Review by Joe the Destroyer
"Giant eggs, talking owls, and alligators that like dog food. Ever wonder what the effects of the psychedelic drug era were?"
Every time new screenshots caught my eye of any ''latest'' Zelda game, I always stood awe-stricken and incredulous at what stood before me. Seeing screens for Link to the Past on the side panel of an SNES console box made nearly wet myself. The same nearly happened one day at the local Fred Meyer when I skimmed the latest issue of Nintendo Power. I opened to a page that was a preview for the last Zelda title named, ''Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening.'' It wasn't eye-popping graphics that caught my eye, or the latest gimmicks system that is prevalent in many of today's Zelda games. It was the new array of characters and the new setting that took me by surprise. No longer was Link just in Hyrule, but now on an island called Coholint Island. Reading on and on and eventually seeing the rap video US commercial prepped me for the game until I finally bought it. What a purchase it was! After playing and getting about halfway through it, my mom decided to hand my Gameboy to my then 3-year-old niece while I was at school. I came home to find all my progress down the drain as she erased my file. Even having to play through all that time, I was still able to appreciate the game. Though it was much more simplistic than the previous title, as a Gameboy game it was, and still is, a stellar addition to my library.
In this game, Link (although I'm not sure which of the many Links) is out at sea when his ship is destroyed in a storm. He is later found amidst the wreckage by a young woman named Marin. He has found himself shipwrecked on a mysterious island with a giant egg resting at the top of a mountain called Coholint Island. Link eventually learns that the egg belongs to a being called The Wind Fish, and that the only way off the island is to awaken said Wind Fish. So, Link must travel all across the island in search of the different instruments-not surprisingly cleverly hidden in dungeons riddled with puzzles and creatures-with which he shall use to awaken The Wind Fish. Hmm... You mean Link isn't out to rescue a kidnapped maiden? What!?!?! Yes kids, it seemed inevitable. Eventually, Nintendo would have to have Link do something other than rescue women all the time, and since saving Hyrule from Space Aliens or competing in a fighting tournament to determine the world's greatest fighter seemed a bit out of place, this was the final result.
If you've played Link to the Past or the first Zelda game, you'll basically have the gameplay on this one down. You run around through the island, hacking up enemies. Throughout the game, you can obtain many different items either through finding them in special places, by doing certain events, or by buying them. Of these items, you can find seashells. After you gain a certain amount of seashells, you can take them down to a place called Seashell Manor. I'm not saying what happens there, you'll have to find out. By this time, the usual 2D battle system hadn't yet overstayed its welcome. By the time the Oracles games came out, I was screaming for a little innovation to the battle system and engine. It's odd how something so painfully simplistic can work so well, though. I mean, there really is no learning curve to this game if you've played the previous ones, plus it maintains the classic feel of any other Zelda game.
However, the transition from console to portable seemed to be missing something. Like it or not, Gameboy cannot produce color unless you play a Gameboy game on Super Gameboy or any of the other original GB compatible handhelds (GBC, GBA, etc.). Even then, though, all you get is four colors. As you can tell, I'm somewhat beating around the bush. Why not just go straight for the throat... It just doesn't feel the same without color. One thing that makes many of the Zelda games so great is the environment bursting with life and gorgeous color. One can almost think of the forest in Link to the Past in which the canopy cast a shade on the ground, selling the lie that you're actually in a forest with lush greens around you and a light darkness cast on the ground. It would be unfair to just say that this game has awful graphics just because it's on Gameboy, though. Given what they did with the textures, Nintendo did marvelously.
The dungeons in most Zelda games contain different levels of lighting and shading to accentuate the theme of the dungeon. This is logical, after all; what would it be like if you went into a shadow themed dungeon that was brightly lit and full of golden walls and plants everywhere? This Zelda game did not have the benefit of different types of lighting and shading, so Nintendo really had to make due with their textures yet again. While the design of the levels came out fairly elaborate and the textures once again gave you the basic feel of the theme, something small still felt missing.
Nonetheless, the developers pulled through with the usual challenging Zelda dungeons, riddled with puzzles and mind-bending logic twisters. For instance, there is one level in which you must pick up a huge, iron ball and throw it at few different columns. Doing so causes them to crumble and changes the shape of the level a bit, giving you access to certain areas that were previously inaccessible. The trouble is you have to figure out how to get the iron ball to the right areas, where to take it, where to throw it, where to leave it, where to pick it up, etc. There are many obstacles riddled through out the area that make sure that doing so is no easy task. The only way around this is to think. While you won't get the type of smoke-pouring-out-our-ears or pulling-hair-until-you-profusely-bleed thinking like the type Alundra provides, you do get a decent, mental ''run-for-your-money.'' Like anything with truly balanced difficulty, the puzzles only keep getting harder and harder.
Those who enjoy exploring vast areas need not worry here. This game gives you more to explore than the fetish section at Castle Superstore. While you don't get quite the environment that Link to the Past gave us, you do get a nicely crafted island with loads of hidden caves and detours that can keep you busy for quite some time. With the acquisition of new items from the dungeons, the area you can search becomes greater and greater. Such exploring has many benefits for you to reap. Scattered throughout the game are various Heart Pieces and Seashells. Those who have played any Zelda games from Link to the Past and further on know the story with the Heart Pieces (collecting four of them gives you an extra heart on your life meter). The Seashells, on the other hand, are something a bit different. Collecting enough of them and taking them to Seashell Manor, which is also hidden somewhere on the island, can give you different prizes, one of which is incredibly helpful for completing the game.
Reaching further into Link's Awakening's bag of tricks, you can find the game's music and sound effects. Thumbing through the game's music bank will reveal a few catchy tunes, but, for the most part, a lacking soundtrack. Many of the songs in the soundtrack are just a collection uninspired melodies that sound something someone did with a midi player on a boring, rainy day. You know the type- He plays the music for his friends when they come over and they tell him he needs to get out and get some sunshine... Only he's forgotten what sunshine is. For instance, you have the main Zelda theme. At first, you might form a little smile hearing the familiar symphony toots and whistles. Before long, you begin to notice that it's really just a bunch of toots and whistles droning along like orphans in a child labor sweat shop being forced to make cheap racquets. The sound effects are probably the best they could have done for a Gameboy Zelda game. Gameboy's sound quality isn't totally impressive to begin with, but given what was offered for the different events (falling down a hole, bomb explosions, etc.), Nintendo didn't do totally bad there either.
The only elements in disfavor of this game are very minor ones, as you can tell. The music and semi-lifeless feel to the environment are downsides that are easily overlooked when you are presented with the solid dungeons and the loads of exploring that this game can give. The developers did a great job with the game. They addressed just about everything that is central to a Zelda game: Great dungeons, lots of exploration, and loads of secrets. One thing that definitely could have bumped the scale up to a 10 (or at least swayed my consideration a bit more in that direction) would have been an improved combat system. The only thing that seems to have improved combat at all for this game is the appearance of a new item called the Roc Feather, which allows you to jump. You wouldn't think it, but it actually does add a small amount to the combat, in that it gives you a new evasive maneuver to work with. However, I'm speaking more on the lines of actual offensive combat. Something like a combo attack or other attacks than just swinging your sword or using a charge hit.
All in all, if you're a big fan of the Zelda series, don't turn this game down. Give it a play, explore Coholint and all therein, and enjoy one of the more original storylines to the Zelda series.
Graphics: Fairly well done despite the deficit in environmental quality 8/10
Sounds: Some could have been a lot better 6/10
Controls: Great working controls 10/10
Plot/Storyline: Nothing epic, but something new nonetheless. I'll still praise it! 8/10
Gameplay: Loads of fun! 9/10
All Together: 9/10
*Another great Zelda
*Well done graphics
*It has a few mini-games
*Solid dungeon design
*Something new to the storyline
*Sound needed a little bit more
*Lacking environmental vibrancy
If you like Zelda, chances are, you'll really enjoy this game. If you've never played any Zelda games, but you like adventure games, this one is worth a good try. It's a fun game, probably one of the best on Gameboy.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/09/01, Updated 09/19/03
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