Top 25 Gameboy Review: #3 – The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (1993)

This Game Gave Me Fits When I Was A Kid.

And it didn’t get too much better as an adult.

Game Informer’s Ranking: #3/25
My Rating: cropped-star.jpgcropped-star.jpg

Link’s Awakening conjures up plenty of 90s memories. Celebrating what might have been my 10th birthday, I received it after a hard fought game of laser tag. We all ended up going to my house afterwards to play a game of traditional, outdoor tag but me and another friend  kept getting distracted. We would quietly sneak back inside to look at the box both wanting to play it rather than tag. 

Later, I recall a small promise I made to myself — I will beat this game! I was having a hard time sticking with it and progress wasn’t easy. I was staying at my grandma’s house, and with SNICK on in the background playing an episode of All That, I forced myself to go further and further into the island. I had a similar experience as an adult, minus sitcoms with 90s R&B intros. 

I think a problem living in the uber connected 21st century is that I don’t have a big reservoir of patience anymore. There is too much pressure of FOMO and opportunity cost. I can read any book instantly for cheap, listen to every song ever made for 9.99 a month, and have near unlimited access to games. Why keep trudging forward when it is so much easier to slide in a different direction?

Link’s Awakening harkens back to a time where we had less options, so it was okay to get stuck.  When all you had for your hour bus ride was your gameboy, you kept going. Eventually it would all work out in the end, but only after hours of aimless wandering. This was acceptable then. 

I just don’t have time for that anymore. 

I adore Link’s wooden teeth!

[ANALYSIS]

Goldilock Puzzles. 

This ocarina is too loud. This ocarina is too soft. However, this ocarina is just right. 

Nothing is more frustrating than knowing what you need to do to get past a puzzle but not knowing exactly how to do it. The path from A to B was never clear in this game even if you knew exactly what A and B were. I felt instead of being rewarded for figuring things out I was being punished for not nailing some obscure procedural formality. 

For instance, at one point you run into a sleeping walrus and you need to wake him up. Everybody in the town can’t stop talking about the local girl Marin’s beautiful song. After prattling around for a little bit,  you find the ocarina — what a great way to play a song for a walrus! Then, when you find Marin, she teaches you her special song — WHAT A GREAT WAY TO PLAY A SONG FOR A WALRUS!

So you run down to the pathway and blare it in his ear…but NOTHING HAPPENS. 

NOTHING.

Wait. There is no way I have this wrong.

The real solution is to actually find Marin after she disappears from town. You’ll find her on the beach, except no one clues you to this. It relies on serendipity as the part of the beach she goes to is from an earlier location in the game that offers no reason to return there. Once you find her by chance because you have searched everywhere else, she will follow you so she can sing to the walrus herself.

That’s one of my main gripes with Link’s Awakening — nothing is intuitive. Everyone’s last puzzle-solving resort is the shotgun approach where you throw the kitchen sink at a problem. You bomb it, run into it, push/pull it, sprinkle fairy dust on it, bomb it after sprinkling fairy dust on it. If that doesn’t work, you cycle through locations going in bigger and bigger concentric circles until you hopefully trigger some event.

Exhibit A: Link’s Awakening. Exhibit B: Bliss.

I had a job one time where they didn’t care what you did during your hours, but they wanted you to be at work all the time (morning, night, weekends). That’s Link’s Awakening – you aren’t rewarded for specifically solving problems but instead for just being present through aimless meandering.

How I felt playing this game minus the log.

Storebrand Quality.

I always viewed the gameboy as a discount super nintendo. What you gave up in quality you gained in mobility. This tradeoff was completely satisfactory in the 90s, but now a game has to be damn good to overcome the fact that the mobility piece doesn’t matter anymore.

Link’s Awakening is just a watered down version of Link to the Past. That’s ACTUALLY TRUE. Nintendo staff wanted to see if they could port LttP to the gameboy. Every location in Link’s Awakening has its corollary in Link to the Past (another rooster weather vane?!?) so it is difficult to appreciate it due to the mimicry.

To differentiate it from the source material, a few changes were made. First, instead of anything to do with the Triforce or Zelda, you instead find instruments to wake a sleeping whale with the help of village girl Marin 😅.

I had a friend in college who got the eight instruments and whale tattooed on him. You will find similarly motivated people throughout society where Link’s Awakening left an undeniable imprint on their hearts. They find the setting of Koholit island endearing and the charm inescapable.

I haven’t played a lot of Zelda games in recent years, but the story is pretty strange and has very little to do with Zelda. I can’t applaud this game when big twist of the story is the tired ol’ story prop of it’s all a dream. Not only do you get reused locations and places, you get rehashed story props, too!

Toxic Masculinity.

These Boots Were Made For Walking.

The game boasts a pretty extensive map with plenty of locations to explore. Well, at least it felt that way. It is a pretty long hike from town to go anywhere else given the tortuous pathways. Many of the sections are sequestered off with natural barriers which create even longer roundabouts. Until you get all items, you often bottlenecked while exploring and waste a lot of time walking.

Get ready to get your 10,000 steps in.

So the world itself isn’t large — it’s because it takes forever to get anywhere! While Link to the Past had a bird that took to you several key locations, Link’s Awakening has a few portals that take you from one middle of nowhere location to another one.

Time to Accessorize.

The gameboy was the king of appendages. At one point, they sold the idea of gameboy printer where you could print off really bad black and white pictures of things that happen in the game or from a 3 FPS camera.

There is something especially melancholy with the bottom right photo, like a modern day Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.

I have to admit, some of the still shots are very, very cute even if they look like garbage when you printed them out.

[CONCLUSION]

There is some charm to Koholit island, but the game just didn’t connect with me.

Other People’s Takes:

  • Scott William Foley: Link’s Awakening is a family friendly, innocent, entertaining game anyone can enjoy. It definitely rekindled a love of video games in this old man’s heart.
  • Kimimi the Game Eating She Monster: “His adventure on Koholint and the people in it are now nothing more than the treasured memory of a fading dream: It’s the greatest adventure this Hylian hero never set out on, and one fans will never want to forget.”
  • Rose Red Prince: To this day I consider it one of my five favourite games of all time and, with the possible exception of Ocarina of Time 3D, it is the best game I have ever reviewed for this blog and so much of what makes it a classic is in the ending.

One comment

  1. This is definitely an amazing and quirky game. The Eagle’s Tower level will be known as one of the most confusing dungeons in a video game ever.

    The remake for the Switch did everything right for a remake. Anything you could possibly imagine being made better about this game- they did it. Highly recommend.

    Like

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