A link to the bleah

I’ve always really liked the idiosyncratic visual style of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It has a look wholly unlike any other game — not just any other Zelda, but any other game, period.


It’s the trees in particular that have always stood out. They’re almost an abstraction of trees: Big blobs of foliage with the impression of depth provided by those off-center, concentric rings of color. It’s a simple style — those trees could easily have been rendered on NES! — but highly effective. And wholly unique. You look at a screen shot of A Link to the Past, you know exactly which game you see.

But lordy, it does not translate well to a direct, low-poly interpretation. Of all the games for them not to use cel-shading on, why did they have to pick the one where they were literally translating into polygons visuals that relied heavily on thick black outlines to help provide definition and weight? I guess they were counting on the 3D effect to compensate, but it doesn’t work in practice.

Thankfully, the new game arguably plays better than any other entry in the Zelda series, combining the fluidity of 3D with the no-nonsense style of 2D, but dang. I wish the graphics were half as nice as the action. I do have a lot of other thoughts on the game which have nothing to do with the visuals, but I have to wait until next week to voice those.


Super Mario 3D World, on the other hand, looks dazzling. Maybe we can just get EAD Tokyo to make every game forever.

9 thoughts on “A link to the bleah

  1. After spending two months this past summer rebuilding the world of A Link to the Past (well, both worlds) for a gaming map, I may may understand more about how that world was rendered outside of anyone at NCL or the speedrunning community (this despite only ever having played the game once, when it was first released), I’m astonished at how well the visuals for the game hold up, especially since it was a relatively earlier SNES game.

    LTTP is the Wind Waker of its day, notable for it’s stylized design in an era when everyone seemed to be shooting for the most realistic graphics possible now that those 8 extra bits of power allowed for so much more resolution and color. Despite the dramatic story (complete with Lord of the Rings-sized epic battles rendered on the SNES equivalent of ancient parchment in the game’s prologue), it amuses me to no end that the game’s designers said “fuck it” and filled present-day Hyrule with pleasingly cartoony cinnamon roll trees and layer cake mesas.

  2. LTTP is a masterpiece of 16-bit visual design. Every tile is pixel-perfect, in composition and in colour. I just wish I enjoyed playing Zelda games :-P Ah well, statistically there has to be some of us out there.

  3. I’m looking forward to A Link Between Worlds in a couple of weeks from now, but it’s not because of the visuals. It’s because it’s the first single player oriented 2D style game since Minish Cap to go back to traditional controls.

    Nothing against Phantom Hourglass or Spirit Tracks,* I enjoyed them for what they were, but the vehicle rail shooter segments where you’re bolted to your boat or train and the somewhat disconnected feel of the stylus only playstyle doesn’t feel all that Zelda-y. Sure do look better than A Link Between Worlds in screenshots, though.

    Anyway, Link to the Past really does have a great visual style. The tile design and coloration gives things like the trees, statues, cliffsides, and dungeon walls a sense of depth, which is pretty impressive for an early 90s game.

    It also has my favorite Zora designs. Screw the fishonen of later Zeldas, cartoony green, red, and tan monster fishmen with fangs is where it’s at. I was happy to see those in A Link Between Worlds screenshots.

    * Okay, I do have a little bit against Spirit Tracks. Mainly the gimmicky mic-operated tools and the instakill trains.

  4. Another brilliant aspect of LTTP’s design is that if you pay attention to Link’s walking mechanics/animation there is a little bob in there that takes into account the natural walking of a biped long before Doom made head shake synonymous with First Person Perspective. It’s especially noticeable on the stairs of course, but it’s always present. As for Phantom Hourglass/Spirit Tracks, I love them both and thought they utilized the DS’s capabilities in clever ways but am I the only one the think Nintendo missed a golden opportunity to have a cell shaded Zelda trilogy on the handheld? We has sea and land, I feel the Skyward Sword could have originated as the air chapter and they just upgraded and dramatically changed it for the Wii.

  5. Not a fan of the DS Zeldas for the reasons aforementioned.

    Frankly, I don’t think A Link Between Worlds looks bad; the most jarring thing about it to me is that Link and such feel like they’re at more of a literal top-down perspective than a 3/4 one as in previous games.

  6. Game looks fine? I always thought LTTP was an average looking game, and this one is no different. It’s like calling NSMB ugly–bland, maybe.

    Whatever though, so glad to hear that it plays well!

    • I had the same thought, which I mentioned on the USGamer article– it reminds me of LttP run through the same sort of “filter”, for lack of a better term, as the NSMB games. I guess you either like it, or you don’t, which often seems to be the case in those titles, too.

  7. It makes you wonder if they really wanted to homage the graphics the graphics from Lttp, then why didn’t they just make the game using 2D graphics? I mean I can guess the reason they didn’t, but can you imagine how much better this game would look if it had high res 2D graphics?

Comments are closed.