The Legend of Zelda SP Is the Most “Souped-Up” Way to Experience the Classic
You’ll be “living the life of luxury” via Nintendo Switch Online.
Zelda games often deliver a complex melting pot of synergized game mechanics, but exploration and a sense of wonder represent a consistent throughline that ties the whole series together. Way back in 1989, series creator Shigeru Miyamoto said that with The Legend of Zelda, he “wanted to create a game world that conveyed the same feeling you get when you are exploring a new city for the first time. How fun would it be, I thought, if I could make the player identify with the main character in the game and get completely lost and immersed in that world?”
Although The Legend of Zelda was released in 1986, there’s a special version of the game with some extra tricks up its sleeve. In some circles, it’s called The Legend of Zelda SP, but in others, it’s referred to as Legend of Zelda: Living the Life of Luxury. Call it what you will, but it’s the best way to experience the timeless classic that started it all. You’ve just got to have a Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack subscription to play it.
Miyamoto was not entirely satisfied with the original Zelda. The game offers little direction to the player; It’s also easy to get lost and confused about what you’re doing. Miyamoto later worried that the game had inspired “an increase in mean-spirited, petty games, and I still feel that sense of responsibility.” Miyamoto wanted to give players a challenge, sure, but he never wanted to be cruel.
In this sense, SP evens the playing field. In this new version, the player starts off with every possible weapon in the game and a startling 255 rupees. There’s no real need to farm for money or to search for weapons in this rerelease. Starting the game with bombs, bows and arrows, and potions instead of just a wooden sword changes the entire vibe.
It doesn’t change everything, though. Before Link blasts his way through any dungeons, he still has to actually get to the dungeons. Unless you’re feeling very patient and have no problem wandering around screens with random enemy attacks (which is totally fine!), using a walkthrough, especially one made lovingly by the fine folks at Zelda Dungeon, is a big help just to get a general sense of where things are.
Playing a game with all this loot changes the gameplay. Wandering through the woods and battling annoying enemies that pop out of the lakes and the ground would be necessary for a first-time player for farming purposes. Getting health and weapons would be crucial and supplies would need to be rationed. In the SP version of the game, these baddies can mostly be ignored. Link still has to get through them, of course, and he can still get hurt and get taken down. But he doesn’t need to battle each and every one of them. It’s an enjoyable experience to blow past them.
The dungeons are effective mazes in Zelda, requiring going back and forth and filled with secret passages. This game is not the best cartridge-era Zelda, that would be A Link To The Past. That game has a full plot and characters. Here, all setting and context was originally left to the instruction manual, and the SP version doesn’t even have an opening screen. Bam, you’re right in the middle of a Hyrule forest. Good luck!
It’s not the purest way to play a classic game, but it might be the perfect entry point for a player skeptical of this era. Games from this period can feel unfair, developers were forced to make choices on extremely limited memory that simply wouldn’t come up today. By evening the playing field, SP could allow a retro-skeptic to experience a whole new (old) world of gaming