- Original release year: 1993
- Consoles: Game Boy, Game Boy Color (later: Wii, Wii U, 3DS etc)
The Zelda series is one of the most popular franchises of all time. It’s the kind of series, where everyone remembers the first game they played. For some, it will have been the very first Legend of Zelda on the NES. Others, it may be the third entry, A Link to the Past. For lot of people, it will be the one that is often touted as being one of the greatest games of all time, Ocarina of Time.
Me though? My first Zelda game was Link’s Awakening on the Game Boy. But what an introduction to the series it is.
Actually, it serves itself as being a rather strange introduction to the series. You see, as all Zelda fans will tell you, generally speaking, each game follows a similar theme. There’s an evil being called Ganon, there’s the Triforce, the game takes place in the lush land of Hyrule and there’s, of course, princess Zelda who will no doubt need saving. But this game has none of those things. There’s no Zelda, but there’s Marin. There’s no Hyrule, there’s Koholint Island and there’s no Ganon, but… Well… There’s Nightmare, ugh.
But despite the superficial changes, Link’s Awakening is still very much Zelda game. In fact, it’s an amazing Zelda game that, in retrospect, is made even more amazing when you think about just how the hell they squeezed such a large adventure game into a small Game Boy cartridge. It still blows my mind to this day. The overworld, although not quite to the same scale as a Link to the Past on the SNES (obviously), is large and ripe for exploration, the characters are great and there’s plenty of decent side quests. The dungeons themselves are perfect too (although fuck Eagle Tower. Seriously. The dungeon is kind of awesome, and yet, it’s all kinds of frustrating).
At this point, it’s worth noting that the colour remaster of Link’s Awakening released in 1998 has an extra, albeit optional, dungeon to play through. It’s nothing fantastic, but it utilises the gimmick of ‘colour’ fairly well and builds it into the puzzles. Successfully completing the dungeon will give you the choice of obtaining either the red tunic (gives you stronger offence) or the blue tunic (gives you stronger defence). I should also point that the ending in this game sucks, but oh well. Shit happens.
Besides the core story, there’s plenty of cool side-activities you can involve yourself in. I used to love playing the raft game, where you sail down the river on a raft, trying to collect rupees. There’s also the fishing mini game and the ‘crane’ game in one of the shops, where items move on a conveyer belt and you have to time moving a crane just right, in order to pick up an item. Speaking of shops, interestingly, it is possible to steal from the main shop. It results in you being referred to as ‘Thief’ for the rest of the game and the man in the shop killing you next time you re-enter, but it’s totally worth it. As a kid, I also enjoyed collecting all the ‘photograph’ opportunities. If you go to the right place, or do the right thing, or talk to the right person, at the right time, a cute cutscene may trigger (the ones involving Link and Marin are very nice) and then the camera guy will come and take a picture, which will save to your photo album. You were able to then print your photos using the GameBoy printer (remember that thing and the 0.001 pixel camera?).
Overall, Link’s Awakening was the first handheld Zelda game and, with exception of the fairly recent A Link Between Worlds (which is just incredibly awesome, by the way), it is the best.