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This great indie is a loving homage to the worst Nintendo games of all time

Arzette in Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Most companies like to sweep the bad parts of their legacy under the rug. For Nintendo, that includes some The Legend of Zelda games licensed for the Phillips CD-i platform. Frustrating game design, poor animation, and a terrible controller cemented these games as some of the worst ever made, but that doesn’t mean people have ignored them. Some of the earliest “YouTube Poops” were based on footage and dialogue from those games. And now, the new Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore is full-on spiritual successor — and a Phillips CD-i-inspired controller is coming out to go along with it.

Playing Arzette can sometimes feel like watching a film like Ed Wood or The Disaster Artist, as it’s a high-quality reinterpretation of some infamous art. A decent platformer in its own right, Arzette (which is available now) and the CD-i-like controller coming later this year are a unique kind of game preservation that allows a new generation to experience the feeling of playing those infamous Zelda CD-i games without a lot of the baggage.

Come back when you’re a little richer

In the 1990s, Nintendo’s first foray into CD-based gaming was through Mario and Zelda CD-i games, but the results were disastrous. And the 2D platformers Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon are the two titles Arzette most greatly draws from, although a bonus game pays tribute to Hotel Mario. The Faces of Evil and The Wand of Gamelon were both fairly basic platformers that felt extremely sluggish to play due to hardware limitations and the controller players had to use. Mechanically, Arzette does the necessary uplifting to make platforming and combat feel smooth and responsive to player input.

Arezette runs through a forest in Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore.
Limited Run Games

It’s not as satisfying to play as something like Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, but that’s not a fair comparison. Arzette respects the originals enough to fully achieve the gameplay feeling the CD-i original failed to hit years prior. Gameplay was never the main draw of the infamous CD-i titles, though; they are more ironically revered for their art and animation. While some backgrounds in those titles can look nice, they feature fully animated cutscenes that look absolutely terrible. Charmingly bad voice acting and rudimentary animation leaves a lasting impression that the internet has fully embraced.

Arzette has fun paying homage to these aspects of the games that inspired it with similarly animated cutscenes and character interactions. Although the intentionality of this approach makes its cutscenes a bit less memorable than those from The Faces of Evil and The Wand of Gamelon, there’s still an earnestness to appreciate. Arzette‘s confident approach to its narrative about the titular princess taking down the evil Daimur, the large amount of these cutscenes present, and the fact that some voice actors from the CD-i games were invited back means Arzette doesn’t just feel like a soulless parody, but a love letter.

A shopkeeper that looks a lot like Morshu in Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore.
Limited Run Games

Recapturing the experience

The true beauty of what Arzette accomplishes really clicked when I started using the “Retro Inspired Switch & PC Controller” that Limited Run Games sent me. While that product name is vague, this accessory adapts the design and layout of the Phillips CD-i controller. It’s bafflingly weird to use at times, as Arzette’s jump button is located beneath the buttons you use to move, while the attack and item use buttons are above. When I first played Arzette with it, I died a bunch and began to get frustrated at how odd it felt to use this controller.

That’s when I realized that Arzette truly succeeded at making me feel like I was playing the original Zelda CD-i games, even if it’s a much better-made title than those. Whether it’s chuckling at weirdly animated cutscenes or frustratingly finding the best ways to utilize a unique controller made just for this game, I’m getting an experience not dissimilar to what those who played the Zelda CD-i games in the ’90s went through.

Limited Run Games' Phillips CD-i inspired Retro Game controller.
Limited Run Games

Unfortunately, it won’t be shipping until this November, so it will be a while before a wider audience can experience Arzette like this. Still, those who play Arzette can appreciate that it is a much more competent game in many ways than the titles it’s based on. Arzette controls more fluidly, the soundtrack and background art rock, and more friendly checkpointing make it more approachable. But it’s not trying to be a 1-to-1 recreation of bad games; it’s reimagining them as a better experience while preserving what it felt like to play them.

While playing Arzette, a comment Digital Eclipse’s Chris Kohler made when I interviewed him last year about The Making of Karateka kept making its way back into my mind: “That’s one of the things that often doesn’t get preserved: the experience of the people who play the game. A game is a two-way street. It’s a thing that’s designed, but it’s a thing that’s experienced, and you have to preserve that as well.”

The Zelda CD-i games are unlikely to be ever rereleased in an official form. While those CD-i games are left trapped on that platform and mainly live on through internet videos and memes, Arzette and Limited Run’s new controller acknowledges that there was something fun about the experience of playing bad games that shouldn’t be forgotten to time.

Arzette: Jewel of Faramore is available now for PC, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch. The Retro Inspired Switch & PC controller is available for preorder on the Limited Run Games website until March 17 and will ship sometime this November.

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Tomas Franzese
Gaming Staff Writer
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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