The Legend of Zelda series is a staple of Nintendo’s core lineup. Since 1986, arguably gaming’s biggest year, the Zelda franchise has been producing hit after hit on Nintendo’s major consoles. While most of the world has been able to experience the mainline Zelda games, Nintendo had a few special releases just for the Japanese market. Some of these Japan-exclusive Zelda games are strange, and some are products of their time, but they are all interesting parts of the history of The Legend of Zelda.
The Zelda series tends to stick to a familiar formula. Players take on the role of Link, the hero of Hyrule, as they battle the forces of darkness commanded by Ganon. Along the way, they explore dungeons, gather special items, interact with interesting NPCs, and work with the titular Princess Zelda to banish evil and bring peace to the land. Some Zelda games do abandon this formula, for good or ill, but the core notions of a courageous Link, a wise Zelda, and a powerful Ganon remain.
The following spin-off games won’t make it into any top 10 Zelda game lists, nor are they considered part of the actual canon of the Zelda universe. Instead, they represent fascinating attempts by Nintendo to innovate with technology, test different markets, or give a beloved character, like Majora’s Mask’s Tingle, a series of their own. Regardless, each of these games is worth knowing for most Zelda fans, as they offer an interesting insight into the ups and downs of a beloved franchise.
In 1992, Nintendo licensed both Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda to Epoch Co.’s Barcode Battler 2. The Barcode Battler was a unique system that enabled players to swipe cards with barcodes into the system, which would then show the swiped data on a small LCD screen. For Zelda no Densetsu: Kamigami no Triforce, the player took on the role of Link, tasked with defeating a series of enemies before confronting Ganon. The game was built on the same premise as A Link to the Past, one of the best 2D Zelda games, but with a very different gameplay feel. After swiping an enemy card, the Barcode Battler 2 would calculate a winner. Players were then given an opportunity to scan another enemy or an item card to give Link a boost. Surviving each enemy and then defeating Ganon saved the day. A fascinating bit of early ’90s tech, this is a unique part of Zelda‘s history.
As reported by DidYouKnowGaming?, the Satellaview was a satellite modem peripheral for the Super Famicom developed by Nintendo and St. GIGA and released in 1995. It allowed players to download games and other content broadcasted by St. GIGA – as long as the player purchased or rented a special satellite from St. GIGA, that is. It was a complicated package, requiring players to use a BS (“Broadcast Satellaview”) tuner and a satellite dish to receive incoming games. For 1995, though, it was a technical marvel. There were many games produced for the system, including several for Nintendo’s best-known series, like Kirby, Fire Emblem, and of course Zelda.
The Satellaview Zelda games were strange spin-offs based on both the NES’s The Legend of Zelda and the SNES’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Players had to tune in at the right time over a four-week period to be able to play. The games also included voiceovers, which were sent directly to users and not stored locally, as well as timed events that would introduce new trials and special items for Link to interact with.
Tingle is a strange character. First appearing in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, he quickly gained a cult following. While he appeared in a few other mainstream Zelda games, like The Wind Waker, he mostly remained on the sidelines. But in Japan, Tingle is the star of several spin-off games. Some of these, like Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland, made it to Europe, but others, like Tingle’s Balloon Fight DS, remained Japanese exclusives.
Tingle’s Balloon Fight DS was very similar to the original Balloon Fight game on the NES. Players took control of Tingle and either floated around attacking enemies or tried to make it through a scrolling field of hazards. It was an exclusive release for Club Nintendo members in Japan.
Tingle’s next game, Irozuki Tingle no Koi no Balloon Trip, is beyond odd. According to Zeldapedia, the plot centers around an ordinary man who, upon buying a self-help guide to become popular with women, is sucked into a magical world and transformed into Tingle. He proceeds to go on a Wizard of Oz-style adventure, complete with a tin woman, a scarecrow, and a lion named Lion. There’s probably more than a few reasons this never got a full release overseas.
Each of these Zelda spin-off games reflect something interesting about the franchise. They show Nintendo and its associates’ dedication to trying innovative new things, and they show that, sometimes, Western audiences just miss out. Whatever parts of The Legend of Zelda stand out as the most iconic, from the Master Sword to Link’s character designs, it is important to remember there is so much more to this venerable series than might initially meets the eye.