The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
  • Genre:
    • Action Adventure
  • Platform:
    • Game Boy
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 06/06/1993
    • US 08/01/1993
    • UK 12/01/1993
Score: 90%

This review was published on 05/18/2013.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is a 2-D action adventure with an overhead view released for the Game Boy in 1993. This was the first portable Zelda game, so it was a big deal back in the day. It's the fourth Zelda game ever released, the last one being The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. For a while, people used to regard Link's Awakening as the direct story sequel to A Link to the Past, but the releases of future Zelda games for the Game Boy Color, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, altered that perception. Development on Link's Awakening began as a port of A Link to the Past, but the game evolved into an entirely new Zelda adventure. Because the game was too good to be in black and white, it later got an enhanced colorized port for the Game Boy Color. Despite being released on a portable, Link's Awakening can stand toe-to-toe with its console brethren.

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Link's Awakening is one of the few Zelda games in the series that isn't set in the land of Hyrule. The game starts with Link, the protagonist of this adventure, sailing the high seas on a ship. Like what usually happens in these situations, he is shipwrecked by an awful storm. Link washes onto the shores of a small island with a large egg on it, where a young girl rescues him. Welcome to Koholint Island, where this whole game takes place. Link awakes inside the girl's house, and is greeted by her family. They hand him his trusty shield, but inform him that he'll have to find his sword himself. A warrior with no sword is no warrior at all, so Link sets off on his quest to fetch his blade of heroism. When Link makes it to the beach to recover his sword, he meets a mysterious owl that tells him mysterious things. Link then goes on a quest to uncover the island's mysterious secrets and find a way back home to the land of Hyrule. You could say he's lost. It's a little cliche, but it's a classic introduction nonetheless. Much like A Link to the Past, Link's Awakening doesn't waste a whole lot of time in its introduction sequence, so players can jump right into the action.

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The game starts proper once Link recovers his sword from the sandy beach and receives instructions from the owl of mystery. Link's sword and shield can be assigned to any of the two face buttons on the Game Boy, and away you go. Pressing the sword button will have Link swing his sword, and holding it down charges it up for a big spin attack, like in A Link to the Past. One new mechanic is how the shield is utilized; in previous Zelda games, the shield would automatically block any projectile attacks, provided Link was facing the right way. Now Link can hold up his shield by holding down the shield button, allowing him to not only black projectiles, but melee attacks, as well. In fact, you can block just about anything with this snazzy shield. If you're not too good at the game, you can hold up the shield pretty much non-stop to block almost anything. You can even hold up the shield at the same time as the sword, which practically turns you into an impregnable tank. It's a fantastic mechanic that carries over into virtually all of the future Zelda games. Any time you use a shield in a 3-D Zelda game, you can thank Link's Awakening for pioneering the concept. The shield can be a little overpowered in Link's Awakening, but it's an awesome mechanic all the same.

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Koholint Island is one big place, even though it looks like a small island from afar. It has a colossal map that takes the entire game to fully explore. A Link to the Past sort of had two small parallel maps to explore that equated one large adventure, but Link's Awakening opts to go with one humongous area instead. Blocks fill up on the map as you explore the island, which is a helpful way to figure out where you are and where you have been. This is where you'll be spending most of the game, so you better get used to it. The world map of every Zelda game generally acts as the hub that connects to all other locations, and Koholint Island certainly serves that function, but it also does something else. Exploration in Koholint Island is actually similar to how exploration works in a Metroid game like Super Metroid. The island has a lot of interconnected paths with secrets galore. There are plenty of varied locations to visit, too. You've got a mysterious forest reminiscent of the Lost Woods, a desert to the south, a graveyard, several villages, a castle, and the suspicious egg situated on a giant mountain to the north. That egg is pretty central to the plot, but I'll avoid mentioning spoilers here. It's not hard to get around the island, thanks to the conveniences of warp technology. Early on in the game, you'll encounter these strange warp holes that all connect to each other. The more of them you find, the more places you'll be able to warp to. Koholint Island is a fun place to explore.

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Mabe Village is the main village of the game. There is one other village, but this is the one you'll be spending most of your time visiting and revisiting. The conclusion of every journey usually has you returning to the village to figure out where to go next. The one thing that makes this village unique when compared to the towns in previous Zelda games is its personality. There are a lot of colorful characters living in this village, and getting to know them is part of the fun. Almost every single inhabitant of Mabe Village has a name and unique personality. It was highly unusual for towns to be this detailed back then, so Link's Awakening was ahead of the curb. The young girl who rescued Link is named Marin, and she is often found near the village center singing a seemingly magical song. Tarin, her dad, is a rotund fellow who sort of looks like Mario. Ulrira is a shy old man who never leaves his house that communicates Link throughout his quest via telephone, giving him helpful hints. The shifty shop keeper has a Chinese look about him, which is an accurate stereotype. On a side note, something cool yet devious you can do is actually steal from the shop. You read that read; Link's Awakening allows for shoplifting. Doing so will have the other villagers refer to you as a thief, though. I guess word gets around quickly in Mabe Village. Anyway, those are just a handful of the cool characters available to talk to in Mabe Village. There are also cameos from other Nintendo games, like Mr. Write from the Super Nintendo version of SimCity. If you're bored with Mabe Village, then you can visit the game's other village, the Animal Village. This place is home to a bunch of talkative anthropomorphic animals. It's a pretty cool place to visit, too, but you don't do a whole lot there. When it comes to awesome villages, Link's Awakening nails it. I would say the only downside is that there aren't more towns, but really, Mabe Village is all you need.

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What would a Zelda game be without items? Items and upgrades are everywhere in Link's Awakening. Acquiring items expands the scope of areas Link can explore, like in any good Zelda game. Most of these items return from previous Zelda adventures, like the bombs, bow, hookshot, boomerang, magic powder, shovel, etc. These items do what you'd expect them to, like blowing up cracked walls with bombs, grappling across pits with the hookshot, sprinkling the magic powder to light torches, and so on. One cool new addition to this game is the bomb arrow. You can combine the bombs with arrows and get EXPLOSIVE ARROWS! I don't know about you, but I think that's awesome. The best of the new items, however, is the Roc's Feather. This baby allows Link to jump. That may not sound like a big deal, but Zelda games set in the overhead view rarely allow players to jump freely. Roc's Feather does just that, and it's easily the best item in the game. You can jump over pits, enemies, and anything else that might harm you. It's a great way to dodge attacks. The more items you get in your arsenal, the trickier it gets to solve puzzles, as you have a bigger bag of tricks to deal with them. You need to find the right tool for the job, as they say. The only problem with the way items work in Link's Awakening is the lack of available buttons on the Game Boy. There are only two buttons that can be used for items, which can be assigned during the pause menu screen. Because of the lack of buttons, you'll be entering and exiting the menu screen constantly. As annoying as this gets, the menu screen is pretty streamlined, so it's not too bad. And to be fair, it's not the fault of Link's Awakening that the Game Boy has too few buttons.

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Something I neglected to mention earlier is that Link's Awakening has side-scrolling segments. Yep, you read that right. Every so often, you'll enter a side-scrolling segment that is reminiscent of Zelda II and the Mario games. Being able to jump is kind of essential for these sections, so you'll need to equip the aforementioned Roc's Feather when entering one. Since these sections play like Mario games, there are an assortment of enemies that make cameo appearances from the Mario series, like Goombas and Thwomps. It's a bit unsettling seeing Mario characters in a Zelda game, but it's not a bad crossover. And like in any Mario game worth its salt, you can stomp on Goombas to defeat them. They're some of the only enemies in Link's Awakening that can be defeated in such a fashion. What's funny is that you can pull out a sword at any time and brutally murder these helpless Goombas. It's a strangely amusing thing to see. Side-scrolling sections like these usually appear inside of dungeons, and they provide a nice break from the ardors of a dungeon. There are even puzzles to solve in these sections on occasion, which is something you wouldn't see in the average Mario game. Not that this is a Mario game. These sections are offered in very short bursts, so don't sweat it if they aren't your thing. In the end, the side-scrolling sections act as a nice way to add variety to Link's Awakening.

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With a total of eight dungeons, Link's Awakening is no slouch in the dungeon department. In order to enter most dungeons in Link's Awakening, you need a key. This is different when compared to how it works in other Zelda games, though the dungeons themselves aren't that different. Dungeons are still where the majority of the game's puzzles can be found, and they're as puzzling as ever. I'm serious. Link's Awakening ups the ante on puzzles by leaps and bounds when compared to A Link to the Past. Some of these puzzles are too sophisticated, so you may find yourself getting stumped. The one puzzle everyone seems to have issues with is in the Eagle's Tower. It's a tower with multiple floors and pits connecting them. The objective is to carry around a steel ball and throw it at several pillars to collapse part of the tower onto itself. You have to transport the steel ball into various rooms and find ways to get it past certain obstacles. If you think that sounds complex, then rest assured that it's a lot more complex than it sounds. While the difficulty of some puzzles can be a problem, the increase in challenge is overall a good thing. Beyond tough puzzles, dungeons are about finding keys to open doors, eventually culminating in finding a new item that is required to completing the dungeon. Link's Awakening further develops the one puzzle per room formula, so usually a room will be locked until you solve its puzzle and unlock it with a key or switch. This gives the dungeons a nice flow between combat with brawny enemies and solving brainy puzzles. Something to note is that the compass now has a new feature: it shows the locations of all treasure chests inside a dungeon. It goes without saying that this is very helpful. Another nice touch is how every dungeon in the game has its own, unique music theme. The game already earns high marks in the music category, but this takes it an extra mile. Even A Link to the Past didn't do this, and that was a console release. Link's Awakening really knocks it out of the park when it comes to fantastic dungeon design.

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At the end of every dungeon awaits a boss, like in most Zelda games, but Link's Awakening introduces the notion of mid-bosses. While mini-bosses existed in previous Zelda games, this is the first time that Zelda has had unique bosses in the middle of every dungeon. Mid-Bosses usually aren't terribly difficult, so fights with them don't last too long. That makes sense, right? Defeating a mid-boss will unlock a mid-warp that allows players to easily warp between the start and middle of a given dungeon. It's a handy dandy shortcut if you ever need to exit a dungeon to restock on supplies, or if you want to quit the game while inside of a dungeon. As for the big bosses that show up at the end of a dungeon, you need a special boss key in order to reach them. The boss key is the last item you acquire in a dungeon, and it's typically the hardest thing to get. A dungeon's main boss tends to be much bigger and much more menacing than the mid-boss, as it should be. Most of the time, you'll have to use the item you obtained inside of the dungeon to beat the boss. This can give the bosses a puzzling feeling, like they're living puzzles that have to be solved. One such boss is this clown genie dude who comes out of a pot. He seems invincible at first, but if you use the Power Bracelet to pick up and throw the pot to smash it, you'll eventually be able to damage him. Some bosses are throwbacks to A Link to the Past, like the wiggly worm thing. Almost all of the bosses are new, though, so don't worry about any rehashes. All in all, Link's Awakening has some killer bosses.

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As far as optional items go, you can collect 4 heart pieces to increase your maximum heart count. A lot of heart pieces are simply laying on the ground somewhere, but a few of them are obtained through side quests. An example would be the fishing mini-game; catch the biggest fish in the pond, and you'll get a heart piece. The side quests are usually pretty simple and rarely require you to go too out of your way, which is a good thing, I'd say. Link increases his maximum health after beating a boss automatically, so you'll get more life even if you opt to not collect any heart pieces. There are also these mysterious sea shells to collect. The sea shells of mystery are usually hidden discretely under bushes in suspicious spots. What do the sea shells do? Well, if you take enough of them to a certain mysterious place of mystery, you'll get a more powerful sword that can shoot killer beams when Link is at full health. It's a totally optional upgrade, but well worth the trouble. You can't level up or anything, so it's through finding these upgrades in the environment that you become stronger. The optional things in Link's Awakening add a nice amount of hours to the game's overall length and are generally worth doing.

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This is the first Zelda game that birthed the concept of the trading quest. It's something of a tradition that continued in many of the future Zelda games. While completely completing the trading quest is optional, certain portions of the quest are required to progress in the game. The trading quest is essentially one big chain of trades, where an item from one character must be traded to another character. It all starts off with you winning a Yoshi doll at the local crane game, which is a mini-game you can play to win extra prizes. You take the Yoshi doll to someone else to exchange it for a ribbon, then you trade the ribbon to another person for some dog food, you give the dog food to a crocodile for some bananas, and so on. You can do this stuff throughout the game as you explore new areas, so you don't have to do a lot of backtracking to finish this quest, provided you started it early on in the game. The ultimate prize for finishing this quest isn't that great, but it's a fun ride while it lasts. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has a trading sequence nearly identical to this one. Link's Awakening is a pretty inspirational game, when you get right down to it.

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The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is so good that it influenced the 3-D Zelda games that came after it. If you're wondering what the best Game Boy game ever is, then look no further than Link's Awakening. This portable Zelda adventure is easily on par with any console Zelda release, and that's quite a feat. I would even go as far as to say that this is one of the best Zelda games ever released. There are other wonderful games on the Game Boy, but none come close to touching Link's Awakening.

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