The Gameboy was, and still quite often is even now through its various newer versions, known for quick, pick up and play titles, good for playing on the go during any free time. A few minutes of Tetris or Dr. Mario or a quick run through a shorter game such as Super Mario Land is ideal for passing time in a waiting room, on a bus or train, or in between classes at school. Certainly there are other longer, more involved games as well, but Link's Awakening was the first time that the Zelda series with all its depth and exploration would make its way onto this portable platform. Allowing for saving at any time (although sometimes not bringing you back quite as close to where you would've hoped to be when you left off) still allows it to fit in during spare time with being able to save and stop whenever necessary. It, however, also brought a very involved and deep journey to this handheld system, which could easily eat up hours at a time, and even when not on the go could certainly compete against the other gaming choices one might have at home and be something that would still be selected above all the other games as something to play just during the hours of time one might have at any given point and decide to devote to some video games. Regardless of the medium, it's an excellent addition to the Zelda series, and a gaming collection in general.
After having been located in Hyrule for the first three games, Link's Awakening opens with Link on a shipwreck in the middle of an ocean, clinging for life to a piece of broken wood. He drifts off holding onto the log, and when he wakes up he finds himself washed up on the beach of a new land, with an unfamiliar woman standing over him, and a large egg atop a mountain looming over him. The woman brings him back to her house, where he is cared for by her and her father until he is well enough to get up and examine the surroundings in which he finds himself. It appears that he has washed up on an island named Koholint, and that the egg on top of the mountain is home to the Wind Fish. The woman, introducing herself as Marin, tells him that since he had washed up, monsters have been increasing around the island, and it's a fortunate thing that he father, Tarin, had found your shield when they rescued you so that you have something to guard yourself with as you head off to explore the island. Soon after you find your sword as well, and that's the equipment that you need to really begin to adventure around this new land, and to uncover the mysteries that it holds. When finding the sword, Link is also approached by an owl who tells him more about the circumstances surrounding this island and what Link is doing here, and promises to tell him more throughout his journey. He explains that the reason for the monsters is because he suspects you are the person who will wake the Wind Fish, which will possibly have some interesting results for the monsters and the island itself. He says that waking the Wind Fish is also your only way off the island, and so you're given your main task to try to accomplish in the game, and sent off on your way.
Of course, going to wake the Wind Fish isn't as simple as just going up and knocking on his egg. In order to wake him, Link will need the 8 magical instruments which can play the song to wake the Wind Fish. As one might expect, these instruments are hidden within deep dungeons, guarded by a vast assortment of monsters and an intricate arrangement of perplexing puzzles. So, actually waking up this Wind Fish will require a good amount of work, which is the goal of the game. Along the way, however, the are a number of interesting diversions, long and winding paths, people to talk with, mysteries to uncover, and all sorts of other things.
The overworld map is broken up into boxes like a piece of grid paper, similar to the map given for the overworld in Zelda 1. Unlike that map, however, the map in Link's Awakening is extremely detailed and full of useful pictures and information. Prior to being explored each square is just a black box and can't be inspected. After being explored, however, the covering will be removed, revealing a small picture of that piece of land, and using a cursor on the map the square can be inspected to get a description of that piece of land, including any important information of significant things that are in that square. This map is quite useful for reference to try to find something previously discovered, and a great guidance point for the areas that have been explored and the areas that still need to be explored. Most every square contains something of use, either in itself or as a path toward something else. While most squares will be uncovered at the proper time in the course of the adventure, uncovering every single square can provide a good challenge, and trying to explore as far as possible at any given point can always prove interesting.
Similar to Link to the Past, the overworld is a mix of towns, forests, deserts, paths, and all sorts of other interesting surroundings. In the towns, Link can talk with people, gather information, buy items at shops, get guidance as to where he should be going next, and many other useful things. Then, heading out into the wild, the exploration begins - often limited by areas which can't be accessed until a certain item has been acquired - and eventually comes across a dungeon. Each dungeon has its own particular map to explore, challenges to overcome, including monsters and puzzles, and at the end a boss enemy to fight before getting one of the instruments that are required to wake the Wind Fish. The dungeons are similar in style to that of Link to the Past, consisting of the usual overhead view, and rooms filled with enemies, doorways - locked and otherwise -, hidden passages, bomb-able walls, and all sorts of other hindrances. Borrowing a page from Zelda 2's book, however, in certain areas Link will be able to go underground, and here he will find himself in a side-scrolling area, and with the use of an item able to jump as well. These areas are typically fairly short, and usually serve a similar purpose as the stairways in Zelda 1, to get from one area of the dungeon to another. At other times, however, these underground areas can get more complex, and require the use of certain other items or thinking to overcome an obstacle, before advancing. Either way, they provide an interesting and different look to things, from the standard overhead view used throughout most of the rest of the game.
In addition to the musical instrument, each dungeon also contains an item which is often required to progress through certain parts of that particular dungeon, and will come in useful both in further exploring the overworld - perhaps in allowing one to access a previously inaccessible area of land - and will often provide numerous other uses such as being helpful in fending off enemies. One very interesting thing that Link's Awakening does with items, is how they can be equipped. As opposed to Zelda 1 where the sword was always used with the A button, and the single selected item with the B button, in this game both buttons are fully customizable. This has a number of effects, but small and significant. Perhaps the most obvious is that, if one is more comfortable using B for a sword as opposed to A, the sword can be put there instead. A more interesting consequence, however, is that it's not required to have the sword equipped at all, and both buttons can be used for items. This, again, has a number of smaller and larger consequences. First, if two items are required in order to move through a particular area, both items can just be equipped at the simultaneously, saving time in having to constantly switch between items. More interestingly, some items can even be combined, such as the result having an arrow in one hand and a bomb in the other might have. This idea of combining items has since been used in more recent games in the series, and is definitely a very interesting idea. Regardless of how they're equipped, however, the variety of items acquired throughout the course of the game have a wide and beneficial assortment of uses, and exploring all the ways the items can be used can be quite interesting.
Another thing added to this game which has since been used in more recent games, is a trading sequence. Zelda 1 and 2 had basic instances of this, with certain people requiring a particular item in exchange for another item or for letting you into a particular area or some such thing. In Link's Awakening, however, the trading sequence is a long and involved process, involving numerous items and people, at times being required to advance to a particular area, and at the end being required to pass through the final dungeon (unless one just reads the correct path elsewhere or comes across it randomly, but, that isn't any fun). It begins simply, winning a Yoshi doll (I hear he's been showing up in many games recently) in a game room, which can then be given to a mother and her baby in exchange for a ribbon. This ribbon can be given to a dog in exchange for a can of dog food, which can be given to... Well, you get the idea. This process of giving an item to someone who will give you another item in return for it, which in turn is given to another person in exchange for another item continues throughout the course of the entire game right up until the end. Often the person to whom to give the item is obvious and part of the adventure, at other times it's something that's stumbled across randomly, and at other times it requires a good deal of searching and exploring. As a whole, it's a very interesting process, and adds some more enjoyment to exploring all of the squares the overworld has to offer.
As this game was made for the original Gameboy, and intended for play in black and white, the color detail when playing on a Gameboy Color or Gameboy Advance isn't too involved. The scenery in the game, however, is quite detailed and intricate. There are many interesting places to travel through, each with their own particular look and feel. The dungeons as well are very nicely designed, with many details and things which make them stand out. In general, the game is enjoyable to explore not just for the sake of exploration, but for seeing all of the different things that it has to offer. In addition, there are a number of different selections of background music which will play throughout the journey, changing from place to place to more appropriately fit the surroundings in which it is found, and always a perfect match. Hearing the changing of the music, often in tandem with a marked change in the scenery, really serves to indicate that a new and interesting area has been found, and to make the exploring even more enjoyable.
Later on, after the Gameboy Color came out, an updated version of the game was released, Link's Awakening DX. The most obvious change to this game, of course, was that specific color instructions were included for the Gameboy Color, where the new game took full advantage of the colors allowed by the new system. Another significant change, was the addition of a new dungeon, focused on color-based puzzles which could only be solved when playing on a Gameboy Color. Completion of this new dungeon grants Link the use of his choice between two items which aren't required to complete the quest, but which will make his journey much easier. Another addition in this game is that, when played on a Super Gameboy for SNES, it includes its own special border design in addition to the default ones. The game can still be played on a regular Gameboy as well, but with it not being possible (or, at least, not possible as intended) to go through the new dungeon. Still, if one is using a Gameboy Color or Gameboy Advance to play the game anyway, the DX version of the game is a very nice one to have, and would likely be the preferable choice between the two versions as the one to get under that circumstance.
Link's Awakening introduced a number of new ideas to the series, many of which have been used by later games. As well, the later Zelda games for Gameboy Color, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, borrowed a number of elements from this game, and for anyone looking for more games in the same style as this one, provide an interesting combination of games to try. Still, even with all the new games in the series, Link's Awakening remains a very unique title, consisting of a combination of elements which really cause it to stand out from the rest. Whether one is looking for a more involved game to play on the go, another adventure in the Zelda series, or just a fun game in which to explore and adventure, Link's Awakening offers all of that and more. It's something that really shouldn't be missed by fans of the series, fans of portable games, or just by fans of games like this in general, as it's an absolutely spectacular game, as much now as it's always been.