Review by Tom Clark
" Forget Pokemon, THIS was the Game Boy's finest hour!"
Everybody loves Zelda. I'm fairly sure that it's a scientific fact or something. From the very first time young Link set out across Hyrule to rescue the titular princess back in the early days of the NES (has it really been that long??) gamers have marvelled over it's fantastic depth and gameplay. So it was no surprise when Zelda: Link's Awakening (the fourth installment in the franchise) arrived on the original Game Boy. What did surprise people was the fact that it was almost universally hailed at the time as the best Zelda game so far. People couldn't believe that the full Zelda magic could be squeezed into the little grey plastic of a Game Boy cartridge, and put onto the GB's monochrome screen. Well start believing people.
If you've never heard of Zelda (!) I'll explain the basic concept. You play as Link, a young elf-like chap who is remarkably fond of wearing green. Zelda is the accident-prone Princess of Hyrule - she always seems to be getting into somesort of scrape, in which Link comes to the rescue. Think Mario with pointy ears and no 'tache. The games fall snuggly into the 'Adventure' genre, and contain all the trappings that that offers: lots of different items to collect, towns to visit, locals to talk to, puzzles to solve and, the old Zelda mainstay, eight dungeons littered around the world map to conquer. Link's awakening follows this formula to perfection.
It seems that, with this offering, the Zelda series has found it's perfect niche. This game is just right for the Game Boy. It's save feature (you can save anywhere, but you start at the last door you went through) means that you can play for five minutes on the bus, or for hours on a long, boring car journey. But this isn't just a game you'll want to play on the move. This game will eat up your time. You'll spend a whole morning sitting in the same position with the game boy in your hands, hacking away at that accursed boss that just... won't... die... (more likely than not this'll be the level two boss, the bastard!). You'll play this game until your batteries run out. Then, as soon as you get more, you'll be playing again. The game will probably only last a few weeks (or less if you are unable to resist the lure of walkthroughs), but every second of it you will enjoy, and you'll come back to play it through on many occasions (I still play and complete the game roughly twice a year...) This is a game that you won't want to be selling when you complete it, let me tell you!
The plot to this game is really quite deep and involving (especially for the Game Boy, whose game library seems to consist mainly of plotless platformers). Starting with the closest the Game Boy ever came to an FMV sequence, the game sees Link shipwrecked, and washed ashore on Koholint Island. There a young singer named Marin finds him passed out on the beach, and takes him in. The islanders are in need of a hero, see. The legendary Wind Fish is fast asleep in it's egg on top of the highest peak of the island, and while it rests there is nothing to protect the locals from the evil monsters now roaming the land. Being the all round good sport that he is, Link agrees to find the eight instruments (spread across the eight dungeons) that are needed to wake the Wind Fish. So far so predictable, but the plot starts to grow and become more epic, as Link learns that following this path could have tragic consequences...
In a game where so many actions are possible, the developers reacted very well to the two buttoned nature of the Game Boy. Pressing the start button calls up a list of all the items that you have collected so far. Then you can assign the item of your choice to either the A or B button. You'll want to have the sword selected for almost the entirety of the quest, but other than that you'll be changing quite a bit, although that isn't entirely surprising, as there are many key items. The shield is fairly obvious, so I won't patronise you with an explanation, the Roc's feather allows you to jump, the Power Bracelet to pick up heavy items, the Pegasus Boots to dash, and many more (you get new items at pretty much a rate of one per dungeon)
There is also a neat little sidequest. In the crane game in the principle town of the game it is possible to win a Yoshi Doll. Find someone who wants this, and they exchange it for another item. Find someone who wants this, and they exchange it.... This goes on for a very long time, but stick with it - believe it or not it is a vital part of the game!
The presentation here is probably the best that has been seen on the good ol' Original Game Boy. The sprites are perfectly formed and are fluidly animated, and although the areas are in monochrome, they still show a great deal of variety. The music, too, is superb. This is one of the very few number of Game Boy games to have music as opposed to beeps, and one of only a handful of Game Boy games where I turn the sound up. There are several tunes played throughout the game, but the obvious aural star is the Zelda theme tune. This kicks in at various stages throughout the game, and every time it does I get a warm, fuzzy nostalgic feel in my stomach. Brilliant.
This is easily the finest game for the original GB, and though it does have minor flaws (for some reason I struggled more with the level two boss than I did with the final boss, and talking to some of my friends it seems I wasn't the only one...) it is an absolute must for any GB collection. You're more likely to get the DX version for the Game Boy Color nowadays, but whichever guise the game comes in, just make sure you get it.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 11/18/01, Updated 03/12/02
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