By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
In honor of The Legend of Zelda‘s 30th anniversary (which was this past Sunday, February 21st), I have decided to take a look at the few Zelda games that managed to escape our Western grasp–one came to Europe but the rest never left Japan.
All titles are listed already translated into English.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
1992, Barcode Battler II
To talk about this “game” mostly just requires talking about the Barcode Battler handheld system itself. For those that aren’t familiar – which is probably most of you – it was a very basic LCD-based handheld where you bought cards that you swiped to represent characters, items, and so on. Then, your characters and their items would battle with others via a readout of numbers. That’s it – literally just numbers. Sounds super-exciting, right? Well it was only even remotely popular in Japan, but still popular enough that its maker, Enoch, developed a predecessor, the Barcode Battler II. Not surprisingly, it didn’t do much better in the West, especially with retail stores mistakenly trying to market it alongside the Game Boy and Game Gear.
To be fair, other platforms jumped on the barcode game bandwagon to varying success throughout the 90’s via add-on accessories (and some toy with it on smart phones today), but only Barcode Battler I and II made it the crux of their entire platform. But in case you’re underestimated just how popular this thing was in Japan, Nintendo actually made an entire set of dedicated Zelda cards (and a Mario set as well), containing two Links, ten items, and eighteen monsters. The art on them is decent and they make a neat collectible, but strictly as trading cards and not to actually try and “play” with them. Kind of like Pokemon cards – yeah, I said it.
BS The Legend of Zelda
BS The Legend of Zelda: Ancient Stone Tablets
1995 and 1997, Satellaview / Super Famicom
No, the “BS” in those titles doesn’t indicate that they are some retooled homebrew Zelda parodies – it is short for “broadcast satellite” as they ran off of Nintendo’s Japan-only satellite-based modem for the Super Famicom. The Zelda Satellaview games are interesting for a variety of reasons – one of which is that they were the first Nintendo-published Zelda games to feature voice acting – but the most interesting one of all is that, given the nature of the way Satellaview games were “broadcast” during only very specific dates, unless you were lucky enough to play them during those dates, you missed out. Indefinitely, it seems, as there have never been any attempts made to re-release them again on a normal platform and currently no known plans to do so. Which is too bad, because by all accounts, the games were really good. You may be able to find a way to play these games online, but as such things would, of course, be illegal, I leave that search up to you and your discretion (and the experience obviously won’t be nearly the same anyway).
The first games didn’t actually, but instead the Satellaview’s built-in generic avatars (think Miis only without the ability to customize them). Functionally, most people describe the first one as a remake of the original Legend of Zelda done with 16-bit graphics, not unlike the remade Mario games in Super Mario All-Stars. Where it differs is in its rather strange plot, which connects the Zelda world to that of the aforementioned avatars’ own and has those characters traveling to Hyrule through a magic portal in their own land. The second bullsh-, I mean, broadcast satellite Zelda game still didn’t star Link but has a story that is more firmly set within the actual Zelda universe, taking place six years after A Link to the Past. Stylistically, it played like a spin-off of that game, and had a slightly more serious tone than the original Satellaview Zelda game.
[Editor’s note: There was also an enhanced Satellaview port of A Link to the Past, but as that obviously isn’t truly a game we never got but just a version that we didn’t get of a game that we did (still with me?), I didn’t actually count it for this list.]
Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland
2006 (2007 PAL), Nintendo DS
This is the one game on this list that actually left Japan but only went to Europe. Lucky them? I don’t know that there was anybody who played Wind Waker and thought: “You know what I need more of? Tingle!” Yet Nintendo decided that after nearly two decades, the first Zelda character besides Link to get his own spin-off game (CD-i nonsense notwithstanding) would be one of its most bizarre, squirm-inducing creations.
Rupeeland is best described as Zelda-lite meets Animal Crossing-lite, as you are tasked with completing very basic Zelda-style dungeons (where all fighting is done automatically) in order to amass money and items to improve Tingle’s tower. Truth be told, the art style is pretty charming, and like Nintendo does with the Wario games, it uses Rupeeland as an excuse to be funny, silly, and even a bit sexual in a way that they would never be within the regular Zelda games. But the game is definitely intended for youngsters and it can get pretty repetitive pretty quickly, so if you’re a Zelda purist who wants to play every game but hasn’t grabbed this one yet, keep your expectations in check if you decide to import it. Well, that’s assuming you would’ve had sky high expectations for a Tingle game, in which case you kind of deserve to be disappointed.
Also, they aren’t worth having their own entry, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two Japan-only digital releases: Tingle’s Balloon Fight DS, which is exactly what it sounds like and was released through the Japanese Club Nintendo service, and a DSiWare app collection called Dekisugi Tingle Pack that contains things like a stopwatch, a calculator, and a coin flipper. The title of that collection roughly translates to “Too Much Tingle.” Uh, you think?
Ripened Tingle’s Balloon Trip of Love
2009, Nintendo DS
Apparently, there’s actually no such thing as “too much Tingle” in Japan, at least not in the late 00’s. This one is more of an adventure game where you solve puzzles using Tingle and three partners, each with their own unique abilities (all of which are basically parodies of the Wizard of Oz‘s Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tin Man). And because it’s Japan, there’s also a dating sim element to the game, where Tingle has to romance five different females (yes, females), and in order to win the game Tingle has to have developed some sort of relationship with all five of them. This one will be a little trickier for you Tingle completists to enjoy as it’s in Japanese and dialogue and text are pretty heavy parts of the game. By all accounts this game is actually not bad, though it also marks the apparent end of Tingle Fever in Japan as there hasn’t been a Tingle-focused game or app since. Maybe he’ll be in the next round of Super Smash Bros. DLC. Nothing would surprise me at this point – and honestly, he would make more sense and be more interesting than “Wii Fit Trainer.”
So did I miss any? Are you angry with me for including the Barcode Battler card set as a game? Would you like to defend Tingle’s honor? If you answered yes to any of those questions, or just have any other comments, feel free to share below or in the discussion on Facebook.