Legend of Zelda: 25 Years of Oddities

A 25th-anniversary look back at a dozen strange sidelights of Nintendo's classic fantasy game.

The Legend of Zelda Oddities

Hold up your Triforce and sound the ocarina! The Legend of Zelda is 25 years old. On February 21st, 1986, Nintendo released the seminal game for the Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES). It arrived in the States 18 months later.

Zelda spawned a lucrative franchise that spans over 15 releases for nearly every one of Nintendo’s consoles. It also defined a genre of action-adventure RPGs that are popular to this day. I dove headfirst into the shady corners and back-alleys of the Zelda universe to pull out various oddities for your entertainment. You’ll encounter them as you adventure through the slides ahead.

A Sound-Shy Monster

While playing The Legend of Zelda, you'll eventually encounter a monster called a Pols Voice. It looks like a rabbit-head suction cup with big ears. The US Zelda manual says they have a key weakness: they "hate loud noise." But that advice applies only to the game's Japanese version.

The Japanese Famicom included a microphone built into the unit's second controller (seen here). Upon encountering Pols Voice in the Japanese version of the game, one only had to shout into the microphone to kill all Pols Voice on the screen. Unfortunately for Western players, Pols Voice are much more challenging to defeat without that special ability.

(Photo by Benj Edwards)

Zelda in the Flesh

Outside the world of video games, "Zelda" is an unusual name; it originated as a nickname for "Griselda," which traces its roots to Germany. The Legend of Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto borrowed the name from a prominent and troubled American Flapper, Zelda Fitzgerald (seen here next to a 1986 portrait of Princess Zelda).

Miyamoto explains: "Zelda was the name of the wife of the famous novelist Francis Scott Fitzgerald. She was a famous and beautiful woman from all accounts, and I liked the sound of her name. So I took the liberty of using her name for the very first Zelda title."

The Hyrule Fantasy on Disk

The first version of The Hyrule Fantasy: Legend of Zelda (as it was called in Japan) arrived not on ROM cartridge, but as a floppy disk. It launched with the Famicom Disk System, an accessory for the Japanese NES that let games be distributed on 3″ disks similar to those used with PCs at the time.

Nintendo considered the Zelda title ideal for the new medium because of both the game's epic size (and thus storage requirements) and for the disk system's ability to store saved games directly on the disk itself. That's right: no battery backed SRAM or holding in the reset button here.

This Disk System version of Zelda also played slightly different music than the US version due to the fact that the Disk System contained extra music capabilities not found in the NES.

Heroic Towels and Trash Cans

Just like Super Mario Bros. before it, Zelda received its fair share of licensed merchandise in the early days of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Among these we see two of the more unusual items here: a towel and a trash can. Both sport early, very cartoonish illustrations of Link (the protagonist in the Zelda series).

The First Save Game Cartridge

Zelda first launched in Japan on a disk system that allowed the player to save his or her progress on the disk. This posed a problem while localizing the game for the US market, whose NES didn't have a disk system accessory.

Nintendo had a groundbreaking solution: It let games save data on the cartridge via a battery-backed SRAM chip, which retains its contents after the system powered off using a constant trickle from a lithium battery. This technology, which first debuted in The Legend of Zelda for the NES in 1987, worked so well that it appeared in hundreds of games over the next decade. (Battery-backed save carts did exist before Zelda, but not with games built in. See Mini Memory for the TI-99/4A.)

(Photos by Triforce 14 and Benj Edwards)

“Excuuuse me, Princess!”

As a popular NES game series in the 1980s, The Legend of Zelda quickly found itself the star of a cartoon TV show. In the 13-episode 1988 TV series, the main character Link is often portrayed as brash, arrogant, and whiny. Some 18 years later, this led YouTube user kittykatstar to compile a video of Link's most annoying catch phrase, "Excuuuuse me, Princess." The humorous video has since been viewed over one million times.

The Zelda TV series is available in its entirety on DVD - if you'd like to relive every classic, whiny second for yourself.

The Legend of Game & Watch

Long before the Game Boy, Nintendo released a handheld LCD game series called Game & Watch. The units only played one game apiece, and they displayed prefabricated liquid crystal graphics that darkened or turned invisible at the right time during game play.

As Nintendo's home video games became more popular, the company began producing Game & Watch units that tied in to their popular franchises. The Legend of Zelda was no exception - it received a special "Zelda" two-screen clamshell Game & Watch unit in 1989 (seen here).

(Photos by Lette Moloney)

Hyrule in 3D

In 2009, Zelda fan Glen Forrester posted a work-in-progress re-imagining of The Legend of Zelda on TIGForums. While Zelda fan games are far from rare, this one had a unique twist: it took the original NES graphics and rendered them in a fluid, first-person 3D view. So far, Glen has only translated some of the dungeons into his 3D world, but he plans to expand it to the whole game eventually. For now, you can check out his work here.

(Image by Glen Forrester)

Zelda in the Sky

The Satellaview adapter for the Super Famicom (the Japanese Super NES) is one of the weirdest console add-ons ever. It allowed Super Famicom owners to download games that were broadcast over a satellite TV hookup and save them on rewritable game cartridges.

One of these games was a graphical upgrade to the original NES Legend of Zelda. It was broadcast in four weekly episodes in 1995, and it featured a number of additions such as the ability to chose a male or female protagonist. It's possible to play this rare version of Zelda today if you find the right (illicit) files floating around the Internet.

(Photo by Muband)

Shouting in the Darkness

The Legend of Zelda's first commercial (1987) in the United States was a strange affair. It featured comedian John Kassir leaping around in a darkened room while shouting names of various Zelda monsters, inter-cut with actual shots of the game itself. To get the feel of it, you really have to watch it yourself. YouTube to the rescue.

Also on YouTube, you can find another early Zelda commercial featuring two game-playing nerds. It's worth watching for the die-hard Zelda fan.

Zelda Game Watch

In the 1980s and 90s, Nelsonic Industries produced a line of digital wristwatches that featured playable LCD games built-in, similar to Nintendo's Game & Watch series and the famous Tiger electronic games of the same era.

The Legend of Zelda received its own Game Watch in 1989. In the game, Link must defeat four dungeons, each with four rooms. At the end of every dungeon, Link must face a main boss that drops a Triforce piece when defeated. After that, the game ends and it's back to telling the time.

(Photos by Adam Harras / Digital Watch Library)

The Hyrule Fantasy

You're looking at part of an original Japanese magazine advertisement for The Hyrule Fantasy: Legend of Zelda from 1986. You can see the full version here. It shows an innocent cartoon Link and Princess Zelda, reminding us that the series has come a long way in the last 25 years.

More gaming nostalgia on Technologizer:

Super Mario Oddities

Nintendo Entertainment System Oddities

Game Boy Oddities

15 Classic Game Console Design Mistakes

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors