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Legend Of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX Review

The Zelda series' odd one out

Games have transformed beyond all recognition since Link's Awakening made its debut on the Game Boy in 1993. With an entirely new audience's modern tastes to satiate, it's remarkable that it still remains the involving, evocative adventure it has always been. The game's structure and style will be familiar to anyone who has played other top-down adventures (think a lo-fi Link To The Past and you're almost there), but the setting and circumstances certainly won't be.

It's for very good reason that Link's Awakening is considered an anomaly when it comes to the wider Zelda series. It's not set in Hyrule, there's no Triforce to be had and there's no Princess Zelda to rescue.

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Instead, Link finds himself washed up on Koholint Island after a shipwreck and, as befits a pocket-sized adventure, his aspiration is much simpler than usual - you must wake up the Wind Fish to get off the island. Strange cameos and enigmatic character dialogue extend the offbeat tone, although in pure gameplay terms, it's classic Zelda.

Taken in by friendly father and daughter combo Tarin and Marin, Link begins an island adventure that's tighter and more focused than its bigger brother A Link To The Past. For good reason, too. Cartridge sizes were hardly luxurious in '93.

Screen by screen, you explore and learn Koholint's terrain by rote - the friendly folk of Mabe Village, the Mysterious Woods, Kanalet Castle, Yarna desert, Goponga Swamp - they're all standard Zelda archetypes, but that never diminishes the sense of discovery. There's a unique sense of place that makes Koholint Island a joy to explore, as long as you don't mind retracing your steps more than a few times.

The Crazy Gang

All that overground exploration could get a little tedious if Koholint's inhabitants weren't such a colourful bunch. One of them is literally called Crazy Tracy, while another communicates only through the telephone. You meet a bear who is a chef. Later, you can help a talking goat who likes to eat paper to deliver a love letter to a man called Mr. Write, who likes to write. Even the signs crack little gags, and let's not forget that your main task is to wake up a sleepy flying whale that lives in an pink, spotty egg atop a mountain.

While all Zelda games have a sense of humour, none lay it on quite so thickly as this one. The slew of cameos from other Nintendo games confirms this is Zelda at its kookiest. Tarin, for example, has a big nose, a moustache, likes mushrooms and at one point turns into a racoon. There are plenty of other, more direct Mario series references too. Some enemies are lifted wholesale, and for this DX version, Nintendo added side-scrolling sections with Goombas and Piranha Plants in them. Even Kirby gets a look-in.

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As the overland map slowly reveals itself, you not only get introduced to the full range of Koholint oddballs, you also get to know them. It's often more fun completing fetch quests for these jokers than playing the 'main' game.

So the overworld is joy, that much is clear. The dungeons, on the other hand, are where modern gamers used to more thorough sign-posting may come unstuck. Of course, they are designed with the same ingenuity and faultless internal logic you'd expect from a top-quality Zelda game. Find a key, push a block, vanquish a foe - they start simply enough and become genuinely labyrinthine just a couple of hours in.

Their class is unquestionable, but they require real concentration to conquer. This is not dip-in, dip-out stuff. There is no hint system, no computer-controlled Link to jump in and show you the way nor Sheikah Stone to show you glimpses of what you should be doing. It's you and your brain against old-fashioned, unforgiving dungeon design.

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7 comments so far...
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  1. saswatch Wednesday 24th Aug 2011 at 22:31

    this is not as good as i remember it maybe because it takes away some of the features on this version. best games on 3ds vc so far donkey kong and kirby especially donkey kong my 5th favourite game ever.

  2. Lulz Friday 26th Aug 2011 at 19:36

    This is one of the very best games I ever owned on the Gameboy. I lost three copies of it over the years, and finally gave up getting it again once I saw they're knocking around for Ł20+. Now its on the 3DS store for just a FIVER, once I get a little superfluous cash, this and Donkey Kong are my first stops.
    This was my first ever Zelda game (I think I was only about 10 when I first played it) and it never mattered to me that it never fit in the grand scheme of all things, it's a perfect, if not somewhat strange game, all in itself.

  3. allanironmaiden Friday 26th Aug 2011 at 20:14

    along with minish cap and four swords i have never played this game until it came out on 3DS a life long zelda fan i was right into it, thought the layout and design of the dungeons were challenging but worth while and the story was very intruiging, as well as a sad twang to the ending. well worth the 91%

  4. Fredgamer2 Monday 29th Aug 2011 at 23:45

    Fantastic game. Truly epic, then and now. The original was better though. Screen warping was a great glitch... even if it did mess up your game. Keeping Marion, Bowwow and the ghost and the cockerel permanently was awesome.

  5. Nickario Monday 12th Sep 2011 at 14:39

    I couldn't believe how enjoyable this game was, people say the portable zeldas are some of the best in the series, this was the first of them and I love the setting, link washed up on a tropical island (first time the series where it was outside of Hyrule) it just felt really awesome. I really liked the wind fish trombone of the most amazing zelda creatures I've ever seen.

    After completing oot3d I needed some more zelda goodness, fortunately I was able to download links awakening at the same time while on holiday, it was as enjoyable as OoT I highly recommend it.

  6. Hisoka Monday 12th Sep 2011 at 21:35

    Now you just need to release the Oracle games and ALTTP and we'll be all good Nintendo.

  7. Moshann Tuesday 13th Sep 2011 at 09:44

    This was the first Zelda game I ever played. I owned the original and then the Game Boy Colour version and just never got into it - I kept getting stuck and got frustrated with it, moved onto something else and never went back to it. I purchased the 3DS download for a final attempt at it. Having now played almost all the Zelda/Link games it seemed like a different game - it all felt so familiar and I felt right at home straight away and although I'm still getting stuck I know I'll work it out sooner or later. I'm so glad I've had another opportunity with this great game.

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