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Okay, I'll go on record and say this game was amazing at the time it came out. If I'd played it during my childhood, I probably would have loved it...
But unfortunately, Oracle of Ages was my first Zelda game. And going from that game to this was... kind of jarring.
Again, this game is not BAD, by any means. But it has a lot of glaring flaws that are far more noticable if you play one of the later Game Boy Zeldas first.
Firstly, the dungeon map system. You know how in other Zeldas, you can only see rooms you've been to until you find the map, which shows you the whole thing? Well in this game, you don't get any mercy. The map interface is always completley blank until you find the map item... and the game knows this, and often places the map very late into a dungeon. (The Item Get text is even "At last, you got a map!") This adds a lot of Fake Difficulty to dungeons.
Speaking of Item Get text, another major flaw: this game has a lot of Viewers Are Goldfish in tutorials. The Compass, for example, reminds you that it has a "new feature", it'll beep in rooms with a Key. Very useful, admittedly, but... the game feels the need to remind you of this "new feature" every time you get a compass. And it takes about 3 text boxes to explain this, every time.
But the worst case of this is simple pots. Touching one without the Power Bracelet will give you a "wow! This is really heavy!" message. A good hint you need a new item, but here's the problem: even after you get the Power Bracelet, this message does NOT go away. As long as you don't have the item currently equipped, so much as accidently nudging a pot will produce that message. And it's not just pots: every obstacle that requires an item to move or break has text like this that will plague you whenever you don't have said item equipped.
Speking of items, you have the Ocarina. Every time you move the cursor over it in the inventory, it brings up the song selection. This also gets annoying fast.
As was mentioned below, Saving is extremely clunky too.
All this may sound like nitpicking, but every single one of these flaws was fixed in the Oracle games. From a gameplay standpoint, those are the superior games these days. Still recommend this game for the Zelda history though.
I'm sorry, but this game and I go so far back that it constitutes as one of those times I've no choice but to sacrifice my otherwise totally-kinda-sorta-existent objective views, as damaging to my perceived "professionality" as it may be. That's right; this game was my first ever meeting with The Legend of Zelda. And as with any "first time", there's stuff both good and bad, but it was special and unforgettable. This is my roundabout way of saying that in this special case, my Nostalgia Goggles (or rather, Nostalgia Eyepieces) are worn with pride! Hell, I'll shout it from the goddamn Tal Tal Mountaintops: Link's Awakening is an honest-to-Goddesses classic! (And probably the best portable outing in the series.)
Right, so Link's Awakening—Mamus and all—taps into some sort of magic. It breaks on through to the other side like only Zelda can do at its finer moments. In fact, I like to consider it sort of a proto-Majora, in that it's not a black-and-white, good vs. evil, "YOU GREATLY SAVED WORLD, CONGLATURATION" kind of story. I won't spoil the twist, but the ending will leave you pondering about whether you actually did the right thing. And that's... something that's unfortunately(?) the exception rather than the rule in Zelda. Either way, it's right up my alley.
As a pure game, it holds up extremely well, even when its age is taken into consideration. Link's movements are responsive and fluid. If you die, it's mostly your own flawed playing what's to blame. It's got some extremely annoying quirks, such as the needlessly repetitive "Item Get" dialogue (Not that this problem wouldn't resurface in a future game...), poorly balanced boss fights that can be won in under a minute (regardless of skill), and little but basic puzzling. Though it must be said, these attributes also make it a good series entry point. Oh yeah, and those goddamn power-ups...!
In case I hadn't already sufficiently underlined this, these things are immaterial to me. Lots of its contemporaries suffer from the same problems and worse, and with much less to show for it. Returning to Koholint Island will always be on my shortlist of yearly gaming traditions. End of line.
(dlsclaimer: this is based on a reader review I wrote for another website)
You would think the Game Boy couldn't possibly capture the scope or fun of the console Zelda games, but then a game like this comes along to prove otherwise.
The presentation is superb; The island of Koholint is lots of interesting locales crammed into such a small space! All of these locales are represented with crisp sprites, and impressive scores for such a tinny sound system. The addtional color in the GBC port only enhances this.
And it comes to the time-honored Lo Z gameplay, Link's Awakening delivers the goods. Link is a snap to control, with two buttons allowing you to equip two items at a time and the start menu housing your inventory. The combat is very brisk and satisfying, thanks to spot-on hit detection and forgiving difficulty. Link amasses an impressive arsenal, from classics like bombs and arrows, to new stuff like the Roc's Feather, which lets you jump! The dungeons, as always, are a splendid mix of puzzles and foes, topped with thrilling bosses! On top of that, they even threw in some side-scrolling segments!
The game is briskly paced and always throws something new at you, so it never gets stale or tiresome, and the game length is just about right, taking several hours to beat in the first go. The difficulty is also forgiving, aside from some confusing parts which were probably thrown in just to get you to buy a Players Guide. I also like how when you start the game or come back from the dead, it starts you off right at the last door you entered in the overworld, saving you lots of time.
Link's Awakening has some minor shortcomings—you have to constantly swap items, which gets really tiresome, really fast. And while the game does have a save feature, it has the most counter-initiative way of triggering it—pressing all four of the game buttons at once, timing it just right so that you don't go to the pause screen. Talk about a lousy design choice! Also some parts of the game can get downright confusing, and there's even one part in the eight dungeon where if you're not careful, you can even get permanently stuck by using a key item out of it's proper sequence, forcing you to start the whole game over from scratch!
This aside, its a worthy gem of a game, and now available on 3DS!
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