The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is an installment in the Legend of Zelda series of action adventure games on Game Boy. If you’d like to know more about what a Zelda game is like then you can check out my review on the first title The Legend of Zelda. Link’s Awakening was originally planned to be a Game Boy port of the Super Nintendo game The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. However, due to some history lesson I don’t know all the details on it became its own game. Basically, you are sailing in a storm and end up shipwrecked on the shore of a mysterious island. You awaken in the house of the people that found you unconscious on shore. From this point on, it’s up to you to figure out where exactly you are and how to leave the island. As you play you learn that in order to leave the island, you’ll have to wake the Wind Fish that sleeps inside a giant egg atop the highest mountain. In order to wake it you’ll need to go through the dungeons, defeat the bosses, and get all of the special instruments to play a special song. Can you wake the Wind Fish to return home? Will waking the Wind Fish actually bring you home? Why don’t these creatures want you to wake it? Play and find out!
The gameplay is basically what you can expect from 2D Zelda games. You explore an overworld, go into dungeons, fight enemies, fight bosses, solve puzzles, do a trading sequence, help the inhabitants, and collect a number of special items needed complete the game as well as getting new weapons and items to help you fight and progress. In this game you also have the ability to switch which item is on A and B rather than just one of them. The trading sequence, as far as I can remember, really started here though. You get an item which you can trade to someone that needs it in exchange for something else that someone else needs until eventually you end up with the one item you want. There are some well-hidden secrets as well as the inclusion of hidden secret seashells that are bound to do something good if you collect enough of them. Don’t ask me why I know that, I’m just a kid! If you’ve played a Zelda game before, especially A Link to the Past, then you’ll probably get the hang of things in no time.
Even though it’s on a handheld, Link’s Awakening still does a lot of great things. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s lacking in speed, length, or depth. It also manages to be pretty unique in its approach. Unlike all of the previous installments, Link’s Awakening takes place on Koholint Island rather than in Hyrule. This allowed for different characters and enemies to show up. It’s nice for those that are new to the series that won’t understand all the lore and references, and it’s also nice for those that are familiar with the series but are sick of the overuse of the lore. You’ll even see appearances of characters from the Mario universe here. So it becomes a fun side adventure. The ability to put whatever two items you want out on either A or B makes for some more interesting possibilities and also leaves it up to you which setup is most comfortable for yourself. I also think the use of items for fights and puzzles is good, but it really shines in terms of how they affect progression. You need to get new items to get certain secrets you may have found earlier AND you need these items to further explore the overworld. If you can’t get to a dungeon or access a certain part of the map, then you’re clearly not supposed to be there. Instead of just having someone stand in your way and tell you not to go there you’re actually blocked by obstacles that you can tackle later with different equipment. This makes the adventuring feel much more natural and satisfying, and it’s executed so well here. I also really liked that not only are there a good amount of secrets to find but that here are different kinds of rewards for finding them. Plus the characters in this game are charmingly goofy and weird which makes them entertaining to talk to… even if they aren’t giving you any good information. The visuals are nice for the Game Boy and some of the music is pretty cool as well. The overall atmosphere of this game is just different in a good way. That’s a lot of great stuff to have for a handheld adventure on the Game Boy!
As much as I love Link’s Awakening I realize it isn’t perfect. The game runs pretty well considering the hardware, but there are some times where the framerate will slow down if there’s too much going on. Some of the music is great, but most of the dungeon themes sound like atmospheric background music more than catchy game themes. While the length of the game is good, there’s no dark world or parallel world of any kind this time around. I can also understand people not enjoying the lack of Zelda lore. Admittedly, it’s pretty weird to see fourth wall breaking and Mario characters popping up here and it’s not for everyone. You could see this one as a major or minor thing for various reasons but… well… for a game called The Legend of Zelda there sure is a lack of Zelda anywhere here. No Zelda. No Triforce. There are just a lot of staples missing that might make some fans sad. The use of rupees isn’t well-implemented here, a problem that I think many Zelda games struggle with. I found that you can find some decent sums of money as you go through the game’s dungeons and find some of the secrets, but there’s very little to spend it on. There are a couple mini games that you might need the money for more tries on, but you really only need about 100 rupees total to get those down, if even that. There’s a raft ride that costs a lot of money, but you’ll only need to do it once or twice really, and you can collect rupees during the ride anyway so it’s cheaper yet. The only items that really require lots of rupees are the shovel at 200 and the bow at 980. That’s 19 less than your max and the only time you’ll need to hoard that many rupees. So you COULD grind your way it early on which will be frustrating, wait until much later in the game which makes it less useful, or steal it which will mark you as a thief for the rest of the game should you return to the shop. There’s also a secret item you can obtain that’s optional, but it has to be traded with one of your current items so you might need to come back to trade again later or just trade the shovel later in the game since you won’t need it the entire time. Either way I feel like it should’ve been a permanent gain for all the hard work you do, especially for an item that’s a Zelda staple and not incredibly helpful in the grand scheme of things. There’s also a lot of hand-holding going on here. This was started back in A Link to the Past to be fair, but it’s definitely worse here. There’s an owl that follows you around and basically tells you where to go and what to do for half of the game. He eases up later on, but it’s still weird to be told what to do and where to go in a game based around exploration and adventure. This is only furthered in dungeons. Each dungeon seems to have at least one if not more stone slabs on walls that are missing a piece. If you find that stone piece in the dungeon then you can read the hints on the slabs to help you progress. This is nice that you have to work for it, but it’s still not as satisfying as figuring out a puzzle by yourself. On top of that you can go into the phone booths scattered around the overworld to ask for help on where to go and what to do next. These are at least optional, but with all the hand-holding the game can sometimes feel a little annoying. It’s more fun to figure things out yourself than to be told what to do all the time. Speaking of being told things all the time… there are two timed powerups that enemies will drop similarly to the clock in the first Zelda. One is the guardian acorn which ups your defense for a limited time or until you take enough damage or enter a new area. There’s also a piece of power which will give you increased attack power for the same kind of duration, but this one also knocks enemies flying across the screen when hit and gives you a bit of a movement speed boost. These two items don’t really have a great fit in general, but the biggest issue is that when you collect them a box pops up to explain what they and what they do… every single time. I mean, maybe if it was just for the first time or every time you reload the game, but it’s EVERY time you collect one of them on the ground. It’s so annoying to have to stop in your tracks in the middle of combat to go through text box you can’t skip that I honestly would do my best to avoid picking them up. Not to mention that this could’ve just been included in the house with all the tips on how to play that exists earlier on in the game. Yes, instead of looking in your manual there’s an in-game house with books on how to learn the basics of play. There’s just so much hand-holding here that it makes you wonder how stupid they thought their audience was when they made the game.
SPOILER PARAGRAPH: Skip this if you don’t want some major spoilers. Are those people gone? Alright, I’ll get into the section, but don’t go telling anyone. It’s a secret to everybody. So the big spoiler of the game is that it’s all the Wind Fish’s dream. You need to wake the Wind Fish to escape its dream. You COULD say that makes the game pointless, but it really doesn’t. As long as you really enjoyed the time playing, the characters, the atmosphere, and just everything the game has to offer then it was clearly worth playing. This is just the ending scene and doesn’t defeat any of your purpose because it was real to YOU. And how can you be upset about the whole game not being real when it’s a fictional universe in a video game!? Plus it’s a big middle finger to those people that are all hung up on the Zelda timeline as it can literally happen anywhere in it since it’s all a dream. It’s cool that the game makes you think about it, too. About halfway through the game, or maybe a bit further, it gets heavily hinted that everything on the island is a dream. So… it’s not really a big spoiler since it’s not a twist ending unless you’re an idiot. But this makes you really think about how real these people are, how real this place is, and if waking the Wind Fish is going to destroy it all. Is that something you want to do? Will you disappear along with everything else if you wake the Wind Fish? It’s really some cool, deep stuff for you to think about, and I love that. Also, while Ganon isn’t technically in here either, another common Zelda staple, you DO fight a form of the final boss that takes Ganon’s shape and does his attacks. So… take that how you will.
Alright, that’s all of the spoiler talk. There’s just one more thing I wanted to talk about. There is a remake of this game called Link’s Awakening DX. This version contains full color, an additional side quest for pictures, and an optional dungeon based around the new color display. The colorization is cool and pretty in a lot of spots, but some of the places look a little strange with the color. It’s kind of like watching a black and white movie for years to then see it colorized later. It’s weird. However, I still think it looks pretty good with color. Although you can only get color while it’s in your Game Boy Color or Game Boy Advance, if you have one it CAN still be played in the Game Boy. The new dungeon is cool because it’s hidden and optional. You can totally miss it if you’re not looking for it, and the way to it is pretty neat. The dungeon itself can be tackled pretty early on, but it can be pretty tough. Getting through it nets you the choice between two tunics. The blue one ups your defense like a permanent guardian acorn, and the red one ups your offense like a permanent piece of power. It’s a nice reward and gives some good replay value. The only weird part is that the dungeon doesn’t seem all that big nor all that reliant on color aside from a few spots. Plus, most of the enemies seem to be totally new which makes it feel strangely out of place. The picture side quest thing is triggered by going into the new photo building and talking to the photographer. From there on out you’ll have pictures taken of specific events in the game. It’s fun to try and get them all, but you can’t unlock every photo in one run because in the start you’ll be forced to either get one or the other based on your actions. Also, if you need to do a certain action that you can only do at a time-sensitive section of the game and you pass that part then you’re screwed. You just don’t get that picture. So why get the pictures? Why, to print them out with your Game Boy printer, of course! So while it’s fun to try and get these pictures by figuring out the tasks, it’s ultimately not worth your time to bother with that. Another small change I noticed is that this version has added hints in the dungeons and has changed the stone slabs to owl statues which require their beak to give you the hints. The visual change makes sense I suppose, but the extra hints aren’t really all that necessary. But hey, at least they fixed some of those typos that were in the original.
Overall, Link’s Awakening is a really great game. If you’re a Zelda fan you’ll probably love it, especially if you like 2D Zelda games. It’s an amazing experience on the Game Boy that is full of great atmosphere, quirky characters, wonderful game design, and some thought-provoking story all in the palm of your hand. I love this game, and I very highly recommend it to anyone looking to play Zelda games. If you don’t have it yet then you should just get the DX version for full color and the extra dungeon. Plus, that version is on the 3DS eshop so… no excuse not to get that for you 3DS users. However, if you have the original then you really don’t need to get DX unless you’re a huge Zelda fan… like myself. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is simply a must-have for Game Boy gamers. It’s also my favorite Game Boy game of all time so… I mean that’s neat, right?