As one of my earliest memories of watching video games, I remember thinking the bait and the bombs from The Legend of Zelda looked like a toy soldier. I moved mountains to buy my own copy of A Link to the Past, and bought a shoddy old NES from a secondhand store just to try to play The Adventure of Link, which I never had as a kid. I bought an N64 just so I could play Ocarina of Time, and recognized that I’d have to buy a Game Cube solely for Wind Waker. I have used arrows, boomerangs, bombs, bottles, bows, candles, canes, capes, deku leaves, deku shields, deku sticks, gauntlets, giant’s knives, gloves, and on and on through Zora’s flippers and Zora’s scales. And in all the code brought to life as Hyrule, I have never seen Link use a crossbow. I suppose though, if he had any experience in it, he wouldn’t need the training.
A latecomer to the Wii, I picked up Link’s Crossbow Training for 49 cents (43 cents after my Gamestop member discount!). Before playing it, I decided to do it right, so I bought a zapper on eBay for about $8. That ought to make Nintendo feel good. Probably a year’s worth of development and an entire disc full of coding, and people spend 16 times the value of the game on a mostly solid hunk of plastic. Meanwhile, I see someone online trying to sell used Madden games for $10 each, and I think our planet has officially lost touch with the concept of “value.” To top it off, after buying the zapper, I found a bunch of reviews complaining about it. Yes, I believe you when you say ditching the zapper makes the game easier. And I got to level 99 in Duck Hunt once by playing six inches away from the screen–when I should have played it next to an unshaded lamp. I liked the zapper. I couldn’t quite look down the sights because of the Wii’s setup, and I didn’t exactly sneak around my house like James Bond on a stealth mission, but for the sake of virtual realism, it felt like holding a crossbow, and I figured “Why the hell not!!”
Anyone who ever swore furiously at the old man who wants to “play money making game” will know that the Zelda franchise has embraced mini-games right from the get-go. Fortunately, they’ve gotten a little less random and a little more fun as time has moved on. Link’s Crossbow Training feels like a mini-game that grew too big for its bottle. With no story of its own, the game utilizes scenes from Twilight Princess, finding excuses for Link to pump all manner of monsters, targets and…gorons wearing targets on their stomachs?…full of lead…tipped arrows. Okay, so the lack of a story kind of excuses the absurdity of friendly races standing confidently as targets without the luxury of cast iron underwear (or so much as a ragged loin cloth). But the crossbow itself, a stylish, well-built fully-automatic number capable of firing 30 rounds per second, really crowns the achievements of this game. After all, not only does it let me indulge my desire to mow down cuccos like a gangster with a tommy gun, but the sheer mechanics of a crossbow working that fast make me think we ought to have Link head up NASA for discovering materials and/or mechanics that work that way.
The game organizes itself pretty predictably. Each level has three stages. Link usually shoots at targets in the first, fights off enemies coming at him from all sides in the second, and then wanders around a map blasting unsuspecting monsters in the third. They do vary the pace, sometimes letting you hit targets while stationary, or moving like a rail shooter, or chucking skulls into the air like skeet (keep it classy, Link). Near the end, the game introduces bosses, one darknut and the stallord. They both go down rather easily, though, and I finished the final level on my first attempt and with a higher score than any of the other eight levels.
Each stage lasts roughly a minute or two (insert sex joke of your choice here). Sometimes the wild blasting of monsters gets exciting, and the length of the level feels frustrating when you have a pile of bolts left and several dozens of monsters without quarrels in their foreheads, but when the game sets your target score at 40000 and you get 300, the brevity doesn’t discourage you from replaying the level. However, this also makes the game short, and with a steady arm you could get through it in about two hours, less with prior practice. But hey…49 cents. Otherwise, the only disappointment comes from the cucco, who deducts points from your score when you shoot it. I expected nothing less than a swarm of rabid chickens set out to re-enact Hitchcock movies. But no.