“Natalie! Natalie! Why are you reviewing a game that came out 18 years ago?” “‘Cos my backlog was cleared out when I played this game a month ago. Also, I liked this game, wanted to replay it, and did so in order to reassess its quality.” “But do you really have the knowledge and foresight to properly analyze games like this in the detail they are accustomed to?” “…No. I played it for twelve hours and wrote a two page thing about it. Is that unacceptable, Maple-chan?” “I guess it’s fine. But I’m not gonna read it.” “Yeah, nobody will. Nobody ever reads anything I write…” “Okay… I’ll leave you alone now.”
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX Review
Platforms: GameBoy Color, Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Despite twenty years of series growth and evolution, Link’s Awakening is still a stand out entry in the Zelda series, as it has a personality and tone unlike all titles that came before it. It is a game where in the first hour you run into a bizarro Mario who found a mushroom that turned him into a tanuki, and he can only return to normal if you visit a witch to have her make some magic power for you. It’s a game where you partner up with a Chain Comp for a short while, trade dog food to an alligator man in exchange for Bananas, and use a magical undead rooster to ascend the mountains, until it gets bored and lives with bizarro Luigi.
It is certainly a pleasant and silly little island that Link drifts onto, and that makes what little storyline there is all the weirder. Aside from a few antics with the simplistic characters— not that I would expect much better from a 1993 GameBoy title— the story is centered around Link waking the mythical Wind Fish, who is the proposed key for him to leave this island, as the people, monsters, and world of this island are nothing but a dream conjured by the Wind Fish.
While understated in the game itself, this is actually a really interesting idea. As Link places his heroics and desire to return home over the lives of the people that he and the player have come to know over time. The loosely veiled antagonist, that of a nightmare, is actually pretty sympathetic in concept. They only wish to continue their existence, but Link is adamant about ending it and ultimately does; destroying them along with the entire island before waking up on a log drifting aimlessly across the ocean, where he will likely die. Actually, based on the Zelda timeline, I’m pretty sure he does.
I certainly didn’t expect the plot to be quite so deep, but it was actually pretty interesting to view the story through this lens, even though I doubt it was ever the intention of the developers. Instead, they were focused on making Zelda work on a handheld, which they did rather well. Capturing the formula of a fairly straight forward succession of dungeons interspersed with a variety of unique weapons, general health upgrades, and a good amount of side areas with their own secrets or goodies.
Except the major caveat that I use to separate quality exploration focused games and lesser exploration focused games is not quite there. A sizable, but simple to understand, overworld that is largely enjoyable to explore. Quite simply, the actual map design of Link’s Awakening is built around going a specific route in order to get to a location. Most areas are tightly woven with little to connect them to other environments, and when you come up to the border between them, you are likely to find a wall of stone or trees blocking your way.
This really undermines the element of exploration that this series was ultimately found on, and makes way for a lot of tedious backtracking with little to keep your interest along the journey. Just compare the map of the Link’s Awakening to something like A Link to the Past, or even the later 3D titles, and you should see what exactly I mean. Everything is tightly and rigidly constructed, which often makes traversal through the game less enjoyable than it should be.
Now, I’m sure this has to do with the limitations of the GameBoy hardware, and that is not too surprisingly where a lot of the lesser aspects of Link’s Awakening come from. Because of the limited number of buttons, and arsenal of fourteen items that you build up over time, you spend a lot of time in your inventory, switching one item out for the other, and switching back after using that item to progress. All while hearing the same menu chime that was designed around the GameBoy’s limited sound chip.
While Koji Kondo is an excellent composer and this soundtrack contains a plethora of memorable melodies, the high pitched chirps and beeps it’s presented in became tiresome all too quickly. There are some tracks I have no problem with and feel they work well under these restrictions, but others became more than a little annoying due to the means by which these songs were presented.
The visuals, as is the case with just about all well-designed sprite art, avoids such technological-based faults. Everything is immediately recognizable while still using a small amount of pixels, and the simpler art direction results in a more lighthearted look for the game, heightened by a limited, yet bright and vibrant color palette as added in the DX version.
So, yeah. Link’s Awakening is largely hampered by hardware constraints and while I certainly did enjoy my time with it, there are enough petulant elements to make me reconsider playing it ever again. It’s world and characters are alarmingly endearing given the time, but the act of progression was often met with larger annoyances such as traversal, or minor ones like the text box that appears whenever you rub against a pot. Regardless, Link’s Awakening is still an enjoyable classic, just one that’s a little ruffled from the winds of time that rapidly whirl in technologically driven mediums.