When I Was Your Age: Dan Ryckert

For most of us, we can look back at one video game that we played when we were younger that sparked our love of gaming. One world, one hero, or one adventure that made us lifelong players. They’re the games that blew our young minds and they are the games that will stick with us forever. These are those stories.

Throughout the 1980’s, there was one name that was synonymous with the hobby of video games. If you were a kid growing up during that period and you loved gaming, chances are that you played Nintendo. Their debut console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was a true phenomenon with nearly one third of all American households having an NES in their living room, and kids around the world were playing their games and falling love with their amazing characters. And for a young kid named Dan Ryckert from Kansas, those characters would spark a love of gaming that would follow him throughout his entire life and eventually lead him to a career in the gaming industry.

“I had an NES from the age of four, and to me, the NES was video games. At that age, I didn’t know about the Atari 2600 or Pong or anything that came before. I’d play arcade machines at pizza joints, but in terms of playing at home, NES was all I knew. I loved the Super Mario Bros. games, Punch-Out, Mega-Man, and dozens more games that I’d rent throughout those years.

My parents had been divorced for a few years at this point, so I had spent a lot of time between houses playing games with my dad and step-dad or watching them play. One game that I never felt comfortable playing when I was four or five years old was the first Legend of Zelda. I was fascinated by watching them play it, but my dumb little brain wasn’t ready yet to tackle the puzzles on my own.”

As the 80’s were coming to a close, gamers everywhere were being wowed by the exciting new technology being introduced by Nintendo’s biggest competitor, SEGA. The SEGA Genesis was released in 1989 alongside an impressive flagship title, Sonic the Hedgehog. This powerful new console featured bright, amazing new graphics capability that brought those worlds to life in a way never before possible. The 16-bit era of gaming had begun and Nintendo needed to respond with something new of their own or they would risk losing their dominance in the marketplace. Thankfully we wouldn’t have to wait long for their response, and in 1990 they released their next home console, the Super Nintendo in Japan (where it was known as the Super Famicom).

“The concept of a new console was so foreign to me at the time. I remember obsessing over the screens of Super Mario World in Nintendo Power, and my dad looked at it and said “I think this is for a different system.” My brain couldn’t wrap itself around the idea of a Mario game not being for the NES.”

The Super Nintendo was leaps and bounds beyond anything that was possible on the NES, and when he finally got his hands on one, Dan’s young mind was blown away by what he experienced. He was especially enamored with the newly released sequel to that adventure that had so challenged him a few years before.

“When I got a Super Nintendo for Christmas along with Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, it was revelatory. I still remember marveling at the sheer size of the Banzai Bill sprite in the first level of Mario World. But as amazing as Mario World was, it didn’t floor me as much as the beginning of Link to the Past.

Something about exiting Link’s House into the rain for the first time will always stick with me. The foreboding music, the guards warning Link that he shouldn’t be out during the storm, and the look of the rain itself hit me in a way I’ll never forget.”

Created by the powerhouse team of Director Takashi Tezuka and Producer Shigery Miyamoto, A Link to the Past was a prequel to the original game and told the story of a young boy named Link on a journey to claim the legendary Master Sword, defeat the evil Ganon, and save the Kingdom of Hyrule. It featured a large overworld map full of monsters to slay, dungeons to explore and secrets to discover, and young Dan was completely in love. The world was unlike anything he had experienced before and he dedicated himself to exploring every inch of it and discovering everything hidden within. The memories of that adventure are etched in his mind, and even some 30 years later he remembers it as if it was yesterday.

“Dashing around into everything like a madman once I got the Pegasus Boots. Tossing each and every item into the Great Fairy fountain to see if it would come back improved. Being confused by that electric bat that says he’s cutting your magic in half. Trees throwing bombs and then yelling at me. Turning into a bunny before I had the Moon Pearl. The Dark World/Light World dynamic being unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Swimming into every whirlpool and wondering where I’d wind up.

And of course, everything about entering that field north of the forest, seeing the animals scatter, approaching the pedestal, and holding the Master Sword above my head.”

Dan getting the Link to the Past strategy guide

The original Legend of Zelda had proven to be too much of a challenge for Dan as a young boy, but now that he was a little bit older he was finding the puzzles and problem solving of the series to be much more approachable.

“Maybe that’s part of the reason that I hold this game so near and dear to me. I had always been able to handle reflex-heavy platforming or action challenges like Mario, Mega Man, and Punch-Out, but puzzles eluded me when I was a very young kid. I still remember renting Bart vs. the Space Mutants several times and being absolutely baffled in the first level. By the time I had Link to the Past, I was seven years old and must have felt ready to tackle a bigger challenge on my own.

That’s not to say I didn’t struggle at times. I begged for a Link to the Past strategy guide for Christmas, and got a note from Santa saying “sorry Danny, I wasn’t able to find a Link to the Past guide.” Next Christmas, I finally got one and I couldn’t wait to use it to find the heart pieces and secrets that I wasn’t able to find on my own.”

Three decades later and The Legend of Zelda has become one of Nintendo’s flagship series, spawning a number of successful sequels including the recent blockbuster, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild which debuted on the Nintendo Switch in 2017 and has sold over 23 million copies. A Link to the Past meanwhile became one of the best selling games on the Super Nintendo and is regarded by many to be one of the greatest video games of all time (It was ranked #5 on our list).

For Dan, that experience when he was a boy turned into a passion for video games that eventually led him to a career in video games press. He got a job as an editor with Minneapolis based publication Game Informer where he worked until 2014 when he left to join the crew at Giant Bomb where he produced a number of memorable projects as well as serving as co-host on their pair of podcasts. In 2020 he left behind his career in gaming journalism when he accepted a position as a podcast producer for WWE. While creating video game content may not be his career anymore, his love of gaming is as strong as ever and he still goes back to revisit A Link to the Past on a regular basis.

“I play it at least a couple times a year, and it’s always a blast. I can basically do it with my eyes closed now but I still love every second of it. Years back, my friend and I put a couple TVs back to back and had a bet over who could beat it in one sitting the fastest. I won in about three hours.

One super cool thing that’s popped up in recent years is the Link to the Past Randomizer. It really turns everything on its head, and is a fascinating way to play it if you’re like me and you’re so used to where things are “supposed” to be.”

A Link to the Past has not only influenced an entire generation of game developers and helped to define the RPG genre of the 90’s, but it also affected how players like Dan looked at gaming. It created a sense of wonder that he wasn’t sure he’d ever experience again.

“It really taught me the power of games in terms of giving players a sense of discovery. Playing it so young, it set the bar SO high in terms of feeling like I was on a true adventure and finding secrets for myself. As I got older and played more and more games and the internet started breaking down every secret and strategy, it made me wonder if I’d ever be able to experience that feeling again.

That’s why playing Breath of the Wild was such an unbelievable experience for me. I really felt like that seven year-old kid again, out on an adventure and discovering things for myself (it didn’t hurt that I had it a couple weeks before it came out, so there was no risk of spoilers on social media or gaming sites). Talking to people about that game, it seems like everyone has their own experiences, their own path through the game that’s unique to them. It’s really something special and it’s the closest I’ve felt to something like that first time with Link to the Past.”

Even today, The Legend of Zelda holds a special place in Dan’s heart and that world and cast of characters will always mean a lot to him. His passion for the world of Hyrule can even crop up in some unexpected places.

“A month or so ago, something happened that really made me happy. I’m on Cameo so I’ll occasionally get booked for random corporate Q&As or things outside of the ordinary “Happy Birthday” types of videos. A dad reached out to me and told me that his son (who was about to turn 7) said he didn’t want a magician for his birthday party, he wanted a “famous gamer.” So the dad goes on Cameo and I’m the top one in the Gamer category and he reached out to me.

He asked if he could book me for a half hour during his kid’s Zoom birthday party, and that sounded really fun and unique. I accepted and put together a little presentation of some tips and tricks of various games and did some Q&A with the kids. One thing that kept coming up (unprompted by me!) was Breath of the Wild. All these young kids were bringing up their experiences and the secrets they found and the things that excited them, and it was so awesome to hear. These kids were right around the age I was when Link to the Past meant the world to me, and they were telling me all these stories about Breath of the Wild that made it clear it was having that same impact on them. To know the same series has that power generations later was incredibly heartening.”

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past has cemented it’s place in gaming history as one of the greatest role playing games of all time and one of the defining games of a generation. It’s a timeless masterpiece that you can still go back to decades later and experience the same sense of joy and discovery that it brought to players so many years ago. For those reasons and many more it sparked a love of gaming in Dan Ryckert that still shines bright today.

“The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was definitely the one I point to that sparked a lifelong obsession with games, but I’ll give a little context leading up to that. While I certainly LOVED video games prior to Link to the Past, that game kind of took things into a different stratosphere.”

Dan Ryckert spent over a decade as a successful game journalist and producer for Game Informer and Giant Bomb. He’s recently turned another one of his passions, his love of wrestling, into a career as a podcast producer for the WWE. He also got married at a Taco Bell which is totally rad.

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