I didn’t mean to give the impression with yesterday’s update that Zelda was the first game with a strong bestiary, or a diverse one, or a well-crafted one. However, what you would typically find in the early ’80s was that RPGs had large casts of monsters with diverse powers, but those unfolded primarily through the abstraction of text and statistics. Action games either had large collections of mindless, homogenous beasts or else smaller collections of more clearly defined critters. Zelda stood apart by giving an extensive, RPG-sized bestiary the definition and clarity of a great action game.
So, on to the dungeon monsters.
Enemies in the Underworld
Gel/Zol: As you might expect from a game that hews to the RPG mold, the Gel is the simplest creature in the Zelda bestiary. They’re weak, easily beaten (they can be destroyed with the boomerang), and observe an utterly simplistic pattern: They quiver in place for a moment, move a single tile of the dungeon, and repeat. However, Gels do have a kind of rudimentary trick up their sleeve: Sometimes they come in the form of large, blob-like Zols, snowman-shaped creatures that split into two Gels when struck by a blow too weak to kill it outright. The split creature trick comes into play later in the game with more devious foes, so these guys aren’t just cannon fodder; they’re a learning experience. Which is just as well, because Gels are otherwise completely worthless — they don’t drop loot when slain.
Goriya: The Goriya is basically the underworld equivalent of the Moblin. They move more or less in the same patterns and attack much the same way. The main difference between the two creatures is that Goriyas chuck boomerangs rather than arrows.
Keese/Vire: The upgrade version of Gels and Zols, kind of. Keese (they’re bats) actually behave more or less like Peahats, with one important difference: You can hit them while they’re in the air. Like Gels, they’re the weakest form of enemy, going down even with a boomerang strike and yielding no loot. However, they also appear in the form of the bouncing, winged, four-eyed demons, Vire, which split like Zols when struck (unless you use the Master Sword, which instantly wipes them out). Vires pose much more of a threat than mundane Zols, though, leaping around dangerously — and the Keese they split into move more chaotically than Gels.
Rope: Simple, weak enemies that can pose a mild threat in groups. A Rope moves in a straight line across the dungeon until it hits a wall and changes direction. When Link crosses its line of sight, it’ll speed up to attack… but only in a straight line.
Pols Voice: The Pols Voice move around more or less like Vires, except they usually appear in greater numbers and soak up a ridiculous amount of damage… unless you know their weakness. That’s the infamous part of these guys, since in the Japanese version they could be killed by shouting into the Famicom’s integrated microphone. On the NES, which lacked a built-in mike, they’re weak instead to the arrow, which pieces them and can kill several in a single shot. Pols Voice seem to drop Rupees (which double as arrow ammunition) quite generously, effectively requiring the same zero resource expenditure as shouting into the Famicom mike. And, unlike Vires, Pol Voice don’t burst into bats when struck. They just up and die.
Bubble: I’ve written about Bubbles, the only enemies in the entire game that simply cannot killed or stunned. These guys float around and do no damage when they hit Link, but they’re the worst regardless. Their touch causes Link to become rendered incapable of swinging his sword for a few seconds. I guess a room full of Bubbles wouldn’t be so bad, but of course they tend to show up with the nastiest enemies in the game, leaving you incapable of fighting back at the worst possible time. Shockingly, they get even worse in the Second Quest, appearing in two colors: One makes Link permanently incapable of using his sword until he bumps into a Bubble of the other color. Horrible!
Wallmaster: Tricky guys. You don’t see them when you first enter their lair. But if you stand near the room’s outer walls, they emerge a few tiles from Link and move toward him. They don’t hurt Link if they touch him, but the result is much worse than mere damage: They drag him all the way back to the beginning of the dungeon. Did I mention they generally only appear in the room directly before the boss? And that you don’t have the Ocarina of Time/Wind Waker-style warps across the dungeon?
Moldorm/Lanmola: I can never keep these guys straight. The Lanmolas are the faster ones, I guess, but basically they’re the same thing: They appear in pairs, scuttle around the dungeon like centipedes, occasionally even doubling back on themselves. Stab quickly and they die quickly. Weirdly, despite how non-threatening they are, the game treats them like bosses: Once they die, they’re gone forever.
Gibdo: These guys show up very front-loaded, because they’re pretty easy to dispatch. They wander along slowly toward Link, marching along straight lines even as they recoil from your attacks. In a nice touch, they’re among the few dungeon enemies who seem particularly vulnerable to fire. Which you’d expect from a mummy, right?
Stalfos: You’d be hard-pressed to find a difference between these guys and Gibdos, at least in the First Quest. They move the same, act the same, and die even more easily.
Darknut: Perhaps the most infamous enemies in Zelda, Darknuts are tremendously daunting… mainly because they’re completely invulnerable from the front. They’re also aggressive in their randomness. You need to strike them from the side or back, but they don’t make it easy; they quickly turn to face Link, marching toward him even as they present their invulnerable side. I’ve written quite a bit about these guys, but suffice to say they’re dangerous whether they appear on their own or in mixed company.
Like Like: Ah, these shield-eating bastards. A Like Like can’t hurt Link directly, but they make a beeline for him and soak up a ton of damage. If you don’t manage to kill it before it reaches you, they eat your shield. This leaves you vulnerable to projectiles and costs you a bunch of money (at least 90 rupees) to replace the shield.
Wizzrobe: Easily the deadliest foe in Zelda, for reasons enumerated in previous entries. The Blue Wizzrobe might also be the cheapest enemy in the game, pinning you down as it advanced on you while firing non-stop magic beams. Dangerous alone, these guys become even more ferocious when you’re juggling multiple enemy types that leave you distracted and less capable of evading their attacks.