LoZ: Outlands is a comprehensive hack of the original Legend of Zelda. Pretty much everything you know has been changed. The world map is completely different, the locations of all items, enemies and labyrinths have been changed. Enemy, NPC, and item sprites have been given an update as well as aspects of the scenery. The core gameplay is the same: find 8 items and a special weapon, enter the final dungeon and defeat the boss. The structure of the adventure that accomplishes this, however, has been rather radically altered. The biggest question, in my mind anyway when I first heard of Outlands, is: has the game been changed significantly enough to make this more than just a new coat of paint on an old horse? (and why are we painting a horse in the first place?)
Overall, I think the answer is "yes." The hack does many, many wonderful things to create a whole new world and adventure for our friend Link. However, there are a few areas where the hack falls short of perfection. It is the purpose of this Closer Look to highlight the many things that LoZ: Outlands does right, and to analyze those places where it misses the mark. As always, I am coming at this from a fairly neutral perspective. I have a deep seated love for the original Legend of Zelda and the entire Zelda series and mythos. I go into this game with only the knowledge provided in the exceptional instruction manual and the overwhelmingly positive buzz that has surrounded the hack in the ten years (!) since its creation. As this is clearly the labor of love of a member of the classic gaming community, I would like to close this introduction with a hearty and heartfelt appreciation for the time and temerity that it took to make this hack. Your hard work is greatly respected.
What the Hack Gets Right
We'll start off with the things that Outlands gets right, and there are so many cool things that this hack knocks clean out of the park.
|Bagu, you say?|
|The Desert Temple|
|Bring a ladder to the Water Temple!|
|Fairy by the waterfall, very cool!|
Map Revision You may have memorized the old Hyrule map backwards and forwards, for both quests, but you can throw all of that out the window. The geography of the Outlands is radically different from the Hyrule you know. Oh sure, there are still bushes to burn and rocks to shove around, but the layout of the land is like nothing you have seen. As a matter of fact, when the game opens you'll only have access to about 30% of the total world, unlike in LoZ where you can pretty much go everywhere right from the start. (more on this aspect of the topography in a minute). In the redesign there is a closer attention to creating distinct areas of the Outlands. There is an icy maze of crystal, a shadowy desert, and foreboding red mountains to explore along with the usual assortment of forests, graveyards, and bodies of water. As icing on the cake, the landscape is peppered with fairy statues. The hack really excels at taking the familiar terrain of old Hyrule and turning it into its own land. The Labyrinths have also undergone some nice improvements. The are basic cosmetic changes to the walls and doorways, but there are more substantial changes to the placement of objects and obstacles in rooms that make the labyrinths feel very fresh.
New Enemies As part of the retro-fitting, there are many new, yet familiar foes to do battle with in the Outlands. You'll recognize classic LoZ enemies like Goriyas and Wizzrobes, but you'll also see enemies from other games like bots and lowders from AoL. As an added touch, all of the bosses have been given a face-lift as well. Giant Stalfos that shoot magic, huge cycloptic blobs that ooze across the floor, and a Wizzrobe Master that is a dead-ringer for the evil Magician Carock from AoL all await you. Bear in mind that this is merely a hack, so the key to defeating these bosses are exactly the same as their LoZ counterparts, but that doesn't make seeing them for the first time any less exciting!
New Formula The original LoZ was wide open at the same time that it was straight forward. On the one hand, you could roam the entire world and see just about everything; on the other, the item you found in one labyrinth often played into some aspect of the next. Outlands eschews that formula for something a little less linear while opening larger sections of the world as the game progresses. Not every labyrinth contains a new item or tool. Some labyrinths have more than one heart container and you don't always find them in the wake of defeating a boss. The captured Tetrarch Fairies are sometimes right inside the door of the labyrinth and sometimes hidden in rooms not even located on the map. While some things operate the same, trade Bagu's note for the ability to buy medicine, you'll not get everything the way you did in LoZ; you'll have to buy the white sword from a Goron salesman instead of earning it with heart containers. Expect trickery from the get-go and don't assume that the thing you need is waiting for you around the next bend. Case in point, you'll not be able to complete the first labyrinth without finding a hidden item in the third that lets you get an item from the second which in turn grants you access to the fourth wherein you can find the weapon that will allow you to complete the first. Oh, and you'll not find the wooden sword until you locate and venture into the first labyrinth to even the game started! This new formula makes a great challenge and gives a fresh take on an old adventure. (that said, it's not all roses and birthday cake, as you'll see in the next section)
|Zelda is along for the adventure and appears in the labyrinths to give you important items and information!|
Innovation Finally, perhaps the most impressive aspect of LoZ: Outlands are the innovations added by the programmer. I know I said earlier that this was a hack, but somehow the programmer managed to sneak in a few new tricks. The biggest and most influential new feature is the use of one-way passages. These passages come in a couple of shapes and sizes, the least of which are rock walls that Link can pass through in one direction, but not the other. The flashier passages come at the hands of devilish wizzrobes who can either transport Link to just the right place or exactly where he doesn't want to be. Learning these passages will be essential to success in your quest and will open the game up in very new and exciting ways. Innovations like this in a hack are very welcome surprises!
And now, the other shoe...
Where the Hack Misses the Mark
|This is a very, very ugly place to be|
The biggest problem with this imbalance of difficulty is that it kills the fun factor very quickly for the player, even a seasoned Zelda fan like myself. I don't want to wander around and be killed ten times just trying to find my damn sword. It gets old fast. I have heard tell the second quest multiplies the difficulty exponentially. If this be the case, I would hope for better balance in it (and more on this to come).
Change for Change's Sake is not always a Good Thing For all of the delightful graphic changes that make this game so very special, there are also some changes that simply do not make sense and create discord in an otherwise respectful re-imagining. What is the thought behind exchanging Keese for Peahats? Is there logic in Like-Likes that split into Dark Fairies or Pols Voice that divide into Peahats? These changes are not only unusual, but are in defiance of standards set forth by the Zelda Universe. Peahats are generally regarded as giant creatures that require all of outdoors to soar the sky, only to be attacked when they land. They do not fit in the underground, despite the programmer's attempt to explain this away in the manual. And there is absolutely no sense in the idea that a Pols Voice would split into two peahats! The hacked Like-Likes, called "Unlike-Likes" do not leech unto Link and steal his shield (that honor is now bestowed upon the red Zols), but instead split meekly into dark fairies (which are cool new enemies, but make little sense to be contained within the purple pancake monsters). There is nothing in the Zelda mythos that reconciles these madcap changes. Furthermore, smaller changes also don't make much good sense either. There is needless swapping of sprites in the case of deelers for octoroks and octorocks (AoL versions) for river Zolas. These small swaps seem inconsequential, but if so, then why make them? I would much rather see land-based octoroks and some new sea creature plaguing me from the water's edge, than to see these throwaway alterations. Another senseless swap is the exchange of Wizzrobes and Lynels. Not so much for the placement of either, but for the haphazard nature of the swap. The programmer thus far has shown absolute brilliance in his ability to alter the game's mechanics to his will, yet this change lacks any depth and the result is a curious betrayal of characterization. Are we to believe that because the wizzrobes now roam the surface, they can no longer become immaterial and skulk through the scenery as they did in the labyrinths? Perhaps it is the sunlight that does them in? And have they forsaken their deadly magical rays for mystic bolts shaped like daggers? To what end? Likewise, the Lynels, by virtue of being underground have suddenly revealed the ability to traverse walls and blast Link with devastating spells? I don't see a problem bringing the wizzrobes into the light or casting the Lynels into the pit, but why not take a few extra pains to make the exchange complete and keep both races in the manner to which they are known? Or even better still, to grant them new Outland abilities that do more than simply juxtapose those well known in Hyrule? If the full change could not be accomplished, then perhaps it would have been best to leave things as they were. A similar case can be made for the Wall Masters who have also been relocated to the overworld and have taken on the behavior of ghinis. This problem is compounded by the fact that there seems to be no way to actually destroy the Wall Masters that are generated from touching the gravestones. This makes travel in the Graveyard of Serenity a chore. (on the reverse, the substitution of the new enemy Cages for the subterranean Wall Masters is exceptionally well done, if entirely underused). I wouldn't have minded seeing a few ghinis in the labyrinths...
With so many amazing graphic enhancements in Outlands, these aberrations are confusing and disappointing. The programmer has demonstrated a loving appreciation for the Zelda mythos and extraordinary attention to detail, but these maligned changes seem needless and incomplete.
|Yes, but where is level 6??!!|
|This is the entrance to the 6th Labyrinth. Screw you Outlands!|
Labyrinths, I Hardly Knew Ye In the section above I praised the face-lift given to the labyrinths in terms of their appearance and the smart use of retro-fitting, however there is one area in which the newly revamped labyrinths fall short of their well designed predecessors. The labyrinths in the original LoZ's first quest were all shaped like animals or other recognizable shapes. The second quest's labyrinths spelled out "ZELDA" and then got nasty. In Outlands, most of the labyrinths aren't shaped like anything in particular, and many of them look like the skeletal remains of labyrinths from the original. (looking at you Dragon labyrinth that shows up again as Level 4...). Again, for a hack that changes so many great things so completely, to leave this kind of detail unfinished is disappointing and unexpected. This might seem like a small nit to pick, but if you got the most incredible ice cream sundae and there was no whipped cream, I think you'd feel a little let down (you can have that damned cherry, I have no use for it).
Anyone who truly loves The Legend of Zelda, will find LoZ: Outlands a well-crafted re-imaging of the classic adventure. Great pains have been taken to shape the clay that molded the original game and transform it into something very fresh and new. The greatest delight is found in the exceptional retro-fitting and innovations that enhance the basic game engine. The challenge level is greatly improved and is on par with the difficulty found in the original game's Second Quest. The hack is not quite perfect, but the troublesome elements would only turn off those not intimately acquainted with the original game, and those people are clearly not the target audience for this hack. Seasoned Zelda players will tough out the imperfections and be rewarded with a gaming experience that both invokes nostalgia and introduces new levels of challenge. I played The Legend of Zelda: Outlands on an emulator, but it is available on cartridge as well and I hope to one day acquire it for my collection and so that I may tackle it the way it is meant to be played, on the actual hardware. After all, I never found the Master Sword or Book of Mudora in my first outing. And I made a stab at the second quest, but got so annoyed because the second go round feels like it has been made overly difficult for difficulty's sake alone. I get the challenge of scouring 4 labyrinths armed with nothing just to find the wooden sword, I appreciate just how hard it is to defeat a four-headed Gleeok with only a wooden sword and the green tunic, but there is only so much repeated beating you can take before all of that loses its charm. I like a challenge, but I also like to have fun. Maybe having the game on cartridge will inspire me further...
|You have to admit, that Thunderbird looks cool in the final Labyrinth!|
(please note, some images in this article have been taken from the Instruction Manual provided with the download of the hack and credit for them goes to the original programmer)