Attack of the Clones – Zelda (NES)

Zelda Clones

Welcome readers, to Attack of the Clones.  No, not the Star Wars prequel, but yet another new segment here on Source Gaming. Smash Bros. fans are very familiar with the concept of clones, and this a concept that extends far beyond fighting game characters. Most famous or influential games have clones of their own, one need not look further than Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale to see an example of this. As the Smash Bros. roster is comprised of characters from some of the most storied franchises of all time, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at clones of the games they originated in. Now, as people are fond of saying, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The games I will examine today are not bad games. They are just clones. Hopefully, some fans of the original game will find something to like in these knock offs.

The games featured in this article are clones of 1986’s Legend of Zelda. This game redefined open world adventure games, and spawned one of the best selling series of all time. The basic formula that the game established was simple, fun, and intuitive.  It was also ripe for imitation. Please note that we are going to be dealing in clones of the original NES/Famicom game in this article. Games that heavily borrowed from Zelda sequels, such as a Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time,  will not be considered. They may, however, warrant their own article in the future.

Golden Axe Warrior (SEGA Master System)

The first game we will look at today is a true contemporary of the original Zelda, Golden Axe Warrior. The SEGA Master System was SEGA’s entrant into the 8-bit console race, and Warrior was its answer to a Zelda. The game world was based off of the already established Golden Axe arcade game, but while that game was a side scrolling beat ‘em up, this game was an isometric adventure title. Sadly, the fact that this game had little to do with it’s arcade namesake, and the fact that it came out so late in the Master System’s life span (it was actually released in 1991, a few months before a Link to the Past) meant that many gamers skipped out on what is a very solid Zelda-like title.

The game takes most of its queues from Zelda. The evil Death Adder is threatening the lands, and our brave hero must explore a vast overworld in order to find 9 crystals, which happen to be located within 9 dungeons, in order to stop him. Luckily for us, each dungeon contains a weapon or other form of upgrade that will help make the journey easier. The first thing NES Zelda fans will likely notice when booting up this game for the first time is just how good it looks for an 8-bit game. The SEGA Master system had better hardware than the NES, and it really shows in this game. Enemies are more detailed and the game world is much more colorful and vivid.  


It looks nice! It also looks like Zelda

The second thing new players, especially not those familiar with the Master System, will notice is that the controller only has two buttons. That’s right, since the system has no start or select buttons, the inventory is one button and action is the second. This means that you always have to pause in order to switch from your weapon to an item, which can be quite annoying. This is especially frustrating since the game includes more than one weapon type.  Another area where this game falls short is sound. The music, while somewhat catchy, is somewhat uninspired when compared to the game it’s trying to copy.

Golden Axe does a few things better than Zelda, though. The overworld feels more alive, and upgrades such as a rope to explore different levels of terrain or a canoe to traverse waterways make the landscape feel more dynamic. In addition to this, the game features actual towns with NPCs that you can communicate with, something sorely lacking in the first Zelda’s lonely Hyrule. Overall, this is a very solid title for fans of the NES Zelda, with enough similarities to give it a sense of familiarity while still having enough unique aspects to keep it feeling fresh.

Neutopia TurboGrafx-16

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a prosperous land is falling into darkness due to the machinations of an evil demonic wizard. The princess of this land has been kidnapped, and it is up to a young and unassuming hero to traverse the world to collect mystical medallions from 8 dungeons in order to ultimately confront said demon and bring peace back to the kingdom.  This is the strikingly familiar narrative of Neutopia, a TurboGrafx-16 title that might be one of the most shameless game knockoffs ever made.

Neutopia is an odd game to go back and play, largely because it is so close to the original Legend of Zelda in both feel and appearance. The game was released in 1989, a good two years before a Link to the Past, so the game feels very much like what a 16-bit sequel to the original game would be like if Nintendo hadn’t make so many narrative and gameplay advancements between installments. The game’s hero, Jazeta, may not be wearing green, but his attacks closely mimic Links. He can attack with his sword in four directions, just like Link in the NES title, and he uses items such as a Fire Rod and Boom Bombs to break down walls and burn down trees to reveal secrets. Even many of the game’s enemies closely resemble classic Zelda foes such as Zoras, Moblins, and Keese.

The bosses in Neutopia are a clear step up from The Legend of Zelda

All that being said, this game does have a few distinguishing characteristics and even improves upon Zelda in a few ways. First and most notable are the graphics. While not quite up to a Link to the Past level, the game’s graphics are a notable step up from its NES inspiration. This is most apparent in the game’s boss battle, were the largely spirited enemies will attack Jezeta in a variety of different ways. Neutopia’s backgrounds and enemy variety also exceed that of Zelda, partially due to the fact that the game takes place in four different “zones” as opposed to the contiguous overworld of Hyrule. Another, less appreciated, area where this game shines is dialogue. NPCs in Neutopia are easily understood and articulate, and when they share a tip it’s actually usable instead of the enigmatic jibberish you would see in Zelda.

Still, Neutopia has it’s faults. It’s item variety is lacking, and the game feels very linear when compared to other games in this genre. Due to this, the sense of exploration found in Zelda is a bit absent from the title. More frustrating, though, is that the collision detection feels a bit off. This is most apparent when attacking using the sword, so it can be a bit of a headache. It is not, however, a deal breaker, and this game is excellent at doing what it does… it’s just that what it happens to do is copy Zelda.

3D Game Dot Heroes (Playstation 3)

I struggled on whether or not I should include this game in this article. 3D Dot Heroes, unlike the previous games on this list, was not released as a direct competitor to the NES Zelda games.  Released for the Playstation 3 in 2009, the game came into existence many years after Zelda had been completely assimilated into the modern gaming Zeitgeist. Due to this fact, the game carries many influences from Zelda sequels such as a Link to the Past, which is something I was actively trying to avoid while compiling this list. In addition to this, while the game unabashedly copies Zelda, it does so in a very loving and knowing fashion. It actually includes many easter eggs, including dialogue such as “it’s everybody’s secret,” to Zelda and other 8 bit titles such as Dragon’s Quest. Because of this, many would argue that 3D Game Dot Heroes is more of an homage than an actual clone. My response to those people, however, is what is an homage but a clone made with love?

3D Game Dot Heroes is a very pretty and polished looking game. The visuals are fun, as they are 3D representations of the 8-bit sprites of yesteryear. The game’s story itself addresses this, as the intro shows the once 2D land of Dotnia entering the 3rd dimension. The game’s script is funny, and as previously mentioned, full of call backs to other games. The Zelda references don’t end with dialogue, however. The items you find in the game, including the boomerang, bow and arrow, bombs, and even the hookshot, are all classic Zelda. Same with the overhead dungeon based gameplay and push block puzzles.

You can create your own player character in the game. Here’s a good starting point if you don’t think the game is already enough of a clone

Many of the items, such as the aforementioned hookshot, are based off of later Zelda titles.  Many of the game’s mechanics actually do feel quite similar A Link to the Past, but the overall aesthetic and dungeon design seem far more similar to the Famicom title. Room seem more compact, and their is larger emphasis on block moving and bomb blasting to reveal secret areas. Another nice nod to Zelda is that, when at full health, your character’s sword will grow to enormous size giving you a huge offensive advantage. While not exactly the same, this functionality is similar to Link’s “beam sword” from earlier games. All said and done, 3D Game Dot Heroes is basically a classic Zelda game that takes advantage of modern gaming hardware and experience. It’s some of the best Zelda gameplay that can be had outside of an actual Nintendo system, but because of this it is also lacks a bit of it’s own identity. A fun game, for sure, but don’t go into it expecting anything groundbreaking.

The Legacy of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda wasn’t the first overhead adventure game ever produced… but it may have been the most influential. This single 8-bit adventure lead to a series that consists of almost 30 critically and commercially successful games. Many of these titles, such as A Link to Past, The Wind Waker, and Ocarina of Time, have clones of their own. The series influence goes beyond direct clones, however. Many aspects of the series, from heart piece collecting to “z” targeting, have found their way into a myriad of different games. It will be interesting to see what sort of knock offs future entries in the series produce. Who knows? Hopefully we’ll be talking about some hidden gems among Zelda Wii U clones in 20 or so years. See you there.

Share this!


    1. I said in my article that Zelda wasn’t the first overhead adventure game of it’s time, but that it might be the most influential. The structure of Zelda, from the Dunegons to the puzzles to the powerups, are what these other games emulated.

    2. correction

      every single game that tried to be Zelda 1 or Hydlide are Dragon Slayer clones.

      from Ys, to Spiritual Warfare, to Startropics, to Crystalis, to many many more.

Leave a comment below!