Review by darthjulian
Without a doubt the most ambitious title for the original Game Boy, and ultimately the best
The first two Legend of Zelda titles for the NES became mega-sellers pretty quick, with Nintendo having managed to establish another lucrative and popular franchise next to Super Mario. However, with "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past", the series reached a whole new level of quality only a handful of games could come even close to, and after this tremendous financial success and critically acclaimed highlight, expectations for the Game Boy adventure of Link were considerable, and some even thought that a Zelda game is too complex for a Game Boy cartridge, but Nintendo gave the undeniable proof that this was not the case by creating this timeless masterpiece.
For a Legend of Zelda game, the story in "Link´s Awakening" is honestly pretty unique and at times even odd, with the premise of the plot already standing out of the usual structure of Zelda storylines. The game starts with Link traveling across the ocean on his small ship, attempting to return to Hyrule after having trained in far away lands. However, his ship is being caught in a violent storm, and Link is ultimately being washed overboard. Some time later, Link finds himself unconscious at the beach of Koholint island, where he is found by a beautiful girl named Marin, who brings the shipwrecked hero to her home and takes care of him with the help of her father Tarin. Later, Link is being told by a mysterious owl that he has to awaken the Wind Fish in order to return home, and he has to do so by collecting all eight Instruments of the Sirens and playing the Ballad of the Wind Fish with these instruments before the giant egg found on top of Mt. Tamaranch, where the Wind Fish is sleeping. A Zelda storyline not involving neither Princess Zelda nor Ganondorf as significant characters already is quite surprising, as is the entire plot involving the Wind Fish and the secret of Koholint, but it´s an ultimately engaging and interesting tale, even though it involves the weaknesses of other Zelda titles in terms of story and character development.
The basic gameplay concept for "Link´s Awakening" is highly reminiscent of "A Link to the Past", being a 2D action/adventure presented from a topdown perspective. A lot of its predecessor´s items and tools have also made their way into this sequel, giving the game a familiar feeling. That does not meant that "Link´s Awakening" is merely a rehash of the legendary SNES masterpiece. On the contrary, it features some new and intriguing elements as well, with the most significant one being Link´s ability to jump now, an ability he has to use quite often in order to get over gaps, for example. It feels rather odd for a Zelda title, but it works just fine thanks to the exact and easy to execute controls, although you sometimes have to be a little too precise with your exact jumping position. The battle system remains practically the same, with your sword still being your main weapon which can also be charged in order to execute a spinning slash again. As in ALttP, you can also switch between certain secondary items (most of which are quite unique) and you can even use other weapons like the boomerang or the bow. This system is excellent per se, but you´re required to switch from one secondary item to another very often, a fact that can get pretty annoying at times. The dungeon and map designs are once again first rate and a total blast for Zelda veterans, having tons of clever and tricky puzzles for you to solve and abounding mysteries to be uncovered on the vast island of Koholint. A rather new aspect for a Zelda game here is the trading concept, which allows you to trade certain items you found on the island with certain people you encounter, and in return they might give you an item you need in order to enter a new dungeon. As for the difficulty level, "Link´s Awakening" roughly is on the same level as "A Link to the Past", which of course means that it´s a perfect mix between a good challenge (especially with some of the boss enemies) and beginner friendly handling. To cut things short, "Link´s Awakening" is an amazingly well playable title that more than lives up to the reputation of the series for featuring awesome gameplay.
Much like it Super Nintendo predecessor, "Link´s Awakening" is being viewed from a topdown perspective, with all the necessary details being clearly visible and nicely detailed, like the insides of certain houses or the dungeons. The new 2D passages feature practically the same sprites and designs as the normal game view. Which is actually a good thing, since "Link´s Awakening" manages to be an outstanding achievement for a Game Boy title in terms of visuals. As mentioned above, the locations and dungeons feature a lot of well recognizable details, which is quite important for the sake of collecting items, for example. Link himself has also been designed excellently, and unlike his colleague Mario in his flawed GB debut "Super Mario Land", he really does look like the Link we all know and love and resembles his past incarnation on the SNES closely, with all the details of his outfit (like his famous pointy hat) being perfectly visible. Enemy designs are equally good, and there are some boss enemies that look simply impressive for a Game Boy title, being huge in size and being presented without the game´s engine suffering from slowdowns and framerate inconsistencies in the process. There are also some beautifully drawn comic stills in the intro and ending sequences, and they are even slightly animated and look simply fantastic, giving the game an even more impressive and distinct charm. What´s left for me to say is that with "Link´s Awakening", we´re probably dealing with the visually most impressive title you could find on the original Game Boy, representing yet another testament to Nintendo´s know-how as a developer.
It´s always a difficult task to judge the music and sound in a Game Boy game properly and in an unbiased way. We know that the sound chip of this handheld has its limitations and disadvantages, with a majority of the early games either featuring a simple combination of several (horrible sounding) bleep sounds or no real music at all ("Alleyway", anyone?). Of course things were improving over the years, but the audio quality nevertheless remained far behind the standards of home consoles. However, "The Legend of Zelda: Link´s Awakening" marks a considerable exception. First of all, nearly all of the songs you´ll be hearing have been composed extremely well and fit the overall atmosphere of the game perfectly, especially the funnier and sometimes even odd tunes. They might not be as epic or heroic as in "A Link to the Past", for that matter, but seeing that "Link´s Awakening" it´s a more lighthearted Zelda experience in general, this makes perfect sense and will surely please all fans of the Zelda franchise. But not only has the music been wonderfully composed, it also sounds great even coming from the weak Game Boy speakers. It´s not home console worthy material, but infinitely better than almost anything else you might hear in a Game Boy title. As with the graphics, Nintendo deserves praise for getting this performance out of Nintendo´s technically limited handheld console.
To me, "The Legend of Zelda: Link´s Awakening" simply is the best title ever to grace on the original Game Boy, easily outclassing its competitors in terms of technical brilliance as well as outstanding gameplay designs. In some ways, its production values are so high and the results are so good that it can hold up extremely well these days and rivals even some more recent titles when it comes to sheer enjoyment. It´s not the best Zelda title ever, but nevertheless an experience no Zelda fan or Game Boy owner should miss - it´s a must-buy, even after all these years, either as the original or as the improved Game Boy Color version.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
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