This review contains an endgame spoiler.
As a self-described retro gamer, I have to confess that I ignored The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for more than 25 years. It's not that the game wasn't on my radar, I just wasn't interested in playing it. My first opportunity to do so was circa 1993. My friend next door had gotten the game for Christmas along with Super Mario World and his SNES. Given that I needed to play it at his house, it makes sense now why it didn't feature much in my own gaming. It was much easier to play SMW in short bursts because of the separation between levels. ALttP demands more regular continuity of play. Being a single player game that I didn't own myself also limited my play time. Fast forward to 2000. I discovered the emulation scene and downloaded a ROM which I kept on my computer for the next 20 years, but I never put in the effort to make it past the first dungeon. I got bored with the game every time I tried to get into it.
A couple of years ago I picked up a SNES Classic and figured ALttP would continue on mostly untouched in my gaming inventory. It did until COVID-19 struck. I don't know if it was a game-you-should-play-before-you-die kind of thing or that I'd be mostly relegated to the house for the summer and wanted a gaming project, but I decided that it was finally time I gave ALttP the attention everyone says it deserves.
A major factor in committing to ALttP is that I felt it would play reasonably well on my phone. I use RetroArch on Android for much of my gaming, pulling it out for a few rounds of Bloody Roar or Super Bomberman while my kids play at the park. For convenience I use screen overlay controls, but not all games are truly playable this way. For instance, lots of SNES platformers are awkward. You have to hold down a button to run and then press others simultaneously to jump or perform other actions. Doing this effectively relies on 1) the tactile confirmation of a button being held down and 2) covering multiple buttons with your thumb at once. You just can't do these things on a touchscreen without inadvertently activating/deactivating buttons. So I figured ALttP would be a safe bet since its control scheme doesn't require that degree of nuance. While I was right about the action buttons, I failed to consider the d-pad.
I regularly play several PSX 3D fighters on my phone and have no problems, but the difference between controlling those and ALttP is that the movement over the d-pad in fighters is much more staccato. Short stabs in specific directions are the norm, not so much fluid movement from one direction to the next (with the exception of some special move executions). ALttP demands that fluidity all the time.
To any reviewer who praises ALttP for its controls, I dare you to play on a touchscreen. Part of the challenge for me was just keeping my hands dry so that I could slide my thumb over the virtual d-pad without too much friction interference. I missed inputs regularly, especially when it was humid or when the shit got thick. Half the time it seemed like my problem was just getting Link to turn around so I could face an attacker head on. Controlling the game like this turned virtually every situation where I needed to dodge lots of enemies or projectiles into a sort of perverted bullet hell. Instead of succumbing to an impossible maze of bullets while trying to be super precise and meticulous with my movements, I was panicking because the controls were so sloppy that I couldn't trust I'd be able to get out of the way without flubbing an input.
Here are a few parts that nearly drove me mad:
Avoiding/ignoring spoilers for a nearly 30 year old iconic game like ALttP is tough. I really tried, though, and I think I did pretty well. I managed to get all the way to Ganon without looking up anything except why the Master Sword sometimes shot springy laser beams. I got the magic dust, I got the fast travel flute, I got my sword tempered, I found heart pieces. I still have empty spots in my inventory so I know I didn't find everything. But I survived without them, whatever they are. Most of them, anyway.
I'll admit that I save scummed some bosses and some parts of the dungeons. Had to. Just too many situations turned into bullet hell because of the way I was playing. So yeah, I used save states, and I did the same to Ganon. His circle projectiles that turn into birds were way harder to deal with than they ought to have been. When I got to his final pattern, I couldn't figure out how to damage him. Imagine my frustration when I finally fell through the hole he knocked in the floor and, instead of reloading a state, bothered to go down the hall where I found the hint that I needed to use silver arrows. Where the fuck was I supposed to get those?! Was it a bug in the emulation that I'd been able to get to Ganon without them? At this point, down to my last proverbial quarter, I lost my patience. No way was I going to wander around looking for a damned secret after I'd fought through dodgy controls to come within a few hits of beating the game. Even actual bullet hell games aren't that sadistic.
I gave up and checked a guide.