I finally recently picked up a copy of Zelda 1 and Zelda 2 for NES [both gold cartridges, obvs] and played through them both. Here's my quick initial thoughts on them both. Before starting, I actually went back and re-read the Zelda thread where Monkey decided to play through every Zelda game.
The Legend of Zelda
This was a fun game. It's amazing how fast you forget about the initial reaction of "wow these graphics are sooooo old" and get immersed in the gameplay of a classic game like that. The music was great, and the riddles in most dungeons were just challenging enough to be hard, but not incredibly frustrating. I liked how I could see the very beginnings of a Zelda game and where a lot of the concepts came from. A store to buy items, helpful NPC's that would give hints, dungeons with puzzles, moving aside items to reveal a path underneath or burning/exploding certain things to uncover a new route, and of course, the items in the game themselves and the ability to upgrade them. It definitely makes you appreciate how far the series has come.
Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link
I went into this game with low expectations, having heard that this was one of the most critiqued/controversial Zelda titles that had ever come out. I didn't even know it had side-scroller elements until recent months and talking to AC Dasher and hearing him say the game was incredibly difficult. Turns out, the game IS incredibly difficult, but definitely not impossible [as obviously I've finished it]. I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would, and it wasn't as much of a chore as I had guessed it might be to finish.
I did end up checking a guide a few times. Not for the dungeons [Palaces], but for the overworld itself and just determining what I had to do next. The items within the dungeons I found myself, and boss weaknesses weren't overly complex to figure out. The biggest problem was that if I didn't check guides on at least a couple places during the game, I may have found myself working through the game for months and not knowing what to do and just walking around aimlessly and getting interrupted by battle sequences [for those who haven't played it, the game plays a lot more like Pokemon, and you don't interact with enemies directly on the overworld. Instead, you enter battle sequences with enemies who's icons appear on the overworld and make contact with you, starting a battle sequence...unless you avoid them].
To give an example of some places that I can see people getting stuck in a LOT, and that had me trying to figure out what I was supposed to do for awhile, there's some places in the top-down overworld that lead to a side-scrolling scene where you can explore and find an item you need to proceed. The problem is that these aren't labeled at all. They're just ordinary tiles on the overworld. You wouldn't know any differently. In Zelda 1 for instance, you could push aside a block to reveal a hidden staircase, and that makes sense. You pushed a block, and you revealed a staircase. Great. But Zelda 2, you would magically get warped into a side-scrolling scene where you had to find an item you needed to progress in the story, and that tile you stepped on in the overworld that linked you to the side-scrolling sequence was just like any other ordinary tile. I understand seeing a group of tiles and digging into each of them using a shovel or something to determine what was under it, but without knowing you were supposed to walk over a tile that looked just like every tile but that was linked to an event, I can see it taking a long time.
This all being said, I found the game quite forgiving in a few sections. For example, one area in particular [thinking of Valley of Death...leading up to the final Great Palace] in the overworld was very difficult to get through, simply because of the path you had to take to get to your destination and the amount of difficult enemies along the way that would attack you or that you'd end up confronting in a forced battle sequence [a tile that you had to cross to get to where you wanted to go on the overworld map, but that automatically led you into a battle sequence where you had to get to the other side]. I found myself having to try this multiple times, and as soon as I finally did reach my destination, I was very low on health/lives and was just thinking "oh my goodness...please...don't make me do that again, like, how am I even supposed to finish this place I just reached if I have incredibly low health already, and will have to find my way back here from the starting place in the game every single time I die?". But that's where things got forgiving. If I lost all my lives and selected continue, instead of starting me back at the beginning place where you start in the game, it brought me back to the area I had reached, bypassing the difficult overworld section cause I had already conquered it. Nice.
All in all, I can see why Nintendo would have tried this style for a game, and I can't blame them. They only had Zelda 1 to go off of, and didn't have Link to the Past, Link's Awakening, Oracle of Seasons/Ages, and other top-down style games to compare to to know that this was obviously the way to go. With the amount of side scrolling games that were coming out, I guess it was worth it for them to try a mix. Glad they kept going the way they did though and didn't try it again, but at the same time, it made for an interesting game, and I'm glad I've played through it now.
TL;DR: bought the 2 NES Zeldas, finished 'em both, dece games brah.