Recently I’ve been visiting my old school retro roots with such classics such as Sierra’s Space Quest series, Willy Beamish, Duck Tales for the NES and many, many more. It seemed appropriate during this time to drag out my hidden box in the attic which contained none other than my original Game Boy from my childhood and a selection of games which I’d kept.
The Game Boy was one of my first handheld gaming systems. My brother also had the Atari Lynx which we could play other classics such as Paperboy and California Games on which if I remember correctly, included surfing. But out of those handhelds to be placed into my hands, the Game Boy was the staple of my portable gaming history. I remember fond memories of playing Snoopy and how upset I was when my brother completed it before I did. I remember Lion King being incredibly difficult… as well as rage quitting to Furby!
There are two purposes for me dragging my Game Boy out of the attic – one is to provide some really new and alternative reviews for old school Game Boy games, something I’ve not always found so easy to locate online. The second is, I need to find something awesome to do during my train journeys, because I spent about 4 hours a day commuting. Whilst a more modern handheld would probably be just as awesome, there is a great feel of nostalgia in replaying childhood games. As one of the first of these retro reviews, the style and format of this review may change from this initial published version in later reviews, just to try and fit in everything we want to say. Not quite as easy when a lot of the retro information, images and so on aren’t yet uploaded historically on the internet!
First things first, we have to pick one of my favourite classic Game Boy titles of all time – The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening! An initially intriguing title for the Zelda games which are considerably in depth and long games – yet the Game Boy has only limited interface options with minimal buttons. Would this be user friendly and efficient whilst maintaining a level of challenge for the gamer? Would it provide enough to do? Let’s look into this a little bit more and try and see whether this game lives up to the hype!
You awake in an unfamiliar room, with two local townsfolk who found you washed up upon the beach. Whilst they pass you your shield, you are informed that since you washed up, a lot of debris and monsters have as well – leading you onwards with your first clue. From here, you retrieve your sword and can finally fight back against the many minions that have spawned and followed you as you shielded your way there. This is when the storyline begins to really take off – introducing you to the Owl who will advise you of what is going on and where you need to go next. The fantastic part about older games is that they always tell you directly what your mission objective is – the Owl advises you to visit the Mysterious Forest to obtain a key and that you shall go and endure. This doesn’t take the challenge away from the game however, where a series of platforming, combat and puzzles create interest throughout each level.
You now have an amazing 8 different caves/dungeons and areas which you need to complete in order to gain all the relevant instruments to help to wake the Wind Fish and therefore save the land from ‘evil’. In terms of game length, this is a relatively time consuming and perhaps where the map is the most misleading – when you look at the map you see a series of areas yet it doesn’t zoom in to the mini maps of each individual cave. This makes the physical locale of the game much bigger than initially expected.
In many ways, this game has striking similarities and finds me fondly reminiscent of another Zelda title, ‘A Link To The Past’ likely thanks to the top down view and occasional side scrolling elements. It is worth noting that Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past is on an entirely different console – Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) – which features a much higher graphical resolution of 256 x 240 (Game Boy is 160 x 144) and 64 colours / 6-bit depth (Game Boy is 2 bit, 4 shades of gray) as well as a much more developed and larger sound board which offer a much more progressive and layered audio soundtrack.
What the Game Boy might lack in terms of processing, audio and graphical possibilities, this particular installment of Zelda is brought to life wonderfully with what is available. Theme songs are still very much identifiable and the music brings that extra oomph to the game which has often led me to tears by the end (because it’s nice, not because it’s that difficult!). The top down overview keeps a clear and objective view on everything going on within that frame, enabling the user to decide when to move on or back. Controls are relatively simple (there aren’t many) to really adjust to and before you know it you’re taking the kingdom back one enemy at a time within a blink of an eye.
In terms of difficulty (of which I can only base this on how I found it) I found the first few dungeons / caves to be of relative ease, simply just completing puzzles, battling enemies and simply avoiding being hit. The difficulty steadily rises at a reasonable level, with new monsters and enemies being introduced as you progress further into the game. It is certainly no game rage or dropping you in the deep end just yet, like my not-so-fond memories of Kirby or Lion King!
What makes this particular Zelda title fantastic is that, even with the smaller screen and limited length, it still gives you enough time to empathise with Link and to question why we are actioning these elements. It makes you want to hunt down every single bush to find rupees, as well as special hidden treats that give you power ups. What is also amazing, is the introduction and happy special guest slot by Yoshi as a stuffed toy (and some odd NPCs who look awfully similar to Mario…) which really shows the popularity of these characters, brands and games building through the early 90s, a Nintendo powerhouse featured on one tiny cartridge!
Highly recommended as one of my personal favourites of the Game Boy era, as well as an intriguing and captivating installment to the Zelda franchise, Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening can be found for the original Game Boy for approximately £7.50 at auction including box and manual (used), or if you wish to splash out for the later released Game Boy Color version (Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX) then you’ll be expecting around £40 new in box with manual.