Review by kristina kim
"Link's dreams are more adventure-filled than most other games"
Zelda was bound to make an appearance on the Game Boy in one form or another, and lucky for many gamers, it's a totally new and slightly different adventure than previous offerings. Many Zelda fans seem staunchly divided over the Game Boy Zelda incarnation, whether it be the slightly different gameplay mechanics than the refined SNES Zelda game, or that this is merely a side-story in the entire Zelda picture.
Zelda works surprisingly well on the Game Boy, considering the graphical limitations of the tiny 8-bit underdog. Each gameplay screen is considered one ''square'' of the entire world map, similar in function to the first NES Zelda outing. Most of the sprite designs and animations were lifted straight from the SNES Zelda, however, although tailored here to fit properly on the GB screen. The enemies and bosses are large and well detailed, as well as sporting some decent animation.
But in the end, it's the small nuances that will bring a smile to your face. The oddball albeit brief side-scrolling sections of several dungeons (and their surprising tenants) add some interesting platform gaming elements to the puzzle hacking. The enemies that seem to have personalities not just in their appearance, but also in their animations. A village full of walking, talking, animals...maybe Link really is dreaming.
Zelda's graphics are very conservative, and rightly so; every Zelda game has some element to the graphics that will always remain the same. Even with the technical leaps made with the Nintendo 64, Zelda still looks like Zelda. Those pots that are the same size as link. The crazy looking chickens. Even the rocks. The personality of what makes Zelda so endearing is reflected through the graphics, and Awakening is no different.
There's some slowdown here and there, and while it does get unmanageable, it never occurs at inopportune times. Otherwise, the graphics are extremely well done.
How is it that a near-decade old game on an 8-bit system can receive a 10 in the sound category?
Classic Zelda tunes? check. Classic Zelda ''you figured out the puzzle'' ring tone? check. Classic Zelda ''fell through the crack in the floor'' wail? check. What more could we ask for? how about some new music as well, some of which is just as good as the classic Zelda overworld tune? different music for each dungeon (although there are only really 3 dungeon scores)? Everything that should be in a Zelda game sound wise is definitely here, even through the tiny GB speaker, it comes through intact and instantly recognizable. For those that are new to the series, they should find that some of the music and sound effects from the Zelda series is a definite part of what gives it so much character. There isn't quite another game that makes solving a puzzle quite as satisfying, if only to hear that charming ring tone. Or to hear an arrow bounce off an enemy shield. Or to bomb open a secret passageway. Or to start up a dash. Or to swim in a lake. Or to pick up a bush. Or to cut down some grass. Part of Zelda's timelessness will always be it's distinct audio personality.
One of the rotten tomatoes lobbed at Link's Awakening is that it's control scheme should have been refined. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, it even improves in some ways upon the control scheme of the SNES Zelda. With only 2 buttons at your command, you are freely able to assign whatever item to whichever button you wish - however, you can never use more than 2 items at the same time. While this may seem clumsy and awkward at first, as you'll have to keep switching items in the sub-screen, the game is never demanding to the point of frustration. Furthermore, i always considered the control scheme of the SNES Zelda to be too busy; it was difficult to master several techniques at once, all of which are called upon later in the game.
On the subject of items, which has always been a key element of Zelda games, there's something old and something new; there's the classic sword and shield, as well as the bow, boomerang, and other classic Zelda tools. Then there are several new items thrown in that expand upon the gameplay mechanics. There's the feather, which actually allows you to jump, something Zelda fans never anticipated. Awakening really refines the gameplay of A Link to the Past by simplifying it; it cut down to the core weapons/tools necessary to get through the structure of the game, but by the end of the game all of them will be necessary. There were many times in LTTP where i felt certain items were extraneous and could be done without - and specific puzzles that required them could be changed to suit another item.
Shigeru Miyamoto, brainchild at Nintendo, has gone on record saying that whenever he creates a new incarnation of a series of games, he likes to add some gameplay twists not seen previously, not only to keep the series from getting stale, but for the betterment of the game in general. Awakening does contain the classic Zelda gameplay, namely traversing dungeons in numerical order, each of which contains some precious treasure that can only be successfuly obtained by mastering some new tool or ability. It also throws some new, frankly, strange bits into the mix. There are brief stages between dungeons where you will switch to a side-scrolling perspective and...play a short platform stage akin to a Mario game. Then there's the platform-esque gameplay, further augmented by the ability to jump. While these may seem closer to blasphemy than innovation, the new gameplay elements work well, and are actually quite fun. Furthermore, they're so brief and quickly completed (although not to suggest they were an afterthought) that they do not ruin the pacing of the game; rather, they serve to liven it up by throwing an occasional curveball.
Where would we be today without those fantastically designed Zelda dungeons. There's something about them that's magical. Each one, in and of themselves, is one gigantic puzzle made up of many smaller ones. The learning curve is amazingly smooth, and at the end of the game when you've mastered the Zelda dungeon formula, you''ll still be racking your brain. There is something that's quite addicting about Zelda, that's retained even on GB; it gives such a sense of accomplishment that there's not quite a better feeling in the world.
Of course, no game is perfect, and i won't deny Awakening the harsh standard that most other games have to live up to: there can't be any glitches where if you're out, you're out for good. And unfortunately, Link's Awakening has one such glitch. For that, i will remove half a point from the score.
Zelda on Game Boy is an utterly refined, amazingly diverse and ultimately satisfying gameplay experience.
Zelda on any system (except for the CD-i...), is not a game to be missed. The classic elements of what defines a Zelda game, not only in it's aesthetic qualities but also in it's gameplay mechanics, all hold true in Link's Awakening. Zelda gives us a magical feeling that cannot be obtained anywhere else, nor can we be without.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 11/23/02, Updated 11/23/02
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