What is The Legend of Zelda SP, really?

Nintendo recently released something very strange their online NES service (dubbed NESflix by some fans). The Legend of Zelda SP (or The Legend of Zelda – Living the Life of Luxury in some regions) is a modified super-easy version of the original game. Instead of starting with no items and being asked to wander the world looking for pieces of the triforce, SP starts you with all equipment, items, and 255 rupees.

“In this souped-up version of The Legend of Zelda, you’ll start with a ton of rupees and items!” the game’s description explains. “You’ll begin with all equipment, including the White Sword, the Magical Shield, the Blue Ring, and even the Power Bracelet. But if Ganon’s still giving you a hard time, the power of money will overcome! Just buy yourself some more items and give it another shot! Beating the game once grants you access to a more difficult version of the game called Second Quest.”

This got a lot of fans very excited. The release itself has limited appeal. It’s meant to turn the original Legend of Zelda into something closer to a Breath of the Wild experience, but it’s really just the equivalent of entering a couple game genie codes. However, that’s exactly why fans were excited. Nintendo, for the first time, released an in-house ROM hack.

This opens up so many things. It means that Nintendo could re-translate and re-hack Mother 3 in order to finally give it a western release. It means that ROM hacks like Kaizo Mario or something similar might finally see an official Nintendo release and be playable on an official Nintendo console. It means that the wide world of homebrewers might finally be able to work with Nintendo, since they finally seem to have the technology to edit their own older games.

At least, that’s what we originally thought. Turns out the actual answer might be more disappointing than we all assumed. Twitter user and game developer @KommaChameleon points out that the game isn’t a ROM hack at all. Rather, it’s a save state.

For those of you who aren’t part of the emulation community, a save state is a way to save your game on an emulator by recording the literal state of the game’s memory. Essentially, a snapshot of the game is taken, freezing every variable in place at that exact time. The game can then be reverted to that same state at any time simply by manually setting every bite to recreate the snapshot. Komma notes that you can see opened caves and burned out bushes in The Legend of Zelda SP, which means it’s likely that someone actually played through the game, collected all these items and rupees, and then walked back to the start of the game in order to create the save state. He further claims that you can die, hit save, and go back to the title screen to start a new game and you won’t actually retain these bonuses, meaning the original ROM is actually unaltered! You can even tell that it’s a save state because it doesn’t start you at the title screen. It just drops you right into the game.

This leads us to the big question… “Why?” I’m no hacking genius but a schulb like me can open up a hex editor, do a quick Google search, and create a ROM hack that mimics what The Legend of Zelda SP is doing without this weird save state cludge. In fact, there are a ton of freeware ROM editors that will let you do this without any knowledge of hex editing. Perhaps Nintendo decided to do this to make a stand against emulation. They are notoriously against any form of emulation, even legal forms, saying that any emulation is tantamount to piracy and any alteration of game code is strictly illegal. This would allow them to repackage a new version of The Legend of Zelda without actually altering any of the game’s code. But, then again their whole “NESflix” service is essentially just an emulator itself.

In fact, the Wii and Wii U virtual consoles were proven to be nothing more than emulators. In fact, virtual console games were proven to be nothing more than ROMs that you can download on the very sites that Nintendo is trying to close down. We’ve written about how you can find iNES headers in virtual console files in the past, and it’s already been proven that NES online is just running the same emulator that the NES Classic Edition uses. Users can upload their own ROMs and ROM hacks with very little effort.

So Nintendo understands emulators and is using emulation technology but for some reason released a save-state as a new game when you could easily do it better by entering a few Game Genie codes.

Thus, we are still left asking “why?” Why on earth would Nintendo go through such a roundabout process to repackage The Legend of Zelda? Why are they so averse to hacking their own games? What sort of weird infernal bureaucratic processes are keeping Nintendo from creating such a simple ROM hack? Finally, is it right for Nintendo to be marketing a save state as an actual game?

What do you think?  Let us know in the comments.