Going for Gold: The Legend of Zelda's Colored Cartridges

Going for Gold: The Legend of Zelda's Colored Cartridges

The year was 1986, and Nintendo had just released The Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Family Computer (or “Famicom”). The game, created by much of the same staff as their earlier game Super Mario Bros., was an instant hit. But it was when the game was brought to western markets for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) that the game truly distinguished itself as something special.

The Legend of Zelda was first released as a launch game for the Famicom Disk System peripheral which used, as the name suggests, floppy disks instead of cartridges. These disks allowed for larger file sizes, up to a massive (for the time) 112kB. With these larger games came more need for players to save progress, and the Famicom Disk System provided the storage space necessary for that. But while The Legend of Zelda could be marketed as a larger, more expansive game in Japan to sell the Famicom Disk System, that importance would be lost on western markets, who did not get the periphery. They were still able to put the larger game on an NES cartridge by making it the first home console game that used an internal battery to save data, but in terms of conveying how notable it was, they used a different tactic: the color gold.

The Golden Triangles

The Legend of Zelda tells the story of a young boy adventuring through the land of Hyrule to collect pieces of the Triforce, golden triangles possessing mystical powers. It is presumably because of this Triforce, which would continue to be central to the games’ stories, that the color was chosen for both the game’s box art and for the cartridge that was visible through a window in the box.

Nintendo had already established itself as a company that created games of a higher standard after the Video Game Crash of 1983, with the Nintendo Seal of Quality signifying the care they put into making sure consumers would not be disappointed. But the gold cartridge on top of that immediately set the game apart as something special and unique, making it seem like something precious and establishing the larger, more epic scope of the game. The mere fact that Nintendo had given this game a shiny golden cartridge marked it as something to be excited about—and for good reason, as the series is nearly 40 years old and still going strong.

Almost all subsequent Zelda games would continue this trend of having a golden cartridge, label, or at least box art. Not every Zelda game used the gold coloring, and several later releases of games that did switched to the standard grey. Still, even when Nintendo switched to discs instead of cartridges, the color gold remained prevalent, marking it as a Zelda game, as something special and unique.

The trend has been absent in the more recent Zelda games, as video games have moved away from being cartridge or disc-based and more towards being digital, but from the North American release of the very first game in 1987 to as recently as A Link Between Worlds in 2013, and even to recent Zelda-inspired indie titles like Tunic, when it comes to video games, “gold” has always been synonymous with “Zelda.”

 The Legend of Zelda wasn’t the only Nintendo series to use uniquely colored cartridges. For example, Donkey Kong games often used yellow, and Pokémon famously color-coded its cartridges based on the game’s name. Perhaps the most unique was the N64’s Pokémon Stadium 2, which was based on Pokémon Gold and Silver and used both their colors.

What are your favorite uniquely colored video game systems or cartridges? Drop a comment letting us know, and be sure to hit the share button to give your friends a dose of gaming nostalgia!

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