Back in the 1990s, Philips tried to break into the video game market with its doomed-to-fail, multimedia set-top box standard called CD-i. Many brands and models of CD-i players were released but all of them were flops and mostly forgotten in 2023. However, Philips did acquire the rights to develop three Zelda games for its unpopular machines. They were terrible. Now, a fan has taken what’s perhaps the worst of those games, a top-down RPG starring Zelda herself, and unofficially ported it to the Game Boy.
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You might be wondering how Philips was able to create Zelda games, and on a non-Nintendo platform. The answer to that involves Sony, weirdly enough. In 1989, Sony and Nintendo signed a deal to create a CD-based add-on for the SNES. However, Nintendo would later back out of the deal and instead work with Philips. Sony was bitter, and decided to develop its own game console, a little device you might have heard of called the PlayStation. Meanwhile, Nintendo saw the poor reaction to the Genesis’ Sega CD add-on and backed out of its planned SNES CD hardware entirely. It’s believed that, as some recompense for dissolving the deal, Nintendo ended up licensing some IP to Philips, allowing the company to make its own Zelda games. They weren’t great, and one of the three, Zelda’s Adventure, is seen by many fans as the worst of the bunch, and is often cited as the worst Zelda game ever released.
Still, even if it’s a bad game with terrible controls and awful live-action FMV cinematics, it’s still a Zelda game, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it has its fans. One of them has spent a few years developing a full port of the CD-i flop for Nintendo’s Game Boy. And now it’s out, and it’s really cool!
The story behind the new Game Boy Zelda
Zelda’s Adventure for Game Boy was developed by John Lay, who describes himself as a programmer and graphic designer. According to Lay—a big fan of the 2D Zelda games—out of the three CD-i Zelda games games, Zelda’s Adventure “looked interesting.” And after stumbling across an early version of modern development tool GB Studio, Lay decided to start working on a demake during covid-19 lockdown as the idea of a portable version of the unbeloved game seemed like something he’d want to play. So he started work on a proof of concept that was just the first dungeon and the initial part of the overworld, which he estimates to comprise about 20 percent of the overall game.
“After I finished I took a short break and during that time GB Studio released an update I was eager to try,” Lay told Kotaku. “So I…continued the game where I left off and developed approximately another 40 percent of the overworld and dungeons.”
However, he ran into some GB Studio limitations, so he had to modify the engine with custom-created code to make the full demake feasible.
“I then used this modified engine to develop a third prototype with the remaining 40 percent of the overworld and the final dungeons,” he said. “During this time GB Studio released a third update with a bunch of improvements, so I sat down and planned out how to combine all three prototypes into a single game.”
Lay says from start to end this whole process took about 14 months, since starting work on the game in April 2020.
According to the Itch page for Zelda’s Adventure, it was developed to aesthetically resemble 1992’s Link’s Awakening, but also includes some features from the Game Boy Color duo Oracle of Ages and Seasons. Lay calls his creation a complete port of the full game, and the music was composed by Beatscribe.
How to play Zelda’s Adventure for Game Boy
If you want to play this neat port on a Game Boy emulator, you can download the ROM from Lay’s Itch page. However, you can also play it in your browser without having to download a thing, or just watch a full playthrough of the fan game on Lay’s YouTube channel.
Honestly, Lay’s new fan game is probably the best way to experience Zelda’s Adventure, that odd and barely remembered piece of Nintendo ephemera. I mean, unless the upcoming Tears of the Kingdom decides to include some deep-cut references to it, in which case we all might have to go back and reassess the CD-i disaster. Though I very much doubt that’s going to happen.
As for Lay, he doesn’t have plans to demake the other two Zelda CD-i games, Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, on Nintendo’s portable or any other console. But he did enjoy working on the project, and wanted to shout out to both his composer Beatscribe and the “incredible developers” behind GB Studio.
“Thanks to everyone who supported the project,” Lay said. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive feedback so far, it really makes it worthwhile. I hope you enjoy the game!”