Retro Scope: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

One of the strangest titles in the Zelda pantheon is also one of the greatest.

By Jason Strong. Posted 11/21/2013 11:00 2 Comments     ShareThis

As a reasonably well employed adult I often take for granted having the ability and the funds to purchase the latest and greatest video games. There was a time not so long ago, however, when dependency on my parents limited the amount and quality of the titles that I had access to. The months leading up to a birthday or Christmas would be spent dropping subtle hints about which of the contemporary titles I’d like to receive. Sometimes I would get lucky, my progenitors would get the hint and I’d end up with classics titles like Super Mario Kart, or The Lost Vikings. Often, however, the tides would turn against me and I’d receive duds (Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and Bass Masters 2000! spring to mind). There was one year, though, one fateful summer, when the stars aligned. Perhaps a butterfly in China beat its wings at exactly the right moment or perhaps a temporary fit of insanity gripped my father or mother, either way the results were the same; on that fateful day in July, the day of my birth, I received a Game Boy and the greatest game that was ever developed for that system: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

Coming to a decision about which of the Zelda games is the greatest is always a difficult prospect. They all have their highlights; Ocarina of Time delivered an adventure on an epic scale that was unprecedented in its scope and execution, and A Link to the Past is gorgeous and flawlessly showcased the 2D Zelda formula. If we were to base our decision solely on which game in the series had the most personality, the most comedy, and the most heart, however, I feel that there’s a strong argument to be made that Link’s Awakening is number one.

In Link’s Awakening , you could steal… and you could be punished.

Rather than starting us off in the land of Hyrule as with the previous three games in the series, Nintendo decided to turn Link’s Awakening into a side quest of sorts. The game begins with a short cut scene, rendered in gorgeous pixel art, that sets up the adventure’s premise. Our intrepid hero Link, out for a sail on the high seas, is caught up in a storm that leaves him shipwrecked and unconscious on the beach of Koholint island. He is brought to the home of Marin and her father Tarin where, as with so many Zelda games, our adventure begins with Link awakening from his slumber. The gameplay and the blueprint of this game will be familiar to anyone familiar with the franchise. Travel to dungeons, obtain new and unique weapons, and collect items that will eventually help you overcome an ancient evil. The charm of this title, however, does not lie in any specific gimmick like so many games in this series, but rather, in the unique and often hilarious characters and situations that you will encounter.

Over the course of the game you will face one ridiculous sight after another. In the first town you come across you’ll run into a small “dog,” obviously based off of the infamous Chain Chomps of Super Mario Bros. 3 fame, who wants nothing more than a pretty bow to help make her beautiful. You’ll encounter an alligator that collects canned goods and quickly accepts an offer of some gourmet dog food in exchange for some bananas. A little later in the adventure you’ll even run in to a sleeping walrus who, much like Snorlax in the later Pokémon Red and Blue, will only clear a path when moved by the power of music. This may all seem a bit out of the ordinary, especially when compared with the relatively serious fantasy fare of the earlier Zelda games, but is well explained as we soon come to find that all of the game’s characters, indeed, the island itself, is the dream of a great creature called the Wind Fish.

Link is green, and alligators are blue.

My first play through of this title was on the original Game Boy, and even then, rendered only in various shades of noxious green it was a gorgeous and engrossing experience. The later reissue for the Game Boy Color (which is the version available on the 3DS’s eShop) only enhanced the game with its addition of vibrant color, an extra dungeon, and a feature that those who have recently been playing Wind Waker HD might appreciate; the ability to take candid photos of our hero and various NPC’s at select locations in the game. This is what I would consider the definitive version, and the one that I would recommend to would-be players, despite its removal of a mildly entertaining glitch that would allow players with quick reflexes to warp around the map and gain access to the more difficult areas of the game long before they were properly equipped to deal with them.

I doubt that anyone who reads this site would need much convincing to play or replay any game developed by Nintendo, much less one in a series as prestigious as The Legend of Zelda. All of us do, of course, have blind spots in our gaming repertoire, however, so if you’ve never experienced the wonder that is Link’s Awakening or if you’ve forgotten what it is like to sprinkle a bag of magic powder onto the nose of a raccoon in order to transform him back into a human, then this is the game for you.

2 Responses to “Retro Scope: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

  • 3 points says...

    Hmmm… I just could not get my head around this game. The trading sequence was terrible beyond words, just bafflingly bad, Nintendo’s worst moment. To this day I cannot comprehend what they were thinking, the matter was only made worse by the labyrinthine layout, it was very tough to work out which way you wanted to go, you would often traipse all the way across the world only to find out that you’ve wasted 15 minutes of your life.

    Nope, sorry, I appreciate your opinion but for me this is a stain on the Zelda name and ranks with Uncharted 2 and Final Fantasy XII as one of the most overrated games I have ever played.

    • 1558 points
      penduin says...

      I can’t tell if that’s a troll or if we just really, really disagree. :^)

      Link’s Awakening is one of the most charming games I’ve ever played, and I’ve done so over and over again. I thought the trading sequence was inspired – simple, full of character, and full of twisted dream-logic. The island was compact and self-mapping, not to mention full of warp points, so I’m really not sure how a person would go about getting lost. It was also packed with enough details and secrets that I’d be hard-pressed to call any 15 minutes spent traveling there a “waste”.

      As with everything, it’s a matter of taste. Link’s Awakening is delicious to me, but I suppose there are those who are violently allergic to it. Different strokes, right?

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