. Some folks wonder why a smart kid like myself was never an A student. Or a B student. Or a student that didn’t almost fail 4 of his 6 classes as a 12 year old in middle school. Those people can blame Masayuki Uemura.
I choose to thank him.
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