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Zelda: Link's Awakening DX (Virtual Console)
Zelda: Link's Awakening DX (Virtual Console)
A reawakening
Published by AlloftheAbove
Author review
Average N/A%
Smilie Waluigi Zelda: Link's Awakening DX (Virtual Console)

As you may be aware, The Legend of Zelda: Linkís Awakening DX is now available on Nintendo 3DSí eShop. Just to let you know, I am reviewing this version. Anyway, just like Ocarina of Time 3D, the ability to play Linkís Awakening in a modern context comes with a vague sense of apprehension. It seems like 2011 is all about Zelda, with Nintendo wonderfully commemorating Linkís adventures by producing a brand new one later this year (Skyward Sword), breathing new life into a modern classic, and directly porting this vintage title into the modern era.

But gaming has changed a lot since Linkís Awakening was released on the GameBoy in 1993. With an entirely new audienceís modern tastes to satiate, itís all the more remarkable that it still remains the involving, evocative adventure it has always been. The gameís structure and style will be familiar to anyone who has played other top-down adventures, but the setting and circumstances certainly wonít be.

Itís for a very good reason that Linkís Awakening is considered an anomaly when it comes to the wider Zelda series. Itís not set in Hyrule, thereís no Triforce to be had, thereís no Ganon to fight, and thereís no Princess Zelda to rescue. Instead, Link finds himself washed up on Koholint Island after a shipwreck and you must wake up the Wind Fish to get off the island. Itís simpler than most (if not, all) other Zelda titles, but thatís because itís a pocket-sized adventure aptly created for Zelda fans many a year ago. Strange cameos and enigmatic character dialogue extend the offbeat tone, although in pure gameplay terms, itís classic Zelda.

Taken in by friendly father and daughter combo Tarin and Marin, Link begins an island adventure thatís tighter and more focused that its (much) bigger brothers. Cartridges were less than luxuriously roomy back in í93. Screen y screen, you explore and learn Koholintís locations Ė the friendly Mabe Village, the Mysterious Woods, Kanalet Castle, Yarna Desert, Goponga Swamp Ė theyíre all standard Zelda archetypes, but that never diminishes the sense of discovery. Thereís a unique sense of place that makes Koholint Island a joy to explore, as long as you donít mind retracing your steps more than a few times.

All that overground exploration could get a little tedious if Koholintís inhabitants werenít such a colourful bunch. One of them is literally called Crazy Tracy, while another communicates only through the telephone (yes, apparently they exist here). You meet a bear whoís a chef, and you can help a talking goat to deliver a love letter to a man called Mr. Write. Even the signs crack little gags, and letís not forget that your main task is to wake up a sleepy flying whale that lives in a pink, spotty egg atop a mountain. Essentially, the game doesnít take itself seriously and subconsciously creates a statement about fantasy games as a whole. While all Zelda games have had their quirks, none lay on this much humour so heavily as Linkís Awakening. The slew of allusion and references to other Nintendo characters confirms this is Zelda at is kookiest. Tarin, for example, has a big nose, a mustache, likes mushrooms and at one point turns into a raccoon. There are plenty more direct Mario series references too, and even Kirby appears at one point. The side-quests are so enjoyable and quirky that itís often more fun completing these fetch quests for these characters than playing the main game.

Even Wart from Super Mario Bros. 2 makes a cameo as a friendly frog king.

Classic Zelda games were created before walkthroughs, meaning that completing a Zelda dungeon was more of a challenge. I, myself, pride myself on never using walkthroughs, just so I maintain the challenge presented before me. You should all do the same, if youíd like to get out of Linkís Awakening DX with your dignity. Of course, dungeoneering is designed with the same ingenuity and faultless internal logic youíd expect from a top-quality Zelda game. Find a key, push a block, vanquish a foe Ė they start simply enough and become genuinely labyrinthine just a couple hours in.

This is old-school at its best. Linkís Awakening DXís dungeons possess unquestionable class, but they require real concentration to conquer. This is not dip-in, dip-out stuff. Thereís no hint system, no computer-controlled Link to jump in and show you the way, and no Sheikah Stone to show you glimpses of what you should be doing. Itís you and your handheld against old-fashioned, unforgiving dungeon design. To break this down into laymanís gaming terms (ďgaymanís termsĒ, if you will): Imagine youíre playing Pokemon, where every cave is another Victory Road.

In the bigger dungeons, youíll find yourself stopping to mutter at the map screen, before checking every nook and cranny wondering what youíve missed. Usually, itís your fault. You failed to notice that slight crack in that innocuous wall, or didnít realise that flinging Link into a certain pit makes him land in a previously inaccessible room. Getting stuck and finding your way out is one of the slightly perverse pleasures to be discovered here, while the promise of a new toy constantly drives you on. Nintendoís dastardly dungeon design team is always placing the next shiny new thing just out of reach, or showing you parts of the dungeon you could get to easily if you just had a new piece of gear. Itís brilliant and torturous at the same time.

Piled on top of the puzzles, you have the enemies to contend with as well. Playing as you do from the classic pre-Ocarina perspective just feels naturally harder Ė no strafing, no L-Targeting, just you and whatever items you picked to be your A and B weapons. Surviving becomes more about keeping on the move and away from danger than simply locking on and raising your shield, as you would in any of Linkís 3D adventures. Later bosses, inevitably, are sweaty-palm inducing beasts. You will die many more times fighting these guys than you would in more recent Zelda titles, which has maintained a systematic ďuse the thing you found in the dungeon, and then hit the monsterĒ formula for over a decade now. Close study of weak points and plain old practice are required to beat these things, and when you do, victory is made all the sweeter.

While punishing and certainly not for Linkís softcore fans, Linksí Awakeningís dungeons remain highly satisfying slices of classic Zelda. Emerging triumphant from these monstrous caverns to be greeted by the simple chiptune charms of the main overworld theme never fails to make me breathe a breath of relief and satisfaction.

Back into the light, the tunes are still brilliant, remarkably. Nintendo is famed for doing the best with what it has, and this eminently hummable soundtrack joins a surprisingly accomplished visual style which serves to emphasise that Nintendo really has worked wonders with what is now laughably rudimentary hardware. Anyone who remembers playing this game on the Game Boy will recall that struggling against its dimly-lit screen was almost as challenging as the game itself. It makes me wonder how we coped before the GameBoy Advance SP was released, flaunting its backlight at us as if it were the Golden Ticket to Willy Wonkaís Chocolate Factory. Actually, I donít really know where that analogy was going. ĎHaving the 3DS backlight is nice,í is what Iím trying to get across here.

Chances are, if youíre a hardcore Zelda fan, youíve probably already got this on an emulator for your PC, but Nintendo has done the world a great favour by rereleasing this feisty Zelda title to the public via Nintendoís eShop. Linkís Awakening is at once brilliant, archaic, funny, frustrating Ė but never, ever anything less than fantastically entertaining. Download it now, if you have a 3DS. Yes, all 4 of you out there.

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By Aether_Fenris on 07-18-2011, 11:42 PM
I love how "big" this game feels for a handheld. It's rivaled only by Pokemon games in that aspect(talking about games at its time of release). it doesn't really feel like a dumbed down handheld's every bit as "big" as it's console brother, a Link to the Past.
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By CosmicMega on 07-20-2011, 06:39 PM
Great review. I've never been too big on Zelda, but this definitely had some great points in it that might swing me to buy it. (Well, if I ever get my mitts on a 3DS)
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By Tommy on 07-24-2011, 03:07 PM
"Chances are, if youíre a hardcore Zelda fan, youíve probably already got this on an emulator for your PC"

Wow...just WOW. More like if you're not a fan you have this as a rom on your pc...
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By Nintenduendo on 07-24-2011, 07:58 PM
Originally Posted by Tommy View Post
More like if you're not a fan you have this as a rom on your pc...
If you're not a fan, why have it on your PC, taking up space?

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By Tanis on 07-25-2011, 12:46 AM
I guess he means you're not supporting Nintendo by not owning the game itself? Still doesn't make sense, but whatever.

Nice review.
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By Rin on 07-25-2011, 05:46 AM
Good review. As for the emulating, If they weren't a fan, they wouldn't go through the hassle of setting one of them up.
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