This week’s Monday’s Game is the top pick for my NES Essential Play list: The Legend of Zelda. If you can play no other game for the NES, you should play The Legend of Zelda.

If you’re at all familiar with the NES, this pick shouldn’t surprise you. Indeed The Legend of Zelda has been acclaimed more times than any other NES title and is widely believed to be the iconic game that began the journey toward where modern video games are today. The Legend of Zelda was something new and something special; it was more than just a game about amassing points in a side scrolling world. Rather The Legend of Zelda was an adventure. More than just about collecting points, the game was also telling an interactive story and taking the player along on a young boy’s quest to save a princess.

Zelda incorporated so many mechanics from the various gaming genres of the time that it defied easy categorization. It had elements from action, adventure, RPG, and even puzzle games all folded into one. Though now it identifies strongly with the Action-RPG genre, at the time it was something entirely new and exciting. It was a game that refused to conform to the emerging standards, and the gamers of that era loved this new look at what video games could be. With such a profound impact on the gaming community it is no surprise that Link, the protagonist of the game, remains one of the most recognized characters in Video Games, and that the Zelda franchise is likely the strongest in the industry.

The game itself is from the top-down perspective. You control the main protagonist, Link, who is a young boy on a quest to save the Princess Zelda from the Evil Ganon. To do this you have to collect the 8 pieces of the legendary Triforce from the various dungeons in the game. Also in each dungeon is a special item that will help you progress through the game. Often these items would help you in the other dungeons, but the game was fairly non-linear and many of the dungeons could be done out of order (though none could be entirely skipped). Beyond even the dungeon crawling was the exploration of the Kingdom of Hyrule, which served as the overworld of the game. There was a little secret in just about in ever one of the 128 overworld rooms, some were useful, and others… not-so-much.

More than any other game, I can remember playing The Legend of Zelda as a child. I still have my NES cartridge somewhere in my collection. I should really pull that out and give it another play. As for picking up a copy, that’s a bit hit or miss. The Legend of Zelda exists in many platforms and has produced lots of carts over the years. You can pick up an actual NES cart for $10-15 most of the time, though it’s likely that you’ll have to replace the 2032 lithium battery if you buy an original cart that hasn’t had a new battery put in. A lot of my old NES carts don’t save any more because of this very thing… and I haven’t gotten around to replacing them all just yet. The easier option, for the Wii owner, is to download the Virtual Console version of The Legend of Zelda. It’s $5 and should be pretty well identical to the original.

Oh, and after you’ve finished it the first time through, be prepared for the “Second Quest.” It’s way, way harder than the first play, so good luck.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?

Afterward: Because the NES has a lot of good games on it, I’ll be hitting on some of the “runners up” for the Essential Plays list. Games that are good and deserve a play, but just don’t fit on the list.