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History Lesson: Zelda CD-i

By Matthew Castle on Sunday 17th Nov 2013 at 9:00 AM UTC

The dark secret behind Link's permanent silence? When the guy does talk he's a blithering idiot.

Or at least he is in Link: The Faces Of Evil, one of three horribly misjudged Zelda adventures made for Philips' short-lived CD-i console. Brought to life in disturb-o-vision cutscenes, CD-i Link is a petulant brat, all rolling eyes and huffy arm flails.

"Gee, it sure is boring around here," he drivels, as we drive a nearby blunt pencil into the delicate parts of our ear. How did Nintendo ever let this happen? Not, as some believe, forged in Beelzebub's infernal game press. The Faces Of Evil was the fallout from a Nintendo/Philips deal gone south.

After working on a SNES CD peripheral (to rival Mega Drive's Sega CD) that never came to fruition, Philips was allowed to 'borrow' five Nintendo characters when the partnership was terminated. Aching for a bite of Nintendo's tasty sales pie, Philips called forth developers to pitch games based on Nintendo's most renowned hits for its CD-i system.

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You need to address the fan-mail to Animation Magic. In a cunning ploy to capitalise on time and money, the developer pitched two Zelda games for simultaneous development, sharing technology, design and voice 'talent'. Instead of Pokémon Red and Blue style twin delights, CD-i owners got Link and Zelda.

Faces Of Evil and Zelda: Wand Of Gamelon were both 2D side-scrollers dotted with RPG elements, the latter seeing the princess rescue Link for a change. Zelda 2: The Adventure Of Link is a clear inspiration.

If only more attention had been paid to the Zelda-verse at large. Link has more in common with Keanu Reeves than our sombre elfin hero. "I'm so hungry I could eat an Octorok," he dopily emotes with the dial set to Bill And Ted. Zelda is a prissy daddy's girl. The Triforce of Wisdom is a blue pyramid. "Alright, I'll get the Triforce of Wisdom," says one character, as if it were a can of Mr Sheen kept under the sink. Ganon has been mistaken for Mickey Mouse's enemy Pete.

As laughable as this vision of Hyrule is, Animation Magic was in a tight creative spot. With work beginning in early 1991, it was technically redrawing a Hyrule that had only ever been seen in its 8-bit NES glory. Nintendo agreed to its artistic direction (yes, it signed off on Link's beak-like nose), only to release A Link To The Past later that year, instantly booting CD-i Link out the Zelda canon.

Before you shed a tear, remember: Animation Magic also made the cutscenes. Encouraged by Philips to promote the CD-i's FMV capabilities, cutscenes stood in for in-game dialogue. On a tight budget, Animation Magic outsourced the cartoons to cheap Russian animators. They were cheap for a reason - the cartoons are terrifying, rendering Link as a rubbery limbed freak with a face that swims all over his head.

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They're unsavoury too - lurid wenches wobble their bosoms, and priests leer with goggling bug eyes. Does Hyrule have a sex offenders list? It needs one.

Perhaps we let the obvious awfulness of Faces Of Evil and Wand Of Gamelon overshadow the more mundanely dire third CD-i Zelda - Viridis' boring Zelda's Adventure. What it lacked in hideous toons it made up for with live-action FMV - visits from a beardy wizard (not a professional actor, but the game's music composer) whose shambolic preamble makes Knightmare look like Lord Of The Rings.

Played from a top-down perspective there's a hint of A Link To The Past about it, entirely ruined by the technical hiccups (due to a mind-boggling design flaw the CD-i couldn't play music and sound effects at the same time) and lanky, Mortal Kombat style digitised sprites.

Years on you'll find the odd joker claiming the games get short shrift, berating gamers at large for basing their opinion on a handful of cutscenes uploaded to YouTube. They have a point - CD-i Zelda's problems go way beyond the cutscenes. But as Mother says: "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all."

Hey, it works for Link.

CD-i'd rather not, thanks

The Zelda games weren't the only 'memorable' releases on the CD-i. While Philips' console was considered a massive failure with only 1 million sold worldwide, there were still roughly 150 games released for it during its troubled lifespan.

Here is just a selection of the wide variety of CD-i games released. Don't go hunting for them though, they're by and large atrocious.

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