A very special Eight-bit junkyard Christmas

Reviews and reminiscences of the best (and worst) retro video


The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo, 1987)

The TV commercials had started in late August. Despite the start of a new school year, all my friends and I could talk about were the ads for the newest Nintendo game, “The Legend of Zelda.” Who was Zelda? What was her legend? There was only one way to find out. Santa Claus would have to bring me the game.

Of course, Santa would know that I’d need a Nintendo to play “Zelda.” You don’t just bring a tiny tot a shimmering, glittery, golden cartridge all aglow and assume they’ll use it as a paperweight.

I believed in three higher powers in 1987: Santa Claus, MacGyver, and Jesus. And as resourceful as Christ was on Sundays and MacGyver was on Mondays, Claus totally owned all of December.

He just needed to get the message. I told him by letter. I told him in person at the Belknap Mall. I promised to put Smirnoff and Kahlua in his milk, just like he had asked for the year before. About 30 percent of my presents came from my parents; the rest were straight from the North Pole. I knew presents of this magnitude were Santa presents, not parent presents.

New ads helped me piece together information about the game. Princess Zelda wasn’t your average damsel in distress. Before her kidnapping, she was smart enough to split the Triforce of Wisdom and hide it in dungeons across the kingdom of Hyrule. As Link, the hero of what would become one of the most successful video game franchises of all time, I would destroy monsters, discover hidden fairy fountains, and gloriously float on a raft, all in my quest to rescue Zelda and bring peace back to Hyrule.
My need for the NES and the gilded “Zelda” cartridge bordered on the pathological. It took over every conversation. “Why do you think Link starts with a wooden sword?” “Why do you think his name is Link?” “Which of the candles do you think is better, blue or red?”

In the final days before Christmas, I searched under my parents’ bed for the remote control. That’s when I saw it. The Nintendo. And “Zelda.” All of my dreams, sandwiched between dust bunnies and old TV Guides. I remained silent about my discovery.

I tore at my presents on Christmas morning in full-ribboned chaos until I found myself choosing the largest present, from Santa himself, near the back of the tree. I could feel its magic.

I opened it. Heartbreak quickly replaced excitement. It was the NES. It was “Zelda.” It was the same thing my parents had bought for me. I played off my momentary pause in celebrating as joyful shock. My parents cheered and whooped. They, too, must have been heartbroken, knowing that Santa had replicated their marquee gift. They tried valiantly to make me happy, only to have the Jolly Ol’ Elf steal their holiday thunder. I masked my sadness for them while they did a remarkable job hiding their own.

I faked a trip to the bathroom to give them enough time to quickly take away the Nintendo they had purchased. I felt bad. But once I had that beautiful cartridge in the Nintendo and a sword in my proverbial hand, I forgot about my parents’ obvious devastation and brought peace to Hyrule. And isn’t that the eight-bit reason for the season?