Posted on August 05 2018 by Alexis Anderson
According to Kotaku’s Tim Rogers and speedrunner David “GrandPOOBear” Hunt, A Link to the Past’s opening ten minutes of gameplay are perfection. The game is the subject of the first episode of Rogers’ new video series “Vertical Slice,” which explores the many aspects that make a game successful (likened to layers of a cake). In this premiere episode, Rogers and Hunt delve into the genius level design and storytelling elements that constitute the enthralling introduction of A Link to the Past.
This hour long video with screencaps from the game is a deeply detailed move-by-move, screen-by-screen discussion of just the title’s first ten minutes of gameplay. While it’s meant to be watched along with the game footage, it could easily be listened to like a podcast depending on your familiarity with the layout of the game’s introduction (if you can’t listen to YouTube videos, try viewing the episode through Kotaku’s player).
This discussion touches on a lot of the intricate and deliberate decisions that the developers made to introduce players to the game’s mechanics, lore, characters, and extent of exploration. Early on, the game establishes Link’s connections to the Royal Family as well as slyly tutorializes the player through gameplay instructions from NPCs and Princess Zelda herself. It also sets the tone and stakes of the game through the rain, the soldiers’ lack of confidence in young Link’s abilities, and the inability of Link’s Uncle to save Zelda. A level of exploration is introduced by allowing Link to wander small distances away from the castle and within the castle, while at the same time guiding the player onto the path to the Princess. The game also opens up the possibilities of multiple ways to kill enemies and advance through rooms. The way that the beginning of A Link to the Past is laid out, even players entirely new to the Zelda series will be adept at traversing the game once they’re through with the intro.
I myself was a seasoned Zelda player by the time I cracked open A Link to the Past, so a lot of this subtle instruction either didn’t register because I thought it redundant or I avoided it entirely by moving quickly through the opening. But this layout was crucial to hooking players when the game launched, considering it was the first of the “modern” Zelda games that established many of the series’ norms.
What did you think of this deep-dive into A Link to the Past’s opening? What other games do you think had stellar introductory gameplay? Share your thoughts in the comments!