When the Nintendo Game Boy launched, it did so with a version of Super Mario that was, in many ways, vastly inferior to it's console counterparts. Super Mario Land has not aged well when compared to it's big brothers on the Nintendo consoles. It didn't take long for Tetris to become to the Game Boy what Super Mario Bros. had been for the NES. It was assumed that the Game Boy was not a place for engaging, dynamic gameplay, but puzzle games and inferior clones of NES games.
In 1993, Nintendo blew the doors off that theory with the release of Link's Awakening - a much better game than had been on the system at that point, and one that rivaled it's Super NES companion, A Link To the Past in almost every way. Awakening is notable for many reasons. To name a few, it was:
Having now played through LttP and LA back to back, I can confidently say that some of the puzzles in LA are far more difficult than anything in LttP. This may be, in some part, due to the fact that I've played LttP more frequently in recent years, yet haven't played all the way through Link's Awakning since a weeklong excursion in the fall of 1995.
It's been awhile since I've played a 2D Zelda title without remembering the locations of every little thing, but I did fairly well in this game. I used an FAQ to find a few of the secret seashells (which give you a powered up sword after you find 20) and just one heart piece, bringing me up to a total of 13 out of 14 heart containers.
There are two particularly notable things I'll talk about in this write-up. First, the Roc's Feather. It's amazing to me that the 3D Zelda titles have never taken jumping into account, yet the 2D overhead Zelda titles made it standard back in 1992. Having a jumping mechanic feels completely natural in Link's Awakening and adds a completely new element to the puzzle solving. It can be combined with the Pegasus Boots (which make a return after being introduced in A Link To The Past) to do longer jumps, making a total of three separate kinds of gaps - jumpable ones, running jumpable ones, and hookshot gaps. All three are peppered across the land of Koholint.
Speaking of Koholint, the other notable thing worth discussing is a very interesting story which is told to you in disturbingly dark fashion by the Nightmares (Bosses) after you complete each temple. It doesn't take too long for you to learn that if you wish to leave Koholint and return home to Hyrule, you have to waken the mystical Wind Fish which sits atop a mountain. What takes you a little longer to learn is that when you wake the Wind Fish, not only do you leave the island, but the island itself ceases to exist. That's right, Link's Awakening is merely a dream. You cleanse the island not only of the bad guys, but also of all the charming towns folk you've just spent upwards of 15 hours getting to know. This Zelda game probably has the richest cast of NPCs of any Zelda title that I've played so far, and it breaks your heart to know that the only way off the island will erase the existence of the lovely Marin, who sings to the animals, as well as Mr. Write, who finally gets a response to one of his letters after you bring it to him.
The Owl who guides you through the game as the omniscient narrator remains benign throughout the game, but it makes you wonder - why does he want the Wind Fish to wake up so badly, if he'll be erased as well?
All in all, a fantastic game, and one that presented considerable more challenge than I anticipated. Brilliant, A+, would play again.
RANK THE GAMES: (LttP gets the nod because it was first, but it's very very close):
LINK TO THE PAST