Friday, September 18, 2009

BS Zelda Tour: Map One

I finally found some free time and since I haven't received my copy of the Metroid Prime Trilogy yet, so I decided to play something else this weekend. My choice went to the BS Zelda games, because I played them only once so far and by now there are better versions available, which I wanted to try out. Also, they are a perfect blog topic. This BS Zelda tour will come in three parts, one for each of the BS Zelda games. It's not the first time I'm writing about the BS Zeldas here, so check out previous article, which was written at this year's April fools' Day and which deals with the possibility of porting those games to the Virtual Console.

Let's repeat the basics. The Broadcast-Satellaview (BS-X) Add-On was an additional base unit for the Super Nintendo in Japan, much like the Nintendo 64DD. It was linked with "St. Giga", a digital satellite channel, and enabled downloading data from this satellite stream. Games on the BS-X were broadcasted like TV shows, you could only play them at certain times for a certain time. Three Zelda games were broadcasted on the BS-X, each of them lasting four episodes, one hour each. If you missed an episode, you we're screwed and couldn't finish the game until one of the reruns. Each episode gave you access to a new part of the overworld and two new dungeons. Your goal was to beat two dungeons per episode and if you were able to do so, you were allowed to face Ganon at the end of the fourth episode. The three games included a 16-bit remake of the original The Legend of Zelda from the NES, that came in two different maps, and a smaller version of A Link to the Past, called Ancient Stone Tables. The games also featured voice acting and orchestrated music made possible by the satellite broadcasting, it's basically the main advantage of the whole system. And there was a downloadable copy of A Link to the Past, unlike the other games you could play it any time, it was like a game on the Virtual Console and probably Nintendo's first attempt of digital distribution. There were at least two reruns for every game, in case you weren't able to play them the first time. Also, you're not playing with Link, but with your BS Avatar, either a boy with a baseball cap or a red-haired girl.

Those games are the real forgotten Zeldas and unlike the terrible CD-i games the BS Zeldas are official quality products made by Nintendo. Due to their nature as live broadcast events, which were only playable once and only in Japan, the BS Zeldas are the least known games in the Zelda series. Which is why they are worth being looked at.

The most important source for the BS Zeldas is the BS Zelda Homepage. This site offers restored ROMs of the original games, as well as modified ROMs, that make the games look more like an original Zelda game (Link sprites, no clock and time limit, etc.), complete walkthroughs, as well as everything you want to know about the BS Zelda games. It's probably the most useful and interesting Zelda fanpage out there.

However, I use the Restoration ROMs, which are as close to the original version as possible. This part deals with BS The Legend of Zelda: Map One.

The remake features some nice 16-bit graphics, but the overall gameplay is exactly the same as in the original game. With the exception of the timer. At each minute of the clock new events could happen. Most events were announced, a text box would appear and originally a narrator (playing the old man, who gives you the Wooden Sword at the start) would explain what happens. Some of those events were important, like items or dungeon entrances only available for a short time, other gave you temporary power ups including infinite bombs, the powerful Mighty Boomerang or the ability to shoot the sword beam at all times. The story is the same as in the original, just with some more narration from the old man. The overworld is much more compact than in the original, there are only eight times eight screens, in The Legend of Zelda has twice as much. The game offered eight dungeons, spelling the word "St. Giga" (like the satellite):

Episode 1
  • Broadcasted on August 9th, 1995
  • New Items: Wooden Sword, Bombs, Bow, Wooden Boomerang, Wooden Arrow, Magic Shield, Letter, Blue & Red Potion, Extra Heart Container x 1
  • Level 1: Aquamentus, Level 2: Dodongo
Thanks to the episodic structure, the game is much more linear than the original. You can't go everywhere from the start, the first area is limited to Level 1 and Level 2, you can play those dungeons in any order, but that's it. You can't go to Death Mountain in the north, because you don't have the Stepladder and the Raft yet, and you can't go to the woods in the west, because you need the Blue Candle to get there. It's very similar to the way, how you explore the overworld step by step in Link's Awakening. You face Aquamentus and a Dodongo in the first two dungeons and after that you will probably have a lot of time left until the episode ends. This waiting time can be quite annoying, but after all you only had the chance to play this game once. And you can use the time to collect some rupees, which are quite useful for the second episode, where you have to purchase the Blue Candle and where you can buy the Blue Ring for 250 rupees. Unlike in the original you were able to collect more than thousand rupees in the game, the amount of rupees collected during the game was more or less part of an highscore. There's a special event at 0:20, where an extra Heart Container is washed up at the beach and only available for eight minutes.

Episode 2
  • Broadcasted on August 16th, 1995
  • New Items: Blue Candle, Blue Ring, Food, Magic Boomerang, Raft, Ocarina, White Sword, Extra Heart Container x 1, Bomb Holder Bag Upgrade
  • Level 3: Manhandla, Level 4: Digdogger
In the second episode you can finally buy the Blue Candle in the shop northwest of the starting location. With this item you can enter the woods in the west, where Level 3 is located. Level 3 offers the Raft, but you can only use it to get to Level 4, which lies on the second island of the lake. You can't use it to go to the other areas yet, because a whirlpool prevents you from reaching the eastern part of Death Mountain. In the west there's a small graveyard of the size of one screen, where you can get the White Sword. But before that you have to pass the Lost Woods and a stormy area. As special events the curses of those areas are lifted at the end of the episode, so you can go get the White Sword easily at that time. But you can also pass the Lost Woods in the traditional way and try to dodge the whirlwinds in the stormy area, but I did not manage to perform the latter. It's easier to wait for the end of the episode.

Episode 3
  • Broadcasted on August 23rd, 1995
  • New Items: Stepladder, Magic Wand, Extra Heart Container x 3, Bomb Holder Bag Upgrade
  • Level 5: Patra, Level 6: Gohma
The third episode is interesting, because it's getting dark for the first time. Not only for the first time in the game, but for the first time in the entire Zelda series. The first game to introduce a day and night cycle in the main series was Ocarina of Time. The BS Zeldas are also the only 2D Zelda games, where you have day and night. However, at night the monsters come out of the dungeons, most of the regular enemies on the overworld are replaced by Darknuts. While this sounds horrible, since the strong enemies are now at the outside, they aren't inside the dungeons and you have an easy time there. The sixth Level is located at the beach, where you found the Heart Container in the first episode. At 2:35 a tile with an Ocarina on it appears and by playing the Ocarina you can summon the dungeon, which rises out of the water. Also, in this episode you can already take a glimpse at the final area, but you can't go to the final two levels yet, because you need the Power Bracelet and the Armos Knights are still sleeping.

Episode 4
  • Broadcasted on August 30th, 1995
  • New Items: Power Bracelet, Red Candle, Magic Book, Silver Arrow, Magic Sword, Red Ring
  • Level 7: Aquamentus, Level 8: Blue Gohmas
It's dawn at the beginning of the final episode and the Armos Knigths are waking up. You can play Level 7 and 8 in the order you like, I choose Level 8 first, because it's on the way and we don't have much time. And Level 7 is much larger than Level 8 and it's shape and color also remind me a little of Level 9 in the original game. Your dungeon crawling is eventually interrupted by the old man at 3:25, who tells you, that Ganon is looking for the Magic Sword and Red Ring to become more powerful. You only have ten minutes to find those items before him. Overall this episode might be the one where you can get in trouble and face some serious time pressure. Especially if you happen to die. At 3:45 it's night again and Ganon attacks the old man. There is no real Level 9, you will face Ganon in the small cave at the starting point of the game, where the old man gives you the Wooden Sword. Actually this cave has some extra rooms including Zelda's prison cell. The fight against Ganon is very similar to the one in The Legend of Zelda, you will need the Silver Arrows to deliver the final blow. Those are cleverly hidden at the entrance of Level 8 and you get the hint, that Wallmasters can show you the way to the Silver Arrow.

A lot of Zelda fans would like to see those games on the Virtual Console and I can only join them. However, because of the nature of those games, a port is rather problematic. For example the timer definitely would have to go, because it's not much fun to play against the clock or to wait for the next episode. The BS Zelda Homepage team already made a version, that comes with Link as the main character and without the clock. The main events are all triggered by collecting the Triforce Shards, which works fine. For example the White Sword is accessable after collecting the fourth shard. The special abilities could be turned into temporary power ups like the Guardian Acorn and the Piece of Power in Link's Awakening. Basically the most important upgrades would be the Mighty Boomerang, which is really cool, the infinite bombs and the all time sword beam. Others are the clock and fairies, but you already get those as regular items. And there is a Thunder attack, that kills all enemies on the screen similar to the Thunder spell in Zelda II. So, if they include all that, you would get a Zelda game, which provides the overall feeling of the BS Zeldas without using a clock. The first game would be more or less a very nice, but short 16-bit remake of The Legend of Zelda.

Some more screenshots:

In the next part I will take a closer look at the second Map of BS The Legend of Zelda.

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