Subscribers to Nintendo's paid Switch Online service got an unexpected surprise today. Alongside the expected released of three new downloadable emulated Nintendo Entertainment System titles—NES Open Tournament Golf, Solomons Key, and Super Dodge Ball—Nintendo also offered a version of the original Legend of Zelda that lets players start with a bevy of powerful items.
The new version—marked with a "Special" tag in the UI and dubbed "Living the life of luxury!" in the description—doesn't seem to modify the core game ROM in any way (despite reports referring to it as a "hack"). Instead, the game simply uses a save file that gives Link immediate access to the White Sword, Magical Shield, Blue Ring, and Power Bracelet, along with a red potion, additional heart containers, some secondary items (Food, Letter), and a full complement of 255 rupees, eight bombs, and nine keys.
That list is notably missing special items earned by beating the game's dungeons, so you can't just "sequence break" your way to areas that require navigational items hidden behind boss battles. That said, the full complement of items makes the game a bit more approachable for complete newcomers, while also taking away a lot of the sense of growth and mastery that comes from building Link's original arsenal one piece at a time.
In a press release, Nintendo said we can expect that "special save data for other NES titles will become available in the future, offering fun new entry points into fan-favorite games." Nintendo didn't specify which future titles would be receiving this treatment, but "Nintendo Hard" games like Metroid and Ninja Gaiden, both coming to the service before the end of the year, seem like obvious contenders.
It's nice to see Nintendo opening up its traditionally bare-bones treatment of classic emulation to include more experimental gameplay options like this (on top of the already neat online multiplayer options for NES titles, that is). The obvious next step, of course, is for Nintendo to allow some sort of official support for the creation and distribution of ROM hacks, as Sega did with its 2016 Steam collection of emulated Genesis games.
We can already hear many readers' reasonable arguments that the highly litigious Nintendo would never officially support that kind of mangling of its classic properties. It's important to remember, though, that Nintendo has previously created and distributed a modded "Original Edition" version of NES Donkey Kong that adds the missing Cement Factory level and some other enhancements. If support for fan-created ROM hacks is a step too far, we'd gladly accept more of these Nintendo-created, modernized hacks as a kind of compromise position.