Publisher: Nintendo • Released: 1993/DX 1998 • Original Console: Gameboy
One Sentence Plot Summary: Link, H̶e̶r̶o̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶T̶i̶m̶e̶, is washed upon the shores of Koholint Island, a land plagued by evil monsters, and the only way to restore peace is to wake the Wind Fish by gathering magical instruments, conveniently located in the bowels of eight progressively difficult dungeons.
I'm a major Zelda fan. I was first introduced to A Link to the Past at a babysitter's when I was very little, and later, I would sneak away at sleepovers to play Ocarina of Time on my friend's older brother's N64. But Link's Awakening was the very first Zelda game I actually owned. Originally released on the Game Boy in 1993, I didn't get to play Link's Awakening until it was re-released on the Game Boy Color as Link's Awakening DX in 1998. There are a few differences between the two versions - most notably the addition of color and one extra dungeon - but they are largely the same game. I love to revisit my favorite retro titles from time to time, so read on to find out why I think you should (re)play Zelda: Link's Awakening.
1. Zelda Handheld, First of its Name
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is the very first Zelda title for handheld consoles. Zelda handheld games never get as much love as they deserve. They’re generally shorter games and often criticized for their lack of depth and recycled mechanics. The infamous Zelda Timeline excluded their stories for years until Hyrule Historia reaffirmed their place in the Zelda canon.
However, Zelda handheld games hold a certain charm as well as a frustrating - yet enjoyable - difficulty that make then absolutely worth playing. If you haven't played Link's Awakening but enjoy Four Swords or Spirit Tracks, find a copy of it (links below) to see where it all started.
Link's Awakening originally began as an after-hours project. A lot of its wonderful weirdness is due to a lack of curation and supervision from management teams.
2. The Surreal Story
Spoiler alert: it was all a dream. No, really, Link's Awakening is one of the rare Zelda titles that does not take place in Hyrule nor feature the series' iconic princess. Instead, Link is transported to Koholint Island where he must wake the Wind Fish in order to wake up from his own dream - which, maybe also isn't a dream? How tragic.
Link's Awakening deals with some Inception-level twists, and along the way Link encounters the incredible quirkiness of Kohilint Island: a place where both people and anthropomorphic animals live together, magic and monsters roam free, and hours can be spent trying to win a Yoshi doll in a really addicting crane game. All this madness is linked together by secret paths absolutely worth discovering if only to stumble upon another scene of eccentricity.
3. All the Seashells & Side-quests
It wouldn't be a Zelda game without side quests! Link's Awakening has some great ones including the infamous seashell hunt. I’ve spent hours digging up the entire map looking for these damn things. It's worth it though, as are all the side quests in Link's Awakening. By completing them you can receive pieces of heart and rare equipment upgrades that make defeating the last boss easier. Also, if you have the DX version of Link's Awakening you get access to the Color Dungeon. Completing it offers you fancy wardrobe customizations: a red tunic (power) or a blue tunic (defense).
4. A Magical Secret Ending
Link's Awakening has a super secret ending. I won't spoil it here, but it requires you to beat the game without dying, not even once. So even if you've played this classic before, why not load it up again and try to complete this M̶a̶s̶t̶e̶r̶ ̶Q̶u̶e̶s̶t̶ challenge?!? Okay, okay, here's a link to the DX secret ending - but it's much more rewarding when you achieve it yourself!
By The Numbers
1993 released on Gameboy • 1998 Game Boy Color DX release • 6 mil units sold worldwide • 9/10 average review score • 14 maximum number of hearts Link can obtain
5. Tons of Nintendo Cameos
Being an "after-hours" project, Link's Awakening got away with some major Nintendo cameos. It's a lot of fun to see these classic characters make an appearance in the game as most of them are enemies and NPCs Link can interact with. There's Yoshi in crane game, Chain-Chomp as a temporary companion, Goombas to stomp and even an evil Kirby mob! Did you catch all the cameos?
6. The Legacy
Do you like Ocarina of Time? I'm sure the answer is HECK YEA, so you should absolutely play Link's Awakening. This game was released before Ocarina, and Eiji Aonuma (Nintendo producer and manager for The Legend of Zelda series) is quoted with saying:
"If we had proceeded from A Link to the Past straight to Ocarina of Time without Link’s Awakening in between, Ocarina would have been different."
Link's Awakening is only the fourth Zelda game released, and it introduces so many familiar elements to the now decades long series including: a fishing mini-game, a trading-sequence side quest, a wise owl guide, hidden collectables side quests, and an ocarina.
7. That Darn Nostalgia
Fun facts aside, Link's Awakening is simply fun to play. The puzzles are challenging. The dungeons are dynamic. The side quests are engaging. The story is both heartwarming and mysterious. I've replayed Link's Awakening many times over the years, and every single time I play it, I find myself discovering something new: a new way to beat a puzzle, a new Easter egg, a new battle strategy, something. I really recommend giving this one another go around, or, if you've never played it, giving this classic Zelda title a try.
HOW TO PLAY Link’s Awakening
A Used Gameboy Cartridge
A Brand New Gameboy Color Cartridge
A 3DS Digital Download from Nintendo