Zelda II is one of my favorite games of all time. Some say it's the worst Zelda game in the series (other than the CD-i games) but I have to strongly disagree. If you take the time to explore the games' world and are decent with your combat skills, this game is truly an engaging experience to play. But today, I am not here to review Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Today I am reviewing a game that I found at the Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas this past week. It is a homebrew variation of Zelda II called Zelda II Challenge: The Shadow of Link. I was walking around the Classic Gaming Expo and saw this out of place Zelda cartridge on a vendor's table at the Expo and instinctively bought it.
I was incredibly excited to play this re-arranged version of one of my favorite games and quickly put it into my NES once I arrived home from my trip. I quickly found out that this game is actually a ROM hack created by Challenge Games in 2000. Basically, the game is a rearranged version of the original Zelda II. The game still has all the same items, characters and enemies as the original, they're just all in different locations. Also, the title screen has a distinctive black sword instead of the traditional gold one and the back story is quite different. You still begin your adventure next to the sleeping Zelda but the moment you set out into the over world it becomes clear the game is much different than the Zelda II we're all familiar with.
You have no golden path to travel on with guaranteed safety, normal paths are blocked, and new areas are now available for you to explore. Most of the important monuments like towns and palaces remain at the same locations, but the paths taken to get there are significantly different. The change of layout made this game feel almost like a sequel to Zelda II rather than a remake. The second major change is the difficulty. Many people complain about the difficulty of Zelda II, but this game is on a whole new level. I can generally complete Zelda II with ease. I played it so much as a child that I can complete the entire game in only a few lives. However, I began playing this game and died within the first 5 minutes. Even in the very beginning of the game, you are overrun with tons of enemies attacking you right off the bat. Not only are there more enemies, but there are now a ton of Moa and Moby, which are the annoying flying enemies that leech your experience. Anyone who has played the original Zelda II will know exactly how much of a pain the flying eyeball Moa are.
So you've got a re-arranged over world, many more enemies dealing extra damage and on top of that, the difficulty of the palaces is significantly increased. If you're looking for a gaming challenge, these palaces are it. The palaces are much larger with more paths to choose from and feel almost like a maze as you work your way through them. You'll often find yourself choosing one path, struggling to make it through room after room only to find a locked door that you need to back track in order to find another key. Personally, I didn't mind the difficulty and loved the feeling of new challenging palaces to explore, but I'm sure many will probably be frustrated with the level of difficulty.
Now on to where the real difficulty is... In Zelda II, at the end of each palace, you fight a boss which is usually pretty difficult in its own right. In Shadow of Link, you get to fight those same bosses, but on a collapsible bridge. You only have two solid blocks of flooring to fight on unless you manage to jump over the boss' head which leaves you cornered. Either way you choose to fight the boss, it is damn hard! The only break you're given to help you accomplish this is that you start with 16 lives. Your life total uses the hexadecimal numbering system so you start with G lives and end at 0. And trust me, this generous life total is not much of a favor. You will still have plenty of chances to see Gannon laughing in your face as you get to start over from Zelda's side. On top of that, the game taunts you every time you see the continue screen.
There is, however, one major problem with this game. It is severely incomplete. The game only allows you to play the first two palaces and explore Death Mountain. The paths you would need to cross to further advance through the game are blocked by water. I was having a ton of fun playing through this game and then realized that I could play no more. Overall, this is an incredibly fun Zelda II hack that I would highly recommend to any hardcore Zelda fans. If you have trouble completing the original Zelda II, I would probably recommend staying away from this one. It will have most throwing their controllers and quitting pretty quickly. Hopefully, more people will play this game and force Challenge Games to finally complete it!