As you may have read elsewhere on the site, the first Zelda game is one of my all time favorites (I still hold it as the best of the series, even despite a few great sequels coming afterwards), but after getting to know it as well as I have in the 17 or so years I've been aware of it, replays are never a particularly fresh experience. Most of the game's challenge comes from it's secrets, and once those are commited to memory there's not a whole lot to it (You're probably wondering why, then, I consider it a favorite. Anyone who emails me this perfectly reasonable question will be mailed a jar full of bees.)

One failed solution I came to was to retire the game from replays for a decade or so, and should I still be alive at that point, I would have forgotten where everything was. But then I thought, you know, four years of training on the spanish language may have gone in one ear and out the other, but was I ever going to forget how to find the Magic Sword and Level 9? Probably not. I could try and give myself amnesia somehow, but then it would probably still come to me out of sheer instinct.

Which brings us to the subject at hand. Last summer, I happened across a site offering unreleased and hacked NES games on actual game cartridges, and noted that one of the games offered was something called Zelda: Outlands. A hack of the first Zelda, of course, but if someone cared about it enough to make a cartridge, I had to imagine there was something special about it. Thus I prepared to brave pop-up ads for online gambling and products such as "The Fleshlight" and clicked on the bookmark to my ROM site of choice.

The time I spent with Outlands afterwards showed my suspicions to be true. As we're dealing with a hack here, the core gameplay obviously could not be changed, but nearly everything else around it was. What we are presented with when starting up a new game is a completely modified overworld map garnished with a fresh set of graphical changes, some subtle and others less so. It still by and large looks and feels like the original, while at the same time introducing new enemy and item sprites (Mainly borrowed from The Adventure of Link), more colorful dungeons, and other notable retouches.

One worry I had as I while getting started with Outlands stemmed from playing prior Zelda hacks, which was that while no matter how well designed the new overworld was, once you hit dungeon #1 it was had the exact same layout as it did in the unedited version. Not so here. In fact, Outlands offers not only a first quest of new dungeons, but a second as well, all thoughtfully designed with a level of difficultly significantly enchanced over the original game.

While the increased challenge of the first quest is certainly prevalent, the game can get flat out relentless in the second, wherein simply finding the wooden sword feels like a stuggle to find your feet. It creates a feeling of helplessness not present in the original Legend of Zelda and forces you to be that much more aware of each new area you enter. And although the difficultly level of the action challenges begins to run parallel with the original as you collect more powerful items (considering you can find them), finding your way through the new dungeon layouts in both quests still manages to be quite taxing.

Another change implimented into the game is the swapping of various enemy sprites. You'll encounter many of the same creatures as you did before, but the places in which they appear and how they behave has been rearranged. For example, Goriyas now appear on the overworld and attack with spears, whereas Moblins now take residence in the dungeons and wield boomerangs, as the forementioned Goriyas would have more familiarly. It's not too difficult to get adjusted to these differences, but I did on occasion enter a room of Like Likes fearing that they would devour my goddamned sheild, only to lower my guard around a group of Zols and end up losing said sheild after all.

To give an analogy, Outlands is to The Legend of Zelda what the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 is to it's predecessor. It's as good of a straight sequel as could have ever come out of Nintendo, and has such a level of polish to it that it never feels as though it were fan-made. So forget about all the Donkey Bong hacks out there and toss your copy of Kickle_Cubicle_(With_Testicles).nes out the window (I'm serious. Put it on a floppy or something and chuck it out). Zelda: Outlands is the real thing, and well worth playing.

Tips & Tactics

I considered writing a complete walkthrough, but I felt like that would going against what the hack was probably meant for in the first place. I don't see how a few pointers would hurt, though, so here's a few things to keep in mind while playing that shouldn't spoil too much (tips listed should be helpful in both quests unless specified).

- All of the original game's tricks are applied here somehow. In the overworld, there's still a wall to be walked through (Although it may not necessarily be a wall of stone anymore), passageways to be bombed, and bushes to be burned.

- While there are still four heart containers hidden in caves of the overworld, there is no longer one available out in the open. Check the dungeons for it instead, as they may have more than one!

- Always go into a dungeon with 150 or so in rupies on you. There are more bomb capacity expansions for sale than before.

- In the second quest, using the ocarina frequently comes in handy for finding secret passages, probably even moreso than bombs or the candle (that's not to say you should get lazy on those fronts, though). If you find a suspicious area, go on ahead and play a tune before bombing and/or burning the shit out of it.

- The teleportation feature of the ocarina and the warp caves are no longer just shortcuts, there are now a couple of areas that can only be reached via these methods.

- Here's one thing I wasted too much time on to be vague about: Levels D and S of the second quest don't have any special items, so you can stop bombing and rebombing walls and move on to the finale (Have fun finding the last dungeon!).


Zelda Outlands Homepage
GameMakr24's official Zelda Outlands homepage. Here you can download the IPS patch file, the game's HTML based manual, and check out a more detailed overview of the changes made.

Zelda 3 Challenge ~ Quest for Calatia
The creator of Outlands is also working on what looks to be an equally comprehensive new arrangement for A Link to the Past! It may be a ways off, but he seems determined to get it out someday.

NES Reproductions
Don't take much to emulators? Then get your own custom cartridge of Zelda: Outlands here!

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