Legend of Zelda (1)

Genre: Action-Adventure
Year: 1986
Developed by: Nintendo EAD
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: NES
Feeling Like: Legendary

I found myself often standing in the video games aisle at Spotlight Video, on the corner of Moss and Fairfield. It was a 6 minute drive, 11 minute bike ride or a 40 minute walk from my childhood home in Oak Bay. For how often we went, it might as well have been next door; distance and effort in travel were irrelevant to an 8 year old when the rewards were properly sufficient.

I still recall the store vividly; a slightly elevated command center at the back that took up far too much real estate upon hindsight, the gumball machine hovering by the entrance, and the movies on the right that I never paid any attention to. I would have a glance at the tiny CRT they had on display showing off whatever new game had released that month. If nobody was playing, I moved on quickly. I didn’t have the confidence to start playing an unknown game in a place where just anybody could saunter up and watch me.

The smell! How does a movie rental establishment smell? It’s one of those lost descriptions, only those that know it will know it, and those that don’t can only roll their eyes at the elders lamenting the good ol’ scents. It was a combination of popcorn, poorly vacuumed floors, freshly received plastic and anticipation. Row, upon row of catchy boxes screamed at me like silent puppies wanting to be adopted. Pick me! Watch me! Play me!

Legend of Zelda (3)
The first meme?

I had no idea what to rent. I didn’t have a subscription to Nintendo Power. The internet was nearly a decade away. No self respecting TV or news show alerted me to what games were worth playing. I was alone, in a sea of entertainment, with Mom and/or Dad nudging me along to hurry up and choose something.

Without fail, my first year at Spotlight resulted in me renting two games each visit: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Legend of Zelda. The Turtles made sense, they were my entire pop culture knowledge. Why did I pick Zelda?

Had I hear some friends at school talk about it? Did I see it on the cover of a magazine? Did the helpful teenager working at Spotlight urge me to give it a try? Was it the pure, gold box art that drew me in? I’ll never know, the memory long washed away. But I do remember how I felt playing it.

Legend of Zelda (2)
Good thing I’m not alone!

Mesmerized. I’d never seen anything like it. I could SAVE? I didn’t have to beat it one run? Where do I go, there’s….whoa, I can go in ANY direction? What’s the goal? What level am I on?

I was so out of my depth that I feel sorry for my young self. I don’t ever recall, however, feeling dismayed or frustrated. I was perfectly content to roam the map, not having a care in the world. If I found an upgrade here or there, that was exciting but not necessary. Exploration was all I cared about. How far did the world go?

I may have beaten the first dungeon, but certainly got no further than that. The retail version probably would have had a map, or a guide, or instructions on how to play. Since I had none of these, and the only previous video game experience I’d had prior to this was Tetris and Super Mario Bros., I was unprepared for the challenges ahead of me in Hyrule. The concepts of dungeons and hidden entrances weren’t even a thought in my head, so looking for them was out of the question.

Legend of Zelda (4)
Like flipping through pages of a history book.

Little did I know how influential the series would eventually become; has there been a single franchise that’s retained such a high level of quality and innovation? Only later, when I returned to The Legend of Zelda as an adult could I truly appreciate the carefully constructed level design, the subtle hints leading to your next destination, the soundtrack and the rewards for your curiosity.

I felt the same way I did after returning to my first home in Halifax. I left as a 5 year old and returned at 20. I’d had frequent images in my head of what the neighborhood was like, how massive the cul-de-sac was, how gargantuan the trees were, how I felt just by being there. When I finally returned, I couldn’t help but notice how much smaller everything actually was. The trees were fine, but not massive. The cul-de-sac was cozy, not massive. But the feeling was still there. The nostalgia was so thick I could brush it off my face. That’s where my sister learned to ride her bike. That’s where we had a neighborhood-wide tug of war. That’s where we’d go Trick or Treating. That’s where I played my first Nintendo.

Nova Scotia Trip (5)
Louise Court. You know it’s in the Maritimes when this picture was taken in July, and there’s a snow shovel ready in the driveway.

Re-visiting The Legend of Zelda very much felt like a homecoming on the screen. That’s where I got lost for the first time. That’s where I missed the second dungeon entrance. This is the enemy that killed me over, and over again. I progressed through the adventure easily, although with a few tips looked up online. I beat it surprisingly quickly, which was tangible proof of how much I’d grown and how far I’d come from lurking in the aisles of Spotlight Video, scanning the shelves and praying nobody had rented the only two games I felt comfortable trying. You can’t go home again, but you can certainly visit.

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