The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a modern remake of the 1993 Game Boy original. With updated visuals and the classic top-down perspective of earlier Zelda games, the charming title is a great throwback to the heyday of action-RPGs.
The adventure follows Link as he’s caught in a storm while sailing. Lightning strikes his boat, destroying it and he washes ashore on the mysterious Koholint Island. The villagers Marin and Tarin help him recover and a mysterious owl tells him that the only way to return home is to awaken the Wind Fish. That takes players through eight dungeons, where they have to defeat bosses to get the magical instruments that can rouse the creature from its slumber inside an egg that rests atop a volcano.
The game introduces a variety of unusual additions that end up being mainstays of future Zelda games. These include side activities such as fishing and a trading quest where players start with an innocuous doll and end up with a valuable item.
The simple hack-and-slash combat system is fun but repetitive though it gets better when Link earns access to ranged weapons, and tools like torches and shovels. These items also need to be used in creative ways to solve environmental puzzles scattered across the dungeons. The visual polish and delightful sound effects add character to an otherwise straightforward story.
The major new addition to Link’s Awakening is the option for players to build their own dungeons. It’s done via tiles: Players connect different rooms to create one level. The tiles themselves come from dungeons that players have adventured through and special stones that they discover. It’s rudimentary and nowhere near the level of Super Mario Maker but it establishes the foundation for a great feature.
Link’s Awakening isn’t a perfect game, but it offers a glimpse of a Zelda franchise in transition. It’s a time capsule that shows how the game became a font of new ideas that later became mainstays of the series.
Aside from that, the game also has a charming peculiarity about it. The story is darker than one would expect and it’s full of oddball characters. It’s one of the more unusual entries and that’s partly what makes it great. The best Zelda games are the ones that break the mold and have elements that come out of left field. Link’s Awakening has a lot of that and those ideas have aged well with time.