It’s late 1996; John Major is serving his penultimate year as prime minister for the Conservative party, GM foods are now on sale in the UK, the third Doctor/Worzel Gummidge has died and we have a new James Bond in Pierce Brosnan. I am 11 years old.
I am travelling to Merry Hill Shopping Centre in Dudley with a £20 note tightly gripped in the palm of my hand. I’m going to buy a game.
During the one and a half hour drive I play nothing but Tetris on my Game Boy. Though Tetris is a fantastic game, it becomes dull when it’s the only game available to me that I haven’t finished (and to my knowledge it isn’t even possible). I need a new Game Boy game. I am on the lookout for The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.
I was a huge fan of the series. The Legend of Zelda was the third game to grace my NES following Super Mario Bros. and Castlevania. It was also too difficult for me at the time. I still managed to appreciate it’s sprawling fantasy world, filled with caves and dungeons to explore - all littered with enemies to fight or people to interact with. To me it was light years ahead of Super Mario Bros. I was always fascinated by the concept of an inventory, in-game currency and merchants. To this day I believe Zelda is to blame for my video game item hoarding, whereby I will save ammunition for special weapons or expensive items and simply use my default weapons until the end of the game, never to use the one’s that I was saving. It’s an annoying habit, and I have yet to shake it some 18 years later from those days plugging away on my NES. It’s not too bad going back to it – sure it’s dated, but it’s still got the building blocks in place that the franchise is now known for. In recent years I started playing it again on the GameCube's Zelda compilation disc, and I currently have a save game at the final dungeon (the furthest I have ever got)!
That said, my love of the franchise was not cemented until The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the SNES. Upon it’s release I was at an age that could fully appreciate all of the advancements in the series; not only enhanced graphics, more character actions/items and further realised characters, but a whole light/dark world mechanic that introduced environmental puzzles and a greater length of play. This was the first Zelda game I played through to completion (and have again in recent years thanks to the GBA remake). One of my first genuine memories of sadness in a video game comes from the “flute boy” in the Haunted Grove who turns into a fucking inanimate tree once you obey his wishes and play his flute to him… but you do get a shovel and a flute from him beforehand, so who cares, right?
It’s still a rich and exciting adventure to this day and the visuals still look great. If you’ve not played it yet, I fully recommend you do. It’s available on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console for 800 points. Buy it.
Back to 1996.
I have one destination – Electronics Boutique. I ignore every other shop and make a beeline to it’s doors. Disaster. It’s £30. It’s out of my budget. ‘Gutted’ isn’t the word. I appear in front of my mother and tell her the distressing news. She tells me it’s £20 over in Index. Jackpot.
I bag Zelda and wish away the time before getting back to the car. There’s a large billboard advertising GoldenEye showings at the cinema – I want to see it but the last showing is already underway. No matter, I have Zelda.
It’s dark. The only light supplied to my first generation Game Boy screen is supplied by overhead motorway street lights – not perfect, but I’m playing Zelda and I’m smiling.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was an odd title. The game didn’t feature Zelda or even a princess, but a Zelda look-a-like known as Marin, daughter of the Mario look-a-like Tarin, the first of many Nintendo cameos in the game – another oddity where the Zelda series is concerned. It played similarly to A Link to the Past with a similar graphical style, though most likely entirely lifted from “Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru”, another Takashi Tezuka game, which also featured platforming areas similar to the bastard child of Nintendo’s Zelda series, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Vomit.
The gameplay varied from the series’ simple top down combat to fetch quests to dungeon puzzles – the most memorable of which had you lugging a giant ball above your head (which you had to try not to lose) in order to toss it at four pillars to reveal a new dungeon floor that collapses above. You would guide Link (or THIEF) around the overworld solving various puzzles along the way and acquiring new weapons/items to progress between dungeons – standard Zelda fair, but this time in the palm of your hand (something quite spectacular in the early 1990’s).
It wasn’t all rainbows and blowjobs, however. With the Game Boy only having two buttons, the controls were an issue – constantly switching back and forth between the game and the inventory mid boss fight was not an unusual practise. And *spoilers* the story may or may not have been a dream. Wank.
Minor negatives aside, it was a fun game and took a long time to get through – the overworld was huge and the number of secrets and fetch quests upped my game time considerably.
Unfortunately there’s no easy way to play this game anymore as it was only released on the Game Boy and rereleased in colourised form for the Game Boy Color (The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX). Here’s hoping titles like this will eventually be made available on the DSiWare Store.