The Adventure of Link Official ArtThe Adventure of Link is one of the least played Zelda games in the franchise, but that didn’t stop Nintendo from creating some of the most telling and original art for its game manual. Retronauts, a popular podcasting team on 1Up, recently blogged about the greatness that is The Adventure of Link instruction manual. Step inside to see what they had to say. Be sure to check out the rest of their blog posts as well, as their podcasts on the Retronauts homepage.

If a race of aliens got its jollies by skimming across the planet and blasting civilization as we know it, what would become of video games? It seems like a dumb question offhand: we be too preoccupied trying to make soup out of rocks to throw our pals together for a game of Team Fortress 2. But what would come of the stories we absorbed through the classics we grew up with? Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales have survived some of humanity’s most tumultuous times, and Aesop’s fables are still repeated to schoolchildren. Will we tell the story of a boy’s quest to find the Triforce alongside the story of the Three Little Pigs?

Whether or not you believe Nintendo’s stories are worthy of being passed down to your seed, one thing’s for sure: the early Zelda titles boasted some very pretty art in its instruction booklets. These days, we bawl about the flimsy black and white pamphlets that pass off as instruction booklets, and when you consider the pack-in material of olde, we have every right to. Granted, games were a bit more ambiguous about goals in the NES era, and GameFAQs was eons away.

I kept he instruction booklets that came with my NES titles. Most of them are missing covers, and have been scrawled in with crayon, but they endure. It’s interesting to go back and see the work that went into retro games’ introductory stories. The booklet for Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is particularly nice: it begins by letting you know that all is not well in Hyrule. Ganon’s minions are still throwing loud parties at all hours of the night, Link has a skin issue that may be related to that chick he picked up in the milk bar last week (Impa sets things straight and tells Link no, he just has a bad case of destiny), and every Moblin is literally out for Link’s blood, which is needed to revive Ganon. Even a flashback of Hyrule’s ancient history reveals that the royal family has a streak of treachery and weakness. Pretty heavy stuff to read when you’re a kid, but it’s definitely motivation enough to set you on the road and carry you through a game that has little in the way of (decipherable) text.

The Zelda II instruction booklet lays out Link’s fate with some pretty color illustrations. The whole package carries the flavor of an old fairy tale, despite essentially being a “How To Play” guide. The dark tone of the story is surprisingly appropriate for the ‘fairy tale’ label: most of us are too young to think of The Little Mermaid or Snow White outside of a Disney context, but children’s fantasy stories were not always gentle. Zelda II’s instruction booklet (and other instruction booklets from the same era) recalls an unaltered children’s story: it’s not exactly bloody (Link’s story is pretty basic and suitable for older kids), but it doesn’t feel sanitized, either.

Best of all, Disney probably won’t ever be allowed to grab Zelda II’s storyline and stuff it full of musical numbers.

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