@snarfblam - I felt the same as you. I definitely prefer to have my sword, but the overworld was designed nicely. Some of the dungeons were a pain to find. An even bigger pain was finding the important items in the dungeon. Some of the blocks you push were unconventional. The game does feel better once you find a sword.
The3Dude - Overall a solid game. I'm definitely wasn't a fan of the Magical Sword being missing from the 2nd quest. Having only 8 hearts max didn't bother me. What would have been better in my option to offset only getting 8 hearts and no master sword was to get the step ladder in Map 1 to get the Blue Tunic earlier and get the Red Tunic early as well like level 5 or 6. The game was already tough with 16 hearts.
I would have put the Silver Arrows like Map 6 or 7 to make them a viable weapon instead of just using for Dark Link. With Bombs also being suck a vital weapon, it would have been good to get a max of 20 or 24 instead of the normal 16. I haven't finished Map 9 yet in the 2nd quest due to time constraints, but once I do, I'll write my review for you.
BTW - I read your other post about someone selling your game. That's happened to others I know. Nothing can be done about that though. You can only hope Nintendo steps in and shut them down.