Note: I have not had the pleasure of experiencing any of Zelda's handheld outings beyond Link's Awakening, and shall thus omit them from this post. I will also go ahead and mention the CD-I series in its entirety so I can place it as far from my mind as possible.
The average person could be forgiven for assuming that Nintendo, the company that recently found immense success in courting little tiny kids and frail old grandparents with bright, happy, sterile games and images, could ever be capable of conjuring up anything more unsettling than the shiny and insincere smiles of nuclear families tinkering around with a Wii. The average gamer could be forgiven for making the same assumption while noting an exception for the Metroid
series. Those of us who've stuck with Zelda
through its many incarnations, however, know that its developers possess the kinds of warped and twisted minds you'd only see lurking in gaming's most macabre niches or plastered on the front page of a
website with the caption "LUNATIC PERFOMS SELF-SURGERY, EATS OWN PANCREAS." Since it's Zelda Week, why not take a look back at all the moments in Link's adventures that left us with the lights on for a month and our young minds scarred for life?
Both Link to the Past
and the original entry, groundbreaking and timeless as they may be, were a bit short on horrific monstrosities, so we'll skip right over to Zelda II
. Like the moustache- and power armor-adorned franchises that complete the holy Nintendo triumvirate, the series' second outing was an unconventional one, moving most of the gameplay to a sidescrolling perspective and adding in a bunch of RPG weirdness we really haven't seen since - but those who've played it probably remember precisely one thing:
The corny laughter mitigates the impact somewhat and it's easy to get accustomed to after seeing it (inevitably) several dozen times, but after the black screen and light melody of LoZ
's virtual afterlife, getting thrown to this blood-red backdrop was enough to ward me away from the title for a whole week after my first try. Special mention must also go out to final boss Dark Link, but he'll show up a little later.
Hopping over LttP
leads us directly to Link's Awakening
, the odd but much-loved Game Boy adventure. We all know it's weird as hell, and this, combined with the story's thematic focus on dreams, provides ample room for things that can make your skin crawl in spite of the dramatically reduced screen size. First up - bosses. Observe the gallery below:
The Angler Fish, from Angler's Tunnel, is not only ugly, but chases you around in a pool of water, in which your movement - even with the aid of the Flippers - is horribly awkward, often sending you careening directly into his gaping jaws. The Nightmare's final form and Facade, both pictured on the bottom, are just plain creepy and unsettling in and of themselves. Slime Eyes at the top right may seem unassuming, but he's here because of his frighteningly sudden appearance
Then there's the last "dungeon". When you make your way into the Wind Fish's egg, perhaps expecting another sequence of doors, dangers, traps, and tricks, you're instead met with a long sequence of barren hallways, filled only with this music
. And if you haven't completed the long trade quest and discovered the proper movement sequence? Until you give up and leave out the bottom, your trek through these halls will never, ever end. Creepy. As. Hell.
Of course, one of Awakening
's biggest shocks and surprises stems from the little shop in the opening town. For the only time in the series, crafty maneuvering will allow you to make off with any of the store's items for the princely sum of 0 rupees. Your name will be permanently changed to "THIEF" too, which is kind of funny, but if you ever decide to show your face into the store once again, you'll be greeted with this:
And then you'll die.
This brings us to Ocarina of Time
, which, in my opinion, holds the crown for Greatest Quantity of Shit Likely to Turn Your Gaming Childhood Into a Waking Nightmare. The list is gigantic - the Forest Temple, with its haunting ambience
, dark corridors, and Skulltula infestation. The skeletal Stalchildren, who rise from Hyrule Field at night, only growing larger and more numerous as you fend off the infinite horde. Redeads, which a-WRAAAAAAAAAGH!
Gohma, whose entrance is triggered by you staring up at its horrid eyeball. Wallmasters, which stalk you from the ceilings, creating only a shadow to notify you of their impending descent. Dark Link, and the room in which he lurks
. The first sight of the ruined Castle Town after emerging from the Temple of Time as an adult, which rivals Final Fantasy VI
's apocalypse as one of the most sudden, unexpected, and horrific transformations of a game world. But the worst - the absolute goddamn worst - isn't the Shadow Temple, but its younger cousin: the Bottom of the Well.
You're facing this shorter dungeon as Young Link, locking you out of your most useful tools. This is where the game introduces Giant Skulltulas. Undetectable pitfalls are scattered liberally. It's dark, dank, dilapidated, and whatever else you want to call the most unsettling location in all of Hyrule, and it's also home to a very special mini-boss. Everybody, meet Dead Hand.
He's a big pile of bloodied zombie flesh with about eight too many arms, and attacks by grabbing you with one of his pale appendages so he can maul your helpless face. Yes, we're talking Zelda
, not Resident Evil
. I could say more, but all of you who played Ocarina
as relatively young children know exactly what I'm talking about, and the four or five of you who didn't - you are lucky.
So how about Majora's Mask
, then? It does for Zelda's 3D half what Link's Awakening
did for the 2D side, and, while excellent, there seems to be a notable minority of non-hipsters who would elevate it to "BEST ZELDA EVER" status. Dark horse or not, it's pretty easy to say that, hot off Ocarina
's heels, it comes in a close second for the GQoSLtTYGCIaWN prize. Any mention of the game would be remiss without one of its most notable and memorable features: that goddamn moon, which draws nearer and nearer every minute.
There's more, of course. Every time you put on a transformation mask, you're treated to one of these lovely cutscenes
- pay special attention to the Zora mask. Nearly every location is designed to unsettle, from the murky Southern Swamp to the snowblinding Snowhead Peak. There's this fine gentleman of a mini-boss
. While the shocked farm inhabitants stop being creepy when you realize the problem is that aliens abducted their cows
, your first bewildered encounter before you know how to blow away the big rock is positively haunting. Then you finally get inside the moon
, and then you get to fight the final boss
, and oh man.
Most notably, though, Majora's Mask
has the proud distinction of housing the most ugly and horrifying contribution to the Zelda
franchise; something that is perhaps the most vile and disgusting entity in the whole series.
That leaves two games - Wind Waker
and Twilight Princess
. I want to close off with the former, so here're a few things about the latter: there's the vision sequence
, which neither can nor should be described with words. The giant-ass bug boss
in Lake Hylia took me by complete surprise after I'd been accustomed to hunting down the little tiny insects. There's the first encounter with the invisible ghost-rats - all of the sudden, you're moving far too slowly, and there's this mad chattering. Turn into wolf and activate senses - BAM
. It's a one-time shock, but is it ever a shock. There're those Wallmaster-alikes near the end of the game, which are harmless to you but play the horror equivalent of a brown note once they get close to taking back the big glowing ball.
Even for a series that's been around for 25 years, that's a lot of stuff for what's ostensibly a kid-friendly franchise. Yet there is one thing in Wind Waker
that trumps absolutely everything above. It is literally the first and only thing in a video game that caused me to audibly vocalize my fear; I've never been utterly terrified about anything anywhere in any game more than this. Point and laugh and call me funny names if you must, but there's just something about these goddamn cyclones.
I don't know what it is. I don't know if it's the exaggerated art style accentuating the shape, the fact that it continually grows larger and larger as you draw near until it utterly dwarfs you, or the sudden storms that accompany its presence, but I do know that after my first sighting, I turned tail and sped away, working my way around the controller faster than I had previously thought possible - because I did not know where one might or might not be, every trip from then on was utterly nerve-wracking. Little did I know that one of the Plot Orbs must be placed on an island perpetually circled by one, and then after the next dungeon, I had to sail right up to one
. Sure, they go away after obtaining the warp power, but I still had to direct my eyes toward the ceiling as the cutscene played out, every single time. Even today, I continue to have that same feeling of dread every time I pick Wind Waker
back up and start sailing; it's no longer the cyclones themselves, as I'm always going "oh, that's it?" when I finally see one. It's that inescapable, intangible fear, which convinces me that something horrible is always right
around the next square, or right
With Skyward Sword
just around the corner, I have faith that Nintendo will come up with fresh new horrors to plague our minds, and look forward to discovering them as soon as I can scrounge up the cash to buy it along with the rest of the awesome that's releasing this month. Surely I haven't found everything in the series, though; what's the most terrifying thing that's happened to you guys in a Zelda