What is it about Zelda?
In an age of high-polygon heroes and high-def screens, what’s made me return to the low-res, tiny-screen universe of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, which was first released for Game Boy almost twenty years ago?
Part of the game’s appeal, of course, is the same appeal all Zelda games have: well-crafted dungeons, a huge overworld, giant bosses, and spotless gameplay. Items aren’t just for killing monsters: they’re tools of exploration, opening passages blocked by rubble, whisking you across deadly chasms. You have to keep playing, because you’re just one item away from finding out what’s in that next room.
But it’s more than that. While Link’s Awakening is standard Zelda in many ways, it’s also quite unique.
For one thing, it’s a Zelda without Zelda – one of only two games in the series not to feature the titular princess. (The other was Majora’s Mask, which was pretty odd in its own right.) Link shipwrecks on the island of Koholint, which is no part of the series’s main world, Hyrule. Throughout the game, there are strong hints that Koholint is just a dream world – and that the dream may or may not be Link’s. This Matrix-like doubt about the nature of reality lends a subtle psychological twist to a mostly-physical adventure. One of the bosses taunts: “You don’t seem to know what kind of island this is.” Indeed.
But don’t let these ontological puzzles fool you into thinking Link’s Awakening is some grim, brooding meditation on the meaning of illusion. The game is funny. When Link’s quasi-girlfriend Marin joins him on his quest, he holds her over his head like an item. “You got Marin!” the game informs you. Which is important, because you need her to wake up a giant walrus. So you can get inside the next dungeon, which is shaped like a fish.
I first played Awakening back in high school, and I never did beat it. I think I got to the seventh dungeon, got stuck, and just didn’t pick it up again. But Link’s back, and he’s not messing around this time. He came here to do two things: wake up giant walruses, and chew bubble gum. And he’s all out of bubble gum.
What games have you played lately?