Review by Arkrex
Poor Link. He has survived countless brutal onslaughts led by the evil thief-lord Ganondorf, yet he now falls prey to one of nature's simple workings - a ravaging storm at sea. Alas, he isn't quite a goner; Link is marooned off the coast of the mysterious Koholint Island and is soon cleared of his groggy state. But it would seem that his beloved Hyrule and Princess Zelda are both foreign to the peculiar residents here. However, an almighty Wind Fish lies atop one of Koholint's peaks and according to the oddly familiar denizens, the Wind Fish holds the key to it all.
But he's fast asleep, and the only thing that can wake him up are eight musical instruments that just so happen to be located in the depths of eight treacherous, puzzle-filled dungeons. Princess Zelda may be nowhere to be found, but Link's Awakening is as pure a Zelda experience as you can get. It also happens to be the first portable game in the illustrious series. And it also happens to be one of the best damn games ever made.
Link's Awakening was the fourth official Zelda title which followed on after the SNES's seminal A Link to the Past. Compromises had to be made in the hardware switch. First of all, graphics were limited to four shades of grey and the audio capabilities went back to 8-bit quality. But it didn't matter. Link is a sharply drawn monochromatic sprite with a wide range of crisp animations as he slashes at grass or picks up a jar to lob at enemies. The bad guys themselves are equally as good looking and despite the lack of colour, the island of Koholint is a joy to traverse.
And especially when you've got a great soundtrack to accompany you, too. Despite consisting of many blips and blops, the musical pieces are never obnoxious. Dungeons are home to soft pitter-patters, boss fights are more energetic flurries, and out in the overworld it's about as majestic as the Game Boy can get, which is a surprisingly superlative achievement.
With less RAM power, Link's Awakening had to split each area into screen-sized sections - in other words, there's no scrolling whatsoever. This is exactly the same as how it was in the very first Legend of Zelda meaning that enemy positions are reset every time you leave and re-enter a screen, but at least they don't respawn a la Mega Man. More importantly, dungeons are divided into distinct bite-sized bits with a single puzzle-solving situation within each one. They do, however, link together at times. So say you manage to blow up four separate pillars that are the cornerstones of a massive tower; you'll find that the entire structure will collapse onto itself and blend the upper and lower levels together. Now you can reach the previously insurmountable boss chamber - brilliant!
See, even though Link's Awakening is essentially a lite version of A Link to the Past, there are many jaw-dropping (and head-scratching) moments that rival its technologically superior counterpart. Item usage is limited to just the A and B buttons making frequent switching something you'll have to bear with (there is no default control for the sword), but the whole process is lightning fast and there will be hardly a moment of confusion with the streamlined selection on offer. Sure, there isn't anywhere as many items as seen previously, but everything from the bombs and arrows (add them together and you get bomb-arrows!), to the Roc's feather that allows you to jump(!) and the power-bracelet that gives you the strength of a titan are all very useful and they are all used very often too; there are no redundant one-use only items here.
Boss battles may not look as impressive (they still are, though), but defeating them all are a thrill. There are some really creative strategies that you'll have to figure out to beat down most of them and they aren't push-overs like those seen in more recent Zelda games. Plus there are heaps of unique mini-bosses that'll surprise you with how well-developed they are such as the giant skeleton warrior whose encounter-criteria constitutes a puzzle in itself! Puzzle-wise, this is perhaps one of the most balanced titles in the series with everything fitting perfectly into place as you delve further into each dungeon's depths; case-in-point: the Eagle's Tower mentioned earlier.
Outside of the perplexing dungeons, there are your usual sidequests and mini-games to tide you over between the harrowing ordeals. You can play a pick-up-stuff crane game to earn neat prizes, complete a lengthy trading sequence that will take you to the far reaches of Koholint and back, netting you a pretty important magnifying glass at the end, go rafting across some tumultuous river rapids, search out pieces of heart to extend you life meter, or if you are really keen, uncover all the secret seashells that will earn you a powerful L-2 Sword which is the portable equivalent to the legendary Master Sword found in most other Zelda games.
Link's Awakening is a masterpiece in gaming. Nintendo went on the remake it for the Game Boy Color adding in a whole new (optional) dungeon to bolster the more colourific appearance, so you could say that that DX version is the better one. However, I'm perfectly content with what the original provides; it is a traditional top-down Zelda game loaded with adventuring, dungeons, epic boss battles, sidequests, special items, personality and most importantly, substance, which was an unrivalled aspect of the game at the time of its release. It controls beautifully and the classic puzzle-based action-adventuring still works a treat to this day. If you're getting a bit tired of how shallow the latest ideas seem, give this one a shot; you'll probably find that the reason why recent efforts aren't as stellar is because Link's Awakening already took all the great ideas and compressed them all into one amazing handheld package.
VERDICT 10.0/10 The simplest things in life bring the most joy.
This is one of my Top 10 games, ever!
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (EU, 11/18/93)
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