If you were to take a big bag full of 100 random Zelda 2 reviews and reach in and grab one, this is what you'd likely read:
"After the negative feedback from players on how Zelda 2 changed the winning formula of the first game, Nintendo learned from their mistakes with this Black Sheep of the franchise and went back to what works for the next few installments."
I take some issue with this thinking. Firstly, Most of these reviews are coming from people who probably weren't even born when it was released. You have to remember, when this first came out in the late 80's we only had the orignal Zelda to compare it to, and that's hardly a huge franchise. Black Sheep? It's not like we all said "Hey, this sure is different from all the other ONE Zelda games out there, what a black sheep!" I love the first game, no doubt about it. But guess what? My friends and I back then also loved this one too. In fact, I can't remember anybody not liking Adventure of Link at the time.
Zelda 2 was an invovative & fresh take from the original game. Instead of your top-down perspective a lot of the game's done in side view. Running into enemies, going into caves, or adventuring into the palace switches to this side view where all the action and combat will be done (with the exception of visiting towns, which is also side view). Shield blocking and jump control are intregal to your successes here.
Some minor quibbles: First, you basically fight with a butter knife. No joke, the range on this thing is laughable at best. At full life you also shoot magical beams from it, but the range isn't very good and many enemies aren't affected by these.
Secondly, this is a HARD game. This isn't usually a big negative with me, however many of the hardest parts of the game are faced early on. Palace #3's boss always gives me fits and let's not forget ol' Death Mountain where you have to go to grab the hammer. Wow, this is very challenging and from there most of the game should go by a bit easier for most players.
Like almost all NES games from that era, there's also not a lot of clear direction on where to go. Specifically, I'm thinking of a point in the game where you have to cast the "SPELL" spell (no really, that's its name) to make something happen. The bad part about this is that up until that point casting this spell turns enemies into pitiful blue blob monsters. So for one part in the entire game this magic has a radically different effect and nobody really tells you about it. You'd never, ever normally cast this with no enemies around but you're expected to do just that here. Kind of cheap, if you ask me.
But enough of the bad crap, because honestly this is a really good title. For the first and only time in the series Link (the protagonist) earns experience points from killing enemies or finding "P" bags. What does the "P" stand for? Points, Experience? Oh well. Anyhow, earn enough experience this way and you'll have the option to raise 1 of 3 stats: Attack, Life, or Magic. Raising attack gives your butter knife more pop, raising life makes you (slightly) harder to kill, and raising magic allows you to cast magic more often.
But now I'm rambling!
So yes, this was and is a good game and not everybody thought its deviation to the original's formula was a bad thing that demanded a return to form back then :D