The Misadventure of Link
Link: Gee, it sure is boring around here!
King of Hyrule: My boy, this peace is what all true warriors strive for!
Link: I just wonder what Gannon's up to!
Mystic on a Flying Carpet: Your majesty, Gannon and his minions have seized the Island of Koridai.
King of Hyrule: Hmmm, how can we help?
Mystic on a Flying Carpet: It is written: "Only Link can defeat Gannon!"
Link: Great, I'll grab my stuff!
Mystic on a Flying Carpet: There's no time, your sword is enough!
Link: (To Zelda) How about a kiss, for luck?!?
Princess Zelda: You've got to be kidding!
So begins one of the two most infamous entries in the entire canon of the beloved game series, "The Legend of Zelda". This game, entitled "Link: The Faces of Evil" was simultaneously released along with "Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon", the result of a failed partnership between Nintendo and Philips. The goal of this partnership was to create a CD-ROM drive for the Super Nintendo system, and ended up with Philips creating its own interactive CD-ROM based system. A side-effect of the agreement was that Philips gained the rights to make games from various Nintendo properties, which it proceeded to do, with at least in some cases, disastrous results. Those of us who made it past this incredibly embarrassing opening dialog (with or without a straight face) discovered that the damage done to the series by this and its co-release had only just begun.
Nintendo has over the years very wisely stayed away from giving a voice to the hero of this series, the warrior-child Link. That decision has garnered acclaim from gamers for the most part, and rightly so. It has allowed Nintendo to present Link as a man or boy of few words. It has emphasized his courage and abilities, while providing more depth to his moments of parting with friends or romance with love-interests. Having said all of that, a choice to present Link with a speaking voice wouldn't be the ruination of the series, if done with careful consideration. One might imagine giving an adult Link, for instance, a wise voice with masculine qualities befitting a warrior, or a child Link a more precocious but nonetheless assertive and heroic voice. The developers of this game went inexplicably in a different direction, deciding instead to emasculate him in word, voice, and on-screen appearance, to the point that he seems to be more fitting as a ballet dancer than the hero of Hyrule. This is the game that transformed Link from a worthy hero into a whiny teenybopper with a voice box that makes any male in the middle of a pubescent voice-change sound like a clear-spoken double-bass by comparison.
It's not just the voice-work that misses the mark here. The animated cut-scenes are a miserable example of what can happen when you get a Disney artist drunk, appearing to be modeled after the Saturday-morning cartoon series, only not anywhere near the same quality, and requiring far more suspension of disbelief to accept or follow. The way these characters are presented, its hard to take them seriously in the context of the game. It almost seems like the developers intended to present Link as an intolerable little troll still collecting baseball cards, and while Link is the worst misfire in the entire production, he isn't the only one who has been ruined. Each character, from Princess Zelda to the generally unseen wise King of Hyrule, has been presented as an annoying one-dimensional caricature with the personality of a mud pie.
Even those parts of the presentation that achieve some level of success are presented in a less-than-stellar way. The backgrounds on the game areas, for instance, are colorful and fluid; however, the fluidity of the backgrounds often leaves Link blending in just a little too much, to the point that he can appear to be barely visible at a few choice points in the game. Likewise, the Middle Eastern style incidental music is actually charming to some extent, but is also more than a little inappropriate at times. Besides containing none of the charming musical themes we've come to expect from the Zelda series, the music, along with the appearance of the King's adviser on a magic carpet, gives the game the look and feel of a game adaptation of "Aladdin and the Magic Lamp" or "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves", rather than an entry in the "Legend of Zelda" series. The aesthetic of this game consists of far too many low-quality elements of various ill-conceived styles clashing together into one big mess.
The story itself centers around an attempt by Gannon to take over the Island of Koridai. As Link hovers over the island on a magic carpet with the King's mystic adviser, he sees a large landscape covered with five malignant faces. He is told that it will be his goal to conquer each of these "Faces of Evil" and face Gannon in battle to free the island. You are then presented with a map of the Island of Koridai, and using the controller, hover your triforce over the named area of the map you wish to visit. Once an area is selected, Link appears at the beginning of that side-scrolling level, and his adventure begins. The goal is to conquer that area, and hit the triforce symbol near the end with your sword, which will open up new areas on the Koridai map.
The system of game play presented is about as far from that of any official Zelda title you can possibly imagine. Its a bitter disappointment to realize that this game is little more than a platforming side-scroller. I've heard countless reviewers and FAQ-writers take the apologist approach by stating that the layouts are similar to those of the dark horse classic "Zelda II: The Adventure of Link", but that comparison is being far too generous. In fact, I can't help but feel that to make that comparison is the ultimate insult to that classic masterpiece. That game, after all, was still very much a Zelda game, with much of the exploration action being done overhead, and much more challenging (and puzzling) action on the side-scrolling portions of the game, very much like what we've experienced before and since in the official series. This game, on the other hand, literally consists of nothing more than standard platforming fare, only devoid of the typical fun of a platforming game due to the monotonous activity throughout any given level/area Link sets out to conquer. The attempts the developers make at puzzle elements consist of little more than item trading games, and the boss battles are literally the most asinine in the series, including the fight with the final boss, Gannon.
Controls are cripplingly clunky, especially if you are using one of the many wireless vertical remote-controllers that came with some of the CD-i systems. The best controller available for this title is one of the standardized horizontal controllers modelled like the Super Nintendo controller, with three or four buttons, and a directional pad; however, even with this expensive upgrade, there is still the matter that the in-game controls were badly orchestrated to start with. The game itself would be a breeze to run through were it not for the difficulty in guiding Link to do the most common of standard platforming operations. To move along, right and left on the directional pad work as usual, but there is a difficulty in guiding Link's movements that is hard to explain to those who haven't experienced it. There are times when Link seems to get stuck for inexplicable reasons. This leaves him open to attacks from the infinite supply of enemies coming from each corner. To crouch, the directional pad must be pressed down, while down and over makes him walk while crouching. To jump directly up, you must use the directional pad up, so naturally, you have to move the directional pad up and over to leap in any one direction. This is much harder than it sounds, and makes for a frustrating gaming experience.
Link's sword is used for everything from combat, to grabbing items, to ... initiating conversation with non-combatants. As Link puts it (in the in-game tutorial), "Luckily I brought my smart sword. It won't hurt anyone friendly! In fact, it makes them talk!" Finding the power sword allows your sword to shoot, similarly to the first two Zelda games on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and this turns out to be the only truly helpful combat mechanism available. As in previous Zelda games, Link has an alternate item menu he can access, but its been engineered into an annoying dexterity test to properly operate. To get the item screen to open, Link MUST crouch down. Once the screen is opened, you use one button to select the item you want to use, exit the screen, and use another button to use that item. This sequence can make it virtually impossible to equip and use an item while battling certain enemies. To make all of this just a little more bewildering, the sound effects for battle are practically non-existent. A clink of the shield here, a hit from behind there, the sound effects aren't immediately indicative of anything specific. If you aren't watching your health meter like a hawk, you will not be sure whether you've been hit at all during combat. You can be so overwhelmed at times, that the game can come abruptly to an end without much warning to the ear.
This game and its co-release are failures in every way imaginable, and its clear that the primary reason the developers went so far astray was that they didn't have a clear understanding of what made the first three Nintendo-developed "Legend of Zelda" games great in the first place. Put more plainly, they didn't understand the series. They didn't even try. So we are left with these reminders of what can happen when a company and its artists don't strictly protect their most important properties from the very different visions of lesser artists. Even as the "Zelda" series has redeemed itself a thousand times over with the release of the carefully planned masterpieces that came before and after these two CD-i stinkers hit the market, their infamy lives on. Its hard for fans of the series, especially those who have never played these two CD-i games, to believe that there are *any* bad games bearing the "Legend of Zelda" branding, and so the reputation that "Link: Faces of Evil" and "Zelda: Wand of Gamelon" have earned as the series-anomalies have helped them to become sought-after collectibles. While fans of the series search for their copies of these games, one can easily envision a company with as strong a track record as Nintendo pretending that they never existed to begin with, and in an attempt to save its most famous of series, destroying every existing copy of these most infamous of entries.