In the dawn of the nineties, when ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ was being shown on BBC Two, and Vanilla Ice couldn’t escape your ears, gaming was branching out from the living room, and being carried around with you, where-ever you went.
This was called the Game Boy, launched on September 28th of 1990. It revolutionised how a game could be played without a plug connected to the wall, and how games with depth could still be played on a less-powerful system than what was currently leading the market.
Nintendo came into full force with this with their mascots, such as Super Mario Land, a sequel to the original Metroid, and Zelda.
Three years after its release, and one year after Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was released for the Super Nintendo, Link was brought onto the Game Boy, with Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.
After receiving my Mega Drive in Christmas of 1994, I was just hoping for another Sonic game after playing Sonic 3 repeatedly.
So imagine my surprise when I find a Game Boy, with Tetris.
I was in awe. It lacked colour, had a battery of four hours, but it was a system that I could play whenever, and wherever (in a lightened room) I wanted.
A couple of months later of some in-depth Tetris, the birthday arrived, and I was lucky to receive ‘Kirby’s Dreamland’, and ‘Link’s Awakening’.
By this point, the ‘Zelda’ series only had three games released for it, with ‘Link to the Past’ being the latest console iteration for the Super Nintendo in 1993.
‘Link’s Awakening’ was meant to be a simple port of this to the Game Boy, but with a simpler control system on the Game Boy of just four buttons and a directional pad rather the the Super Nintendo’s eight, it was decided that it would be a whole new adventure.
The story involved Link on a ship in a violent storm. Lightning strikes, causing him to be thrown overboard, and wakes up on a mysterious island, called ‘Koholint Island’. He discovers that it is guarded by the ‘Wind Fish’, which are being tormented by an old enemy. By collecting the instruments on all of the 8 dungeons, the ‘Wind Fish’ will awaken, and Link can go home.
Looking back 21 years, the story does faintly remind of TV Shows such as ‘LOST’ or ‘Life on Mars’, and its one of the reasons why this instalment still holds up today.
The game introduced certain traits that would be used in future games, such as instruments to collect to progress the story, which would lead into the Ocarina in 1998’s ‘Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’.
Or the ‘Owl’ that would guide you throughout the quest when a dungeon was conquered.
The game still had the top-down viewpoint which Zelda is known for, and is still used today with the latest release of ‘A Link Between Worlds’. Even with its 8-bit power and black and white screen, you still felt totally immersed in that world (or, island) and none of these drawbacks felt detrimental.
Even with its monochrome screen, you could tell the theme of what the dungeons will have, whether it was strength, fire, water, air, etc. They all had an objective, and once you acquired the weapon or item found in all eight of them, you would be able to attack with greater strength, or access areas you couldn’t before.
You’d have a mini-boss to face which usually meant using the item discovered in that dungeon, while the actual boss would be much harder, before acquiring the instrument.
Some items you’d expect, such as the sword and shield, with their upgrades to better attack or defend against certain enemies. While items such as ‘Rock Feather’ allowed you to simply jump over certain obstacles.
‘Pegasus Boots’ allowed you to run at a much faster speed to either shake the room you were presently in to have a mini-boss fall from the top of the room, or destroy obstacles with speed.
The music definitely deserves its mention. It’s amazing, even today, of how the ‘MIDI’ system was so well used in its heyday, and on the Gameboy the same high quality found on 8 & 16-bit games. Every track fits the mood of where you are around the island. The track for the final boss for instance really adds to the feeling of not knowing whats coming before it appears.
Playing this at 7 years old, it was amazing to me how I’d been playing linear games up to now, with games such as Sonic, Shinobi, Toe-Jam and Earl, simply having the goal of reaching the end of the stage on the right.
Having the top-down view made me think differently.
How could I get this one item for this dungeon?
How do I defeat this one enemy when all I have is a shovel and a hookshot?
It made me think of how the game could be won in a different way, and that was eye-opening for me.
But because this was my first foray into an RPG game, I used to always get incredibly stuck.
I remember one time in the second dungeon, three enemies in one room had to be defeated in a certain order, and the ‘Boss Key’ would then be able to be collected.
With the absence of guides or YouTube, I wasn’t even sure that you had to only defeat these enemies in a certain way.
I had to ask for help from the cousin, who had gotten much further.
The game was a favourite. Even after receiving the PlayStation in 1997, I’d still come back to it if ever I was bored.
But then something happened.
It got to the point where I’d reached the sixth dungeon, and after acquiring the ‘Mirror Shield’, I became completely lost, and it was left up in the attic as soon as I had received a Game Boy Colour, and Pokémon had exploded.
Then, 12 years later, I came across the game as I was moving out of the parents house, and thought I would bring it with.
I was highly doubting the save would be working. Surely after 12 years, I’d just have no choice but to complete ‘Link’s Awakening’ on a ’no-save’ play through, seeing how far I get without the Game Boy running out of charge.
Lo and behold, the save is still there. No glitches, no sudden corruptions for the save, it was all there. Frozen in a moment since 1997.
I was amazed.
So I decided to try and finally complete it. I’d played some of the subsequent Zelda games, but they never really interested me like this game. I was never one to play an RPG all the way through. 99% of them just weren’t for me, but ‘Final Fantasy VIII’, and ‘Links Awakening’ were just the only exceptions.
After a good month, finding time to shine a light on the screen for a good view as well, I finally completed the game.
14 years of since starting the game and it was finished.
It was surreal to finally have it completed, and now the save simply goes back to just before the final boss, which is just a compilation of the previous final bosses, along with Link’s enemy from the previous games, ‘Ganon’, making an appearance.
Overall, this is the quintessential Zelda game for me. Not because it was the first i played, but rather that it’s the most fun for me. It also has the benefit of not having to be compared to ‘Ocarina of Time’ as every single subsequent installment has been subjected to. As it was released 5 years before ‘Ocarina’, it’s usually seen as unfair to compare it, not to mention the fact that ‘Ocarina’ was the first fully 3D Zelda game.
It’s seen re-releases over the years, the most prominent being its colour version for the Game Boy Colour in 1998. Not only was colour here, but a new dungeon was available which made use of this new feature, and once completed, you could choose Link to wear a red or blue tunic, which increased his attack or defence for the rest of the game.
It’s still a game I come back to, and the colour version is one I want to complete soon. There have been many more isometric-themed Zelda games since, but for me, this is the very best of them, and can easily rival the 3D Zelda counterparts for its depth, music, and even story.