One of my all-time favorite video games ever is unquestionably Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Ever since I was a youngster, I'd play the hell out of it; collecting rupees, slaying bad guys, solving puzzles, you get the idea. And although I loved the game, I also thought it had a few bizarre and even frightening factors. Regardless, I still loved that game to death.
In addition to being such an avid fan of the game, I'm also a fan of retro video games. Nowadays, I just can't seem to enjoy video games the way I previously did. A lot of them nowadays are all cheap knock-offs of each other, like FPS games for instance.
Anyway, as I said, I love old-school video games. I primarily played Nintendo as a kid. Unfortunately, I had broken my original Super Nintendo many years ago, and at the time, I had no idea how to download an emulator. I became upset because, even in my youth, I loved 8-bit and 16-bit video games. Nowadays, I can play or watch an old video game with the typing of a few keys and the click of a mouse.
But there's one game that I would absolutely not play if it wasn't on an old-fashioned gaming console: A Link To The Past.
Luckily for me, I had met a good friend of mine in the eighth grade. His name was Ray, and he was into video games, comics, and movies. He too was a fan of retro video games (and modern ones, but don't ask me as to why he likes them) and had a working SNES.
About a few months back, Ray and I had finished our college semester and we wanted to celebrate. We both attended a community college, and we were both majoring in difficult subjects. So it's only natural that we have a little fun after such an arduous three months. I inquired that we go over to his house and play a few classic games.
So we did, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on A Link To The Past.
The only problem was that Ray didn't have it. Regardless, we still played the shit out of all of the classics; Super Mario World, Mortal Kombat (despite not having the blood we've come to know and love), Donkey Kong Country's 1,2, and 3, Killer Instinct, Super Castlevania IV, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, and all those 16-bit gems.
But the urge to play ALTTP was still burning within me.
The next morning, I suggested we go to our local comic book shop and we purchase a copy of it. He eagerly agreed.
I'm not much into comics, but let me tell you, they had a treasure trove of comics, video games, action-figures, posters, and various other paraphernalia. I saw that they had an enormous library of SNES games (along with Genesis, Atari 2600 and Nintendo 64 games), and for sure ALTTP was among them.
I scanned the shelves slowly with my index finger, and then voila, I found it. I pulled it off of the shelf and took a look at it. There was a sticker underneath the sticker that displayed the game's title. It said, "USED" in all capital letters.
In all honesty, I hate purchasing used products, especially something as cherished as this. I tried to find another copy that didn't say anything, but to my chagrin, I couldn't.
So I settled for the used copy. I wasn't going to let something as petulant as a game being used get in the way of me having hours of fun.
We both got to Ray's house and I popped it into the SNES cartridge slot. Before we began playing, he went downstairs to go snatch us some snacks and soda. I pulled the game out of the slot and examined the game's cartridge.
It looked normal enough; no signs of damage, and it was in fairly good condition. That is, when I turned it around, the text on the back of the cartridge informing the player as to how to clean the cartridge and how to properly use it...was written backwards. It was still legible if it was held up in a mirror, but why would anyone do that?
And then I turned it around to inspect the front.
There was no Official seal of Nintendo on it. And that's when I thought, "This might be a Bootleg/Pirated version of the game."
The idea got me a little pissed off, since I had wanted to play the original. But, I decided I was jumping to conclusions too early. After all, I hadn't even played the game yet.
So Ray came back and I momentarily forgot about the backwards text and the lack of official seals, and I popped it into the console.
We both sat in eager anticipation, since he too was a big fan of this game.
Then that familiar "Nintendo Presents" flashed on screen with that little rupee sound, and I grew excited. But then, my excitedness quickly descended into frustration as the screen suddenly displayed an array of pixels and exotic colors all over the screen. It seems the game had glitched up in the process. I rolled my eyes and I took out the cartridge.
I blew on it, hoping that would get rid of the cause of the glitching. I popped the cartridge back in and turned it on once again. Again, the “Nintendo Presents” logo appeared, only this time, the rupee sound clip had a lower pitch. I arched my eyebrow. I don’t know if Ray noticed it, but I assumed he didn’t since he didn’t say anything.
Then, the primitive, 3-dimensional triangles that would form the triforce behind the logo began rotating their way towards the middle of the screen. Except the little tune that played when they did was playing backwards, distorted, and glitchy.
I turned to Ray and said, “What the hell’s going on?” He just shrugged and said, “Maybe the game’s a little old.”
I figured he was right. After all, it was a used cartridge.
When the triforce had formed, the sword came down and made that sheathing sound, except that heroic fanfare did not play. Instead, there was no music at all. Interestingly, underneath the title where it’s supposed to say, “A Link To The Past”, there was nothing but a mess of glitched pixels.
Now this was getting weird. I pressed start, and everything was smooth on the file-creation screen. I wrote down my name and started the game. But still, there was no music to be heard.
The familiar darkness and bird’s eye view of the room came on, showing Link asleep in his bed and his uncle sitting at the table doing who-knows-what. Then, some text appeared on-screen (like the original), but it wasn’t the text I remember.
Please help me…
Don’t let this happen to me…”
Then, the text disappeared. Now I already knew something was wrong when that happened. Zelda’s message was not supposed to say that. Sure, it had been a long time since I had played this game, but I don’t remember her ever saying that. Now I was certain this was a hack or a bootleg or something.
Ray said, “What the hell? She’s never said that.”
I agreed and made my suggestion of it being a hack/bootleg. He said, “That sucks.” I figured that even if it wasn’t the original, it still might be kind of cool. He agreed, so we let it go on.
Around here, I was expecting the screen to brighten up and then for my uncle to tell me to stay in bed. But no, the room remained dark and he said, “Don’t move a muscle. You’ve done enough damage already.” And then, while still in the dark, he marched outside with his sword and shield.
The music did not start either. I could still hear the rain outside, but that’s it. Then, Link hopped out of bed. I moved the D-pad around. Everything seemed functional. I went over to lift up the pots, but the game didn’t seem respond. I tried every button, but nothing worked.
I then noticed that the treasure wasn’t in the room, the one with the torch/lantern. This was very weird. I then decided I’d better leave the house. Interestingly, the house never lit up. It stayed dark throughout the duration of everything.
I then walked outside, and there was that familiar rain and thunder. I walked outside and began investigating. Everything seemed normal, and I approached those guards that barricade the path when you first go exploring.
I approached one of them, and all he said was, “This is a sad night.” And the next line of text was that bizarre Hylian writing that you need the Book of Mudora to translate.
I spoke to the other one, and he said, “There was nothing we could have done to prevent it. But you could have.”
And that was all he said.
I said to Ray, “Man, what the hell’s going on here?”
“No idea. Pretty crappy bootleg so far.”
I agreed. This was weird and I had no idea just what the hell everyone in the game was talking about. Did somebody die or something? I decided to go north, to fall into the hole where you obtain your sword and shield from your uncle. I went up there, and suddenly, the screen became very glitchy.
Trees were out of place, and some trees and water from the dark world seemed to be crossed with the light world’s and stuff. I walked forward, and suddenly, I fell into an invisible hole.
Suddenly, Link fell into this path that resembled the location where you receive the Master Sword from the pedestal in the Lost Woods. Except the colors, more or less, made it look more like Skull Woods in the Dark World.
And for the first time, there was music. It was that eerie little haunting tune that played in the Sanctuary, the one that plays after you rescue Zelda from Hyrule Castle.
I slowly turned to Ray, curious if he was getting as weirded out as I was. Indeed he was. This was certainly turning out to be an extraordinary bootleg (if I could call it that at this point).
I pushed forward and walked up the forest’s path, only to see various denizens of Kakariko village dotted on the sides of the grass. I approached one, and all she said was, “I hope you’re satisfied.”
I then approached another Kakariko villager. He said, “You’ll get what you deserve.”
What the hell was going on here? It sounded as if they were all angry at me.
I then saw a villager who looked like a child. I walked up to him and he said, “You meanie! You’ll pay for this, one way or another!”
Finally, there was one last guy standing up on the upper right-hand corner of the screen. I approached him, and he said, “We’ll be better off without you, neglector.”
Just to be sure they didn’t say anything else, I went back and spoke to everyone there. No, they all uttered the same melancholy lines. Who would do all of this crap? It didn’t make any sense.
I moved up and the screen shifted north, and then I saw Zelda in what appeared to be a casket. She had the same sprite as when she’s laying there and getting transported by Aganhim. Suddenly, a text box appeared saying,
“This is all because of you.”
When it disappeared, I was free to roam the area. I approached Zelda’s coffin, but I couldn’t interact with it in any way. So, I just walked around the place, thinking of what to do next.
Ray then said, “Maybe you should try going back?”
Well, that seemed like the only logical thing left to do, so I decided to head back down to where I came.
When all of a sudden, another text box appeared saying,
“I don’t think so.”
And Link turned around himself (without me pressing anything), as if the game made him to. I tried to do it again, but the same thing occurred. Just then, the music stopped abruptly.
And suddenly, the screen began shaking and Zelda’s casket fell inside a hole that was formed from the earthquake. When it did, some scary music played. The same music from where you defeat Aganhim and Ganondorf turns into a bat and flies away.
Suddenly, there was a large crater there. Not knowing what to do, I jumped inside of it.
Next thing I knew, I was in this area with two narrow, parallel walls on both sides of me that were a gray/black color. Also, there was shallow, red water on the ground that was colored like that, I presume, to resemble blood. I walked up the hall and came to a dead end. The only thing left was a telepathic tile that was on the wall in front of me. And on the sides, there were some doors but they were sealed shut. They were the kind you needed to open with a switch or after defeating a few enemies.
Anyway, I directed my attention towards the telepathic tile.
I went over and tried to communicate with it, but it just gave me that Hylian text. Basically, it just left me there without giving me any clues as to what I should do to proceed.
And then I remembered that not once had I pressed pause and checked my inventory. I did, and interestingly, I had the Book of Mudora already. I have no idea as to how I got it. Perhaps the hacker or programmer had already given it to me at the start of the game.
Well, I did the only rational thing I thought I could do. I equipped it and translated the text. Interestingly, it gave me a choice. It asked,
“Do you feel guilty?”
I heard Ray read it aloud and I turned to him. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Say no.”
So I did. All I heard was that sound signifying that I had done something incorrect. So, I pulled out the Book again and it asked me the same thing. This time, I answered “Yes”, and all of a sudden, those two doors on the side opened.
And then, dozens upon dozens of soldiers poured into the room. They all approached Link and began attacking him repeatedly. It didn’t take long for him to die, since he only had three hearts. Then, Link spun around and he collapsed onto the floor (as he usually does when he dies).
Instead of giving me a choice if I wanted to continue, the game suddenly took me to what appeared to be the Dark World’s version of Death Mountain. I walked forward, and all of a sudden, I saw an unfamiliar character sprite. If anything, it looked like the hacker modified Ganon’s sprite to appear red and gave him a few extra features, like devil horns. He was also holding that trident/spear, except it was shaded black.
It looks like he was made to resemble Satan. So I approached the Satan-like sprite, and he spoke to me when I got close enough. He said, “Your punishment is long over-due.”
Suddenly, he began spinning his lance around, and I couldn’t move. Just then, a laser beam shot out of the lance and it hit me, killing Link Instantly. Instead of the screen turning black with Link just lying there, the entire screen turned red and Link’s sprite suddenly turned completely black.
And that was it. The game just froze there. Nothing moved or anything like that. I pressed every button, but nothing happened. I turned to Ray again, and we just shrugged. I took the game out of the SNES, and just looked at it one last time.
And that was when I noticed that the game had no circuit board inside. How was that even possible!? I called Ray over to examine this (he’s always been much more savvy about old game hardware and into disassembling stuff like old gaming consoles, televisions, radios, etc.) and he knew right away something wasn’t right.
I popped the game back into the console, to see if it would work again, but this time, all it gave me was that glitchy screen like the first time. I tried again and again, but it all went in vain. The next morning, Ray disassembled the cartridge and discovered there was indeed no circuit board inside of the cartridge. It was just a shell.
He then reassembled it and we tried again and again, but to no avail. The game had never given us what it originally did that first night.
How it functioned that night, we'll never know.