The very first handheld Zelda game built upon Link to the Past's game-changing formula, resulting in a superb adventure.
Even for today's standards, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, the very first handheld entry in Nintendo's flagship adventure series, holds up very well. It is a testament of how the extraordinary franchise-shifting formula, first implemented into The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, set the bar for not only ensuing Zelda titles, but for adventure games all across the industry. For a Gameboy handheld title, Link's Awakening is a lengthy, enduring adventure that contains the series' charm and subtle humor, but reflecting on this entry years after its inception, Awakening is quite bizarre.
Nintendo was still young in the gaming industry, though the at-the-time over one-hundred year old company had made an everlasting mark on the industry with its Nintendo Entertainment System, premiering its classic series such as Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. One of the most bizarre, charming aspects of Link's Awakening is the many appearances of Super Mario characters. It is certainly neat to see Nintendo's two main franchises intermingle when the series were still very young.
Also odd is the fact that Link's Awakening is not based in the setting of Hyrule, nor is princess Zelda in the game. Link finds himself awakening in a house on an island named Koholint. He discovers that in order to escape the island he must obtain eight instruments to play in front of a large egg containing the mysterious Wind Fish. Thus, Link's adventure is set, and scattered across the island are eight dungeons to be explored and conquered.
Nintendo has always pushed the limits of its respective systems when it comes to the Legend of Zelda. Link's Awakening is no exception. Koholint is a vast island with lots of exploration to be had. There is a beach, desert, mountain range, bays, and forest among other areas. There are side-quests, though the game is not as abundant with them as other Zelda games, but seeking out every nook and cranny in the game is still an enjoyable, curious experience.
The game's dungeons are, of course, the meat of the game, the places where Zelda wears its badge as Nintendo's "thinking man's" adventure game. As in other installments, the dungeons in Link's Awakening are expertly designed. The dungeons contain not only the instruments needed to awaken the Wind Fish from his slumber but also items that are pivotal in conquering the dungeon and accessing areas throughout Koholint Island that were previously unreachable.
Each room in every dungeon presents some sort of challenge, even if it is something simple such as eliminating the enemies in that room, or something more challenging requiring you to use your eyes and brain to carefully figure out how to progress. The goal is to reach the boss in the dungeon and defeat him to obtain the sacred instrument. Bosses in Link's Awakening are somewhat a hit and miss, mostly "hit" though.
Some of the latter boss battles are extremely easy compared to earlier ones that are somewhat challenging. And some of the bosses look absolutely goofy. Not that Zelda needs monstrous, sharp-toothed foes around every corner, but compared to the sensational designs of the boss battles in A Link to the Past, the battles in this game do not quite measure up, though they are, for the most part, quite entertaining, especially the final boss.
Awakening incorporates some items from A Link to the Past, such as the Pegasus boots which allows Link to run at fast speeds. Some new items include the Feather which allows Link to jump. Link also has his trusty bow and arrows, boomerang, and bombs.
The game's graphics were 8-bit, very limited on the Game Boy, but the series' charming look was not compromised. Sound-wise, Link's Awakening contains some truly enchanting little tunes, impressive considering the limitations. Music is a big part of the game's story; Link even obtains an Ocarina that is used to awaken slumbering beasts and teleport to dungeon entrances.
Koholint provided a ginormous land to explore considering it was on the original Game Boy handheld. With the polished, concise gameplay elements intact from A Link to the Past, Link's Awakening was a superb game for its time, providing a stellar Zelda experience in the palm of your hands.