Never-released 1986 Legend of Zelda prototype FOUND

Contributed by
Jul 4, 2015, 1:19 PM EDT

In every segment of pop culture, there are buried treasures: artifacts of elusive, legendary power that are lost to the four winds, never to be seen again. And, sometimes, intrepid pop archaeologists unearth them. Which is exactly what happened with the test run of one of video games' most popular franchises ever.

If Nintendo is the house that Donkey Kong built, then The Legend of Zelda paid for all the furnishing, decorations and the big-ass pool out back. It was the killer app that made the original Nintendo Entertainment System a must-have and established their dominance in the home-console arena for years. And the heroic Link's world-spanning, puzzle-solving attempts to save the princess, Zelda, have spawned more than a dozen sequels, as well as comics and cartoons.

And, as is the case with video games, it went through a lengthy development process, most of which has never been seen—until now, thanks to the pop-arcana explorers at Lost Levels, a group dedicated to finding unreleased versions of video games and revealing them to the world. And Lost Levels has found a beta version of The Legend of Zelda, or Zelda no Densetsu, as it was called in the original Japanese.

Reports say that it's a somewhat easier version of Zelda—fewer monsters, and the treasure isn't as hard to amass—but in most other aspects, it's almost identical to the Zelda that hit American shores in 1987. (In the image below, the prototype is on the left, while the released game is on the right.)

This discovery may seem like a bit of useless trivia, but given the vast segment of the population that plays games that are inspired by Zelda—in other words, most every puzzle, adventure or fantasy game—it's important to know how that DNA was formed. And why it's so important for game designers to understand that players need to be able to triumph but that that victory needs to be earned.

(via Tiny Cartridge)