Due to a variety of reasons (most of them boring) it has been a while since I last did a blog post. So I am going to do my best to rectify that now.
I am guessing it would have been around 1999 and I had gone over to a friends house (we had been playing Double Dragon 3 on his NES) and I was just about to leave when I saw a black color Gameboy cartridge lying on the floor in his hallway. I picked it up, asking him what it was and he told me I could borrow it if I wanted.
The Legend of Zelda, Link’s Awakening. I had never heard of it or the series before, but it sounded vaguely interesting. I had played a game for the Amstrad called ‘The Legend of Kage’ and enjoyed it, so purely based on the fact it had ‘Legend’ in the title, I thought I would definitely give it a go. The picture above is that exact cartridge that I borrowed. I let my friend have it back for a few months before I requested it again, and to my delight he told me I could keep it. It took me a couple of years for me to actually beat the game but it truly cemented its position as one of my all time favourite games to play.
I recently decided to play up to just after the first dungeon, just to take a few screenshots of the gameplay for this post. Not many games succeed in twatting me about the head with such a heavy dose of nostalgia as this one. It was probably because I invested so much time in it (about as much as I did Pokémon Red version) but by just booting up the game I almost felt like I was nine or ten again, if only for a few seconds.
Although originally the game was for the original Gameboy, I have never ever known anything but this version with glorious colour. The game opens with moody music and a brief cut scene, something I had never really seen in a Gameboy game before and don’t think I really saw after this game. A ship is traversing a stormy ocean, and lightning is flashing on the horizon. The ‘camera’ cuts to an individual who is climbing the ships mast when suddenly it is struck by lightning.
He is washed up on a beach where a girl finds him. The camera pans up to a mountain with an egg sat upon the top of it, and the iconic Zelda theme kicks in.
I didn’t realise what a treat I was in for when I first saw this screen, or how much frustration I would experience trying to figure out some of the games puzzles.
Unlike most of the Zelda games, this story doesn’t take place in the kingdom of Hyrule and doesn’t even feature Zelda, despite this being called the Legend of Zelda. I obviously didn’t realise this wasn’t the norm of the series as a kid, having never played a Zelda title before. (I didn’t even know that the main character was called Link back then!) Also, with other Zelda games the objective is usually to save Zelda and the kingdom of Hyrule from Ganon, an evil sorcerer who has a yearning to rule Hyrule, but this takes place on an entirely new location, the island of Koholint.
After Link is washed up on this island, he discovers the only way off it is by waking the windfish, a huge fish that sleeps within the egg on the tallest mountain of the island, and the only way he can be woken is by collecting the 8 instruments from various dungeons within the island.
So the game starts off when you wake up in the house of the girl who found you on the beach, Marin and her father Tarin. Tarin gives you your shield and informs you that some other stuff may have washed up on the beach as well. Tarin looks very similar Nintendo’s most popular character, Mario. But the Mario references and similarities don’t end there. After leaving Marin and Tarin’s house you soon find another character from the Mario game series.
It’s a chain chomp from Super Mario Bros. 3! Only it isn’t, in this game this guy is called Bow-wow, and later on will be an important part of the game, helping you get past some otherwise impenetrable obstacles. But at this point he just sits chained up outside a house in the village.
You have to make your way south of the village to the beach to see if anything else was washed ashore. There are a few Oktorok enemies on the way to the beach that without a weapon you just have to repel using your shield, but aside from that it really isn’t too difficult. On the beach you meet a talking owl who tells you what your objective is, and witters on for about four hours worth of text. This of course is a precursor to the owl in The Ocarina of Time which does pretty much the exact same thing. Owls are boring, droney assholes in the Zelda universe.
On the beach you come across the only thing that has been washed up. It’s Links Sword! Hooray! That was lucky! It could have easily have been a waterlogged Book of Mudora from the previous game ‘Link to the Past’ but thankfully it was his sword. Convenient huh? As soon as the ‘I found something’ fanfare music stops, the Zelda theme begins. Just out of interest, why is there always that tune when you pick something up in a Zelda game, and why does Link always hold it aloft his head like it is a trophy won in a major sporting event? I admire his enthusiasm. Maybe everybody should start doing this. It would cheer me to see someone in a supermarket proudly displaying their choice of cereal above their head, or after picking up their dogs droppings in the park, obviously accompanied by the familiar jingle. I bet there is a video out there someone has made doing exactly this thing. I hope there is anyway, surely that is what the internet is for. That, boobs and cats.
So the boring, droney owl tells you to go North of the village to the Mysterious Forest, to find a key, to open the first dungeon door, to get the instrument blah blah blah. It doesn’t take long to arrive at the forest, and the winged bastard turns up again to talk to you some more. In one respect it is really irritating having to read so much stuff, but the game suffers in other parts by expecting you to already know some things, of which may be unfamiliar to someone who has never played a Zelda game before, of which I will go into later. The first Zelda game for the NES wasn’t very text heavy at all. All of the text and advice in the accompanying instruction booklet. You were just thrown into the middle of Hyrule and expected to figure out stuff yourself, which was fun but also could be pretty tiresome having to just aimlessly wander about until you stumble upon something. Perhaps I should be a little more patient with this owl who is only trying to ensure I am on the right path, and should save my venom for his feathery brethren from Ocarina of Time.
After the owl flies off, you are free to walk the forest. There are a few Moblins about, and the pop up red jelly things. Eventually after roaming about, you find a raccoon that informs you that his nose is very sensitive to dust and powder. If you go to leave the screen, he tells you that you are going to be lost thanks to him. Asshole. Sure enough if you leave the screen and try to go back you find that you have been transported to another part of the forest.The problem is that the key to the first dungeon lies a screen north of the raccoon. The fact he mentions his nose is very sensitive to powder may cause you to think that providing him with narcotics will allow you to pass, but Koholint is devoid of drug dealers so you have to find other means to pass him.
Elsewhere in the forest you will find a cave, and traveling through the cave you will find a toadstool which you can take to a witch east of the forest who will turn it into magic powder. Returning to the raccoon, giving him a sprinkle will make him start spinning around like crazy and explode, turning into Tarin, Marin’s father. He will tell you that the last think he remembers is biting into a toadstool, before he had a dream he was a raccoon.
Wait, he ate a toadstool, and turned into a raccoon? Does that sound like anyone else in the Nintendo world?
Yup, it’s Mario. Tarin looks like Mario and eats toadstools and turns into a raccoon like Mario. Either it’s huge nod to the Mario series or Tarin is Mario! Could that mean Princess Peach is Marin’s mother? I am definitely overthinking this.
After getting the key from the screen north of the raccoon it is possible to now open the dungeon, located near the beach. I remember how pleased I felt with myself after figuring out how to get past the raccoon as a kid. I didn’t think I was near the end of the game, but certainly didn’t realise how much more of the game there would be left to play.
Outside of Tail Cave are three statues of Moldorm, one of the bosses from the previous Zelda game, A Link to the past. If you have played Zelda games before or after this game, you know what to expect if you play this one. But to me it was so ambient and atmospheric, I genuinely felt mildly apprehensive as I entered each room. It wasn’t the trauma of playing Metroid II, which I used to throw at my Dad whenever I had to actually fight a Metroid as I was too scared, but it did bring about a little nervousness. I don’t think that I experience that anymore, probably because I am so used to the Zelda universe, and know the general feel of how the enemies and traps work, but back then I didn’t and it was a totally new experience for me.
I really loved the music in this game. It truly added so much to the gameplay. The music that plays in Mabe Village where you first wake up is a warm, cheerful, childlike melody. Listening to it again and to me sounds lot like the theme from Tranquility Lane in Fallout 3, a computer program that is supposed to be the perfect portrayal of a homely 1950s American street.
The music in this dungeon is anything but warm. It’s eerie and suspenseful and even today I can see why I was so apprehensive as I played through that very first dungeon. I have said it before, but I will say it again, It is truly amazing with the limited sound quality of the NES and Gameboy, how emotive the music could be and how much it added to games.
Something that was touched upon with the previous games was side scrolling, and this game has some parts with a 2D side scrolling perspective. It even features Goombas from Mario in these parts that if jumped on provides the player with a heart to refill their health.
I think this game was the first in the series to really allow Link to jump, which he does by using the Roc’s feather, something needed to beat the first mini-boss Rolling Bones, (pictured above) who rolls a big rolling pin like thing across the dungeon floor at you. I used to be able to beat him relatively quickly and easily , but I must be losing my touch in my old age as I died twice trying to beat him.
After getting the key to open the Nightmare’s lair and beating this mini-boss, you can progress to the actual boss, who is Moldorm from the previous Zelda game. He is fairly easy to beat, you just have to watch your sword doesn’t recoil you off into the drops either side of the room. If they do, you have to come back up into another room and try the boss over again, which can be a slight pain in the ass but shouldn’t be too much bother.
After beating him, your efforts are rewarded with the customary piece of heart which makes your heart container go up by one, and you also get the first instrument out of the eight needed to awaken the Wind Fish. I would quite happily traverse a dungeon and fight monsters if it meant I could get a new musical instrument, particularly a bass guitar as mine seems on the brink of death.
You are then transported outside, and some helpful text points you to your next location, with “SWAMP…A path opens…In the blooms.”
But that is as far as I played up to, and I immensely enjoyed it. I think it is definitely one of the best titles on the Gameboy. If you have never played a Zelda game before it is a good place to start, or if it’s a title in the series that has passed you by then you really should pick it up and give it a go.
It is not without it’s flaws however. I was stuck for sooooooooo long as a kid on the second dungeon. There is a part where you need to get a key located in a room with three enemies in it, and you have been told previously by an owl statue (they give you advice in the dungeons) that first you must defeat the imprisoned Pols Voice and lastly the Stalfos. I didn’t know what a Pols voice was, or a Stalfos! If I had played the previous games or had access to an instruction manual with the enemy names in, I might have succeeded but it took me a very long time to figure it out. These days with the internet at hand, it wouldn’t be a problem. If the owl statue had said “First beat the jumping rabbit, and lastly the skeleton” I would have been able to do it easily. If I remember correctly I actually went and did the third dungeon or at least got quite far in it before I had to come back and figure out the previous one. But aside from that, and an annoying item select screen, I can’t really criticize the game too much. Maybe I have my nostalgia goggles on, but it really was so much fun.
Whereas other Zelda games prior to this had a few side characters or individuals that Link had to interact with, this game was packed with them and actually made me care about them. The first Zelda game on the NES just had sprites that gave you occasional clues in poorly translated English then disappeared, the second had a few more, but nothing revolutionary. Link to the Past again had more and really fleshed them out a lot more but I really didn’t care about them. They didn’t really connect with me in an emotional way. I wasn’t phased when Link’s uncle died at the start of the game, or when the old sage did. This game, was completely different though. When I finished the game, I felt sad. I wasn’t ready to leave Koholint Island yet. I would miss the people on the island too much. Marin the young woman who first finds Link on the beach and her desire to be able to fly away far from the island, Her father, the clumsy but goodhearted Tarin, the various quirky residents of Mabe village and the Animal village. They all fleshed out this little world in which the game takes place and to me made it one of the most endearing games I had and probably will ever have played.
There were two other Zelda games for the Gameboy, released a few years after this one, and I distinctly remember how excited I was when I saw them in a HMV store as a kid, but my parents wouldn’t let me have either of them. They were the Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages games. I remember seeing a Moblin on the back of the box and getting extremely excited, but for some reason I didn’t get either until a few years later. They weren’t awful games but I really didn’t think either were as good as Link’s Awakening.
Link’s Awakening is available on the Nintendo eShop for a pretty low price considering how much time you can invest in it if desired. The original version for the Gameboy and Gameboy color had an internal save battery which often isn’t working these days so if you do pick up an original, make sure you are able to solder in a new battery. But if like me you are playing on a Retron 5, you should be fine.
If you do pick it up, Let me know if I just have nostalgia goggles on or if it is actually an awesome game like I remember it being. It is definitely one of my favourite Zelda games to date, and one that I put a lot of hours into. I will always be appreciative to my pal Ashley Hughes for letting me have this game all those years ago, and for giving me one of the best gaming experiences that has seldom been surpassed.