Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka, et al, 1998. Nintendo Game Boy Color.
Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka, et al, 1998. Nintendo Game Boy Color.
I played A Link to the Past more times than I should have, which is to say more times than I can count. I was relatively new to Zelda's universe at that time, my previous attempts at playing earlier games not lasting more than a few hours in. Link to the Past, though, inspired me in some strange way. It is hard to explain, but a game world only a handful of screens tall by a handful of screens wide, with a weird little swamp and a weird little desert and a small village of half a dozen people had such a surreal, dream quality that it intrigued me. It made absolutely no sense, mind you. I mean, imagine the ecosystem? What exactly are all those moblins eating?
This game I skipped over because, and I am going to go on a limb here and blame the absence of backlighting, I used to avoid the Gameboys like a plague. Any game for them I would tool around with at best. I later went on to emulate a few, first with a computer and rom set up and then with a adapter for my Gamecube; and enjoyed maybe a third of what I played. That is to say, I find most Gameboy cames too simplistic and too quick to just tie into a popular series rather than stand on their on. Most. A few of them are quite good.
I picked up Awakening at a used game store for $14.99. I had heard praise. Some reviews described as the "lost" treasure of the Zelda-land. One claimed it was the best of the entire series. Some critics said it was no good, but overall reception was good. And, it was sort of a sequel to Link to the Past. I had to play it.
My overall reaction is positive. The story starts out with a shipwrecked, sea-tossed Link on Koholint Island, under the care of Marin and Tarin, a daughter and father team who hang out on the beach a lot. All that was recovered was Link's shield. And, with that, he sets off. The game quickly establishes the main point: Link is to awaken the Wind Fish. Much like other games, you see that there are eight dungeons and eight things to collect. The tri-force is absent, this time it is musical instruments (which, frankly, is mostly just a matter of description...it could have been tri-force pieces for all of their affect on game play).
The format is the same. You have a sword and shield and a number of tools which you use to slash enemies and keep your heart bar filled and your rupies a'coming. You cut grass, lift rocks, bomb walls, and dig holes to locate new passageways, rupies, hearts, a couple of bonuses, and so on. The game starts with a limited amount of roaming possible, but as new items show up there are more places you can go and explore. And exploration is a big deal. More so than the last installment, there are times where you are given essentially no clues and are left to wander around until you find the next step. Usually, this is located in some part of the map you could not get to before.
There are a couple of differences to the game play, here. You set the A and B button with whichever item you want. A few stages are side-scrolling, needing a slightly different way of approaching them (an advancement of similar attempts in the first game). A lot of the enemies show up from other games, largely Mario-based entities. A few new minigames show up: the "trendy" game (the claw game) and fishing (which is now something of a mainstay from what I have seen). A few old rules stay in place. You can still beat chickens. You can still capture things with your boomerang (which, by the way, is a much later item in this game than one would think).
All in all, though, some of these changes don't quite work. You can jump now, with the aid of an item, but you will find yourself unable to jump in some directions that it would make sense that you could (like off of cliffs, you have to press towards the cliff and let the game autojump). Though you can fall off bridges in some places, you can rarely walk voluntarily off of them. In the side scroll mode, jump has an odd delay to its hang that is actually used to get by a few places but feels wrong.
The two worst things are the game's use of height and some of the movements. The movement problem, for me, showed up most in the Level 8 dungeon when you are trying to guide these "moving rocks" around. In most cases, you had to press the direction you wanted before they were all the way to the next spot but after they are half way. If you press it when they are actually in the spot the game might ignore your input. In other cases, the movement just felt clunky overall, leading to some added frustration.
The use of height was more annoying to me, in the end. Rather than plot an enemy based on their feet position, enemies were largely plotted based on the pixels they occupied. This means than an enemy jumping up from the floor is also moving to the top of the screen at the same time, even if their "true" movement is towards the bottom. This can actually be used to Link's advantage a few times, but overall it feels like taking advantage in a flaw of design (and leads to things like Link able to jump "over" enemies unless they are more to the top of the screen).
And, though minor, the having to switch back and forth between items so often kind of drags down the game. I know the set up is two buttons only, but it still takes away from the game experience. Another side effect is the way that you save the game, requiring you press all the buttons at once. Not really a problem, but it feels that something close to a menu system might have served the game better.
By the end, the story comes a fruition that I will mark as overall low. Not unexpected. Not unnecessary, but it feels like it could have benefited from a few alternate ways of handling the end game. I guess in some ways there is a moral lesson tied in, but it still felt a little quickly shoved together.
If you like this sort of game, then definitely play it. If you don't like this sort of game, the additional little levels of frustration might irritate harshly. It is a fun game, and worth the time I spent playing it, but I regularly felt like the game was cheating me out some next step it never reached. The fishing game, for instance, could have been greatly expanded. The trading quest could have had some branches. The secret shell game requires an annoying level of digging and searching, and has no real flair to help make up for it.
Could be a great candidate for a remake with smoother motion and a different way of handling the tool switching. Nevertheless, a good introduction to several elements form the next game, including the fishing and the ocarina. Play it but expected to be a little annoyed by certain parts of it.
(0-100, 50 = Average)
Reviewer's Tilt: 65
Final Average: 55
I beat it, but did not ever get the Level 2 Sword (which I know exists because my sword says Lv-1). I never found a non green tunic. I never found the bonus dungeon (well, I found it, I just never played it). I didn't complete the sea shell quest. I didn't get but 2-3 of the pictures. I was missing 5 hear pieces by the end. So, overall, not super well, but I did beat it. So...there.
There are a good number of "bomb" spots that are not clearly marked. When you feel stuck, try and blow up a few places.
One of the best places to go in the game is Tracy's Spa. The special potion will revive you once you die and she will heal you. It only costs a low number of rupies and one of the items in the game will take you right to it.
The telephones give clues if you get stuck, though sometimes only vague ones.
The atlas in the library can really help you to locate places to go next.
Written by W Doug Bolden
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