D-PADS AND DICE - Play it again: 'Zelda.' And again and again with series' sequels

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OK, you've heard the name. You've probably played at least one of the games in the series at some point if you've played any games at all in your life. And since "The Legend of Zelda" is well known and pretty cheap to get legally - and almost totally painless to pirate - there's a good chance you've played it before.

Oddly, for as much praise as the Zelda series gets, people give me odd looks when I say my three favorites (in no particular order) are the original, "Link's Awakening" and "A Link to the Past."

The original Zelda is hard to play nowadays because it feels like it is missing parts. There's a distinct lack of the role-playing game-styled dialogue. There's no story beyond saving a princess. The equipment list is both familiar and alien, with bows that seemingly use your money as ammo, and a raft of all things (it would show up again in a now-obscure Zelda on Game Boy Color back in 2001, and nowhere else).

But the original Zelda is a fascinating creature. Its combat is surprisingly deep and rewards skill. While tempting to merely stand in one place and attack an enemy repeatedly, this will often get you killed. Positioning is key in battle; careful planning and clever maneuvers work better than mindless hacking.

Attacks leave you very briefly immobile and therefore exposed to enemies. It can get surprisingly tense for a game with one attack button.

Most of your inventory plays into this fascinating dance of swordplay as well. Boomerangs stun enemies and buy you valuable time, and a well placed bomb can make a fight infinitely easier. Every enemy type in the game has its own patterns and attacks, and the techniques you'll need to develop to fight them can be surprisingly complex.

In addition to the fighting, the game is filled with exploration. Bombs are much more useful than in later games due to how many bombable spots there are in the games' menacing dungeons. You can essentially blast holes in the center of any wall that borders another room if it doesn't have a door in it. Of course, since bombs are useful weapons, this can often be a risk.

The game is also almost totally nonlinear in a sense. The dungeons can be conquered in a much more flexible order than later installments in the series. This gives a sense of exploring a world, rather than watching a movie.

Its logic can be strange, but if you pay attention you can understand it, and a lot of it did get carried over to later games in the series too, although not to the same extent.

But most of all you should try playing it, really playing it. Know where the games you play today come from. Try to understand it like someone would have back in the '80s playing it fresh, as if it were the only Zelda game.

Explore gaming history. Don't forget your map.

PS: No, seriously. This game is actually much harder without a map, and a map was included in the box to show the location of each dungeon, so it's not cheating to look that up.

"The Legend of Zelda" is a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console, as well as various other platforms over the years. It costs about $5 as a digital download at www.nintendo.com/wii/enhance.

Walla Wallan Noah Hinz is a tabletop and electronic games aficionado. An Evergreen State College graphic arts student, he's working on various art projects and game designs. Send your questions and comments at noahhinz@gmail.com.

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