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The Super Days of NES: “The Legend of Zelda” (1986)

Credit: Nintendo Entertainment

The fact that the cartridge was gold should have tipped us off. Once The Legend of Zelda dropped into our Nintendos, that was it, for months.

A few weeks into playing Zelda it was clear that we were all in this together. School would be abuzz with talk of where we were in the woods of Hyrule, what we had figured out, what items we’d found and what was holding us back.

Our hero Link slaying monsters in search of the way forward. (Credit: Nintendo Entertainment)

Zelda was a long journey that provided momentary triumphs. Every now and then we’d hear that magical set of tones which signaled that something had been unlocked or solved. But more often than not we experienced the dark days when you simply couldn’t figure out how to navigate through a labyrinth or find the item you needed.

And I suppose the most memorable stories from my Zelda days are what I would do when I got stuck. Sometimes I could figure it out on my own, but more often than not, I couldn’t.

There was no internet blog detailing what had to be done. No Youtube channel where some kid would literally show me the way out. So what to do?

An aerial view of the map. But where to next? (Credit: Nintendo Entertainment)

Now let me tell you about Adam Rankin. Adam was a 7th grade classmate of mine. He was a hell of a third baseman. He was the kind of kid who quietly excelled in many ways. As most of us were reaching the halfway point of conquering Zelda it became well known around middle school that Adam was already done. He had put in the work. He knew the game up and down.

I would call Adam at night to ask for help. He was so patient and kind. He would sometimes give me a hint. Sometimes he would give me the answer. Playing The Legend of Zelda helped me realize how nice it was to have friends. I might have gone crazy without them.

Behold a piece of the Triforce that could restore peace to my valley. (Credit: Nintendo Entertainment)

But every now and then I’d stop and think “I’m calling Adam too much for Zelda help and that’s kind of a jerky thing to do.” So one night when I was stuck in a Labyrinth for hours, I tried something else.

Around this time, Nintendo created something called the Nintendo Power Line. It was a 900 number pay by the minute phone bank full of highly trained walking encyclopedias who could talk you through any Nintendo jam you might find yourself in. You might be saying “I’d heard of that, but I’ve never met anyone who actually called.” Well, now you have.

I picked up the phone that night and dialed the Nintendo Power Line. As I was punching in the numbers I knew what I was doing was dangerous. If my parents saw this charge on the phone bill I was screwed. But as the line started ringing, I had crossed the Rubicon. There was no turning back.

This is where my call was headed. (Credit: Nintendo Entertainment)

A guy answered the phone. He introduced himself as Thor. Was it the God of Thunder of just some dude in a collared shirt and a headset? We might never know.

Thor ran through some standard copy and then asked, “What can I do for you today?” I explained my problem as quickly as I could. And wouldn’t you know it, I had missed a broken wall one room over. All I had to do was bomb it and the problem was solved. Thor quickly pointed this out and then there was an awkward silence. My emergency was hardly an emergency.

I said, “Thanks Thor” and hung up never to call the Hotline ever again. From there on out I was going to rely on what I could do myself and the help I could ask from my friends. I know it sounds cheeky, but calling Thor was a life lesson I still remember clearly to this day. Short cuts, especially ones you pay for, rarely work out in the end. The journey, even when it creates frustration, is as important as finding the Magic Sword. And when you find the Magic Sword on your own, it’s so much sweeter than calling Thor.




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Billy Hartong

Billy Hartong

Founder of the kid’s music group The Jolly Pops. Unofficial expert on all things that happened in the 1990s. Father of 3 daughters. Proud Minnesotan.

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