My Link's Awakening Cartridge

As my first ever video game system, I played a ton of games on the Game Boy. From the age of four I was glued to the green, monochrome screen on that brick-sized, bulky mass of digital wonders. It served as my introduction to many Nintendo franchises and the beginning of my favourite hobby in the world.

As someone growing up with these 8-bit classics (and as I’m sure many retro gamers can relate), I was no stranger to high difficulty levels. Missing a jump and watching Mario plummet to his death, getting punished by the Elite Four’s impenetrable Pokémon squad and desperately attempting to micro-manage high-speed falling Tetris blocks as they inevitably began to tower higher… Yet, I had never been challenged in quite the same way as when I first played Link’s Awakening.

More specifically, I first played the DX version. Since the gaming obsession had already dominated my young mind, I obviously begged my parents later on for a Game Boy Color. Shortly after receiving one, I had inherited a cartridge from my auntie which read “ZELDA” in big block letters, from the logo we all now know and love. I had never heard of Zelda before, but the image of a sword and shield was enough to convince me that this was going to be an awesome game.

After slamming in the cartridge and turning on the game, it was instantly clear that this was nothing like I’d ever seen. Again, to compare with those other games I played, this wasn’t the cute and cheerful world of Super Mario Land or Bubble Bobble. Sinister music began playing during the opening cutscene, with a thunderstorm raging on among harsh seas and black clouds. Upon seeing a mysterious man clinging on for dear life and screaming before his ship was struck by a lightning bolt, I knew this was going to be something I’d never experienced before.

Link's Awakening

Shortly after the game began, it was already more story-driven than anything I’d played before. As Link awoke to the friendly Marin and Tarin, I was seeing something I’d rarely encountered before: dialogue. I didn’t need a plot before to know how to move, jump and progress through a game. Yet, the speech and character interactions captured my interest. Wandering outside the house and into Mabe Village, I discovered even more characters and animals just living their own digital lives. Despite still being provided with an objective, for what felt like the first time I was allowed to explore and do what I wanted, at my own pace.

Eventually, with only a shield to protect myself, I set out in search of my washed-up sword. After navigating through Toronbo shores and avoiding the enemies that awaited there, I found and acquired my blade. This was my first taste of reward–after feeling considerably helpless against evil forces before, I could now feel deserving in the fact that I could now vanquish any foes in my path. Of course, with only three heart containers to boot, I still had to display skill and remain prudent to survive. I had experienced my first small victory, but the real challenges awaited.

It wasn’t until I reached the dungeons that I began to see the true extent of Link’s Awakening‘s strenuous nature. Instead of my reactions, it was my brain that was being tested. Thinking outside the box when confronted with the Owl Statues’ cryptic messages and riddles, remembering which rooms and areas to revisit later, trying out all of the items in my inventory in different situations… Solving puzzles and exploring the world quickly became the most rewarding gameplay I had ever experienced. Hours of frustrated wandering through dungeon rooms became infinitely worth the time and effort invested when I finally figured out I had to bomb a specific wall, or defeat enemies in a certain order. I even started taking notes and drawing maps on paper.

The strong atmosphere and sense of adventure was also maintaining my motivation and avidity to progress. The music changing as I traveled through each screen really brought the game to life, transitioning from the cheerful tones of Mabe Village, to the adventurous and vigorous main theme that plays across the overworld. Then, of course, there was entering into the Mysterious Woods for the first time; being suddenly plunged into a dark and eerie area crawling with enemies, the gloomy musical tones serving as a reminder of my solitude.

2 Link's Awakening

Being the DX version, the vibrant colors were beautiful and the variety of areas and themes across the entire map of Koholint Island was amazing. To this day I think the sprite art remains extremely visually appealing, creating characters with charm and spirit while also giving enemies and bosses a sense of evil and ferocity.

My emotional investment in the story meant that each time a dungeon was conquered and an Instrument was acquired, I felt content in becoming one step closer to waking the Wind Fish. There were only so many Game Over screens I could take in other platforming games, but in Link’s Awakening, my first true adventure game, the challenge only made me want to play more.

I still have that old cartridge you see above, complete with my old save file. Replaying it has been like talking to and enjoying the company of a long-lost friend – despite the years and years prior of no contact, the familiarity, nostalgia and long-running affinity allowed for an instant re-connection, like I was just playing the game yesterday.

Link’s Awakening will always hold a special place in my memory for a number of reasons. It was my first Zelda game, marking the beginning of a passion for the franchise; it’s in many ways responsible for my place here on Zelda Universe; and most of all, it taught me the importance of challenge, persistence and independence–aspects not only prominent in the enjoyment of gaming, but also true to success and happiness in life.

Now, I want to hear from you! Do you have any fond memories playing Link’s Awakening? Maybe you too remember playing it long ago, or experienced it for the first time on the 3DS eShop. Perhaps you played the original version, and/or the DX version. Or perhaps you’re experiencing it now for the first time through Chuggaaconroy’s ongoing Let’s Play. Share your thoughts, feelings and memories of the game below!

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  • kaepora21

    I too played LA when I was very young, albeit on a regular GameBoy in all its astonishing 32 bit black and white glory. Many puzzles stumped me for literally years until I gained the intellect to carry on. Highlights I remember include:

    – the two boys near the library discussing controls (and breaking the fourth wall in the process)
    – phone calls to Ulrira anytime I was stumped
    – the fishing game!
    – taking BowWow for a walk (and letting him eat everything in sight)
    – collecting secret shells
    – fighting Blaino, that ridiculously difficult boxing mini boss that would hit you all the way back to the start of the dungeon if he landed a punch. Ridiculous.
    – exploding arrows (equip bombs and arrows, hit them both at the same time for a serious wallop)
    – infinite power? Try the boomerang

    And so many more. This game was my first, and it hooked me to the greatest series ever made. I love LA!

  • Balladofthewindfish

    I feel the same way about mine!

  • Carlos

    This too was the first game I received for my gameboy color. It brings back many memories. This game and OoT were the 2 games that got me into the LoZ series.

  • This game is #2 in my heirarchy of Zelda games, just underneath the NES original LoZ. I loved the story, the humor, the gameplay, EVERYTHING. I still remember going to Target as a kid after saving and saving, just to buy this game. Still have my original copy, with save file (shamefully, still get called THIEF in it), and will never let it go. I might have multiple copies, in better condition etc, but this one is where my heart lies.

  • Link's awakening is my favorite, and it is the first one I played(japanese version) when I was 4 years old.

  • Robert

    I agree in every your thought about this game, but I'd add the feeling of surprise and astonishment with the end of the game, and the sadness and discomfort I felt when I was just approaching it.. Feelings of a 11 years old guy.. But still remaining as my stronghest emotion received by an adventure game.

    🙂

  • Glitch Mutt

    Actually, I haven't played Link's Awakening yet.
    I think I should.

  • Carrie

    My very first Zelda game. I remember being puzzled as to who this mysterious Zelda person was. I had an original gameboy that was permanently fused to my hands. I had gotten bored with other titles and wanted something to challenge me on different aspects within one game. For me nothing before or since has ever quite ticked every box

  • Mickii

    Your recap brought a smile to my face. The first time I played LA was not too long ago, I'm embarrassed to admit, but nevertheless, its my second favourite Zelda game, and isnt like any other game I've played.the dark, mysterious secret of the bright, cheerful island amazed me, and I never felt anything like it. Its a very game special to me. I'll always cherish Link's Awakening.

  • guest

    Kinda got choked up during the scene where the island starts disappearing and the sorrowful, slower version of the Ballad of the Wind Fish was playing… all I could think of was "aww… how sad. Link'll never get to see all those nice people ever again :("

  • chanilb520

    Link's Awakening was my second Zelda game, and still remains one of my favorites. After having played A Link to the Past on SNES and deemed it my favorite video game, I was thrilled to have a new Zelda game released on a system that I owned (I hadn't gotten hold of an NES yet so hadn't played the two original games, LoZ and AoL). I remember receiving it for Christmas in 1993 a few months after it was released. I was 9 years old at the time.

    And of course I loved it! Back in those days you couldn't Google your way out if you were stuck and so I remember vividly the various points I had to wait sometimes months before I figured out how to get past them. Finding the key to the Key Cavern… I never thought for a second to dig for it beneath the owl statue, but finally my friend and neighbor who was playing the game at the same time as me figured it out and we helped each other along the way as one of us got stuck. Another time that I helped him out was in the first nightmare battle of the final boss. Took me forever to figure out that you needed to sprinkle magic powder on it, but once I did I shared with my friend. Who needed the internet? 🙂 Those were the days.

    A lot of nostalgic moments from an awesome game! The trading sequence was a highlight, especially the appearance of Kiki the monkey who I had been a fan of in A Link to the Past. The mysterious music and message on the wall in the Southern Face Shrine… Defeating the boss in Eagle Tower… The appearance of the little Kirbys in the same dungeon… Link and Marin's story… collecting the three different songs for your Ocarina… The mysterious music in the mountains… The amusing Crazy Tracy… The Alligator and his obsession with dog food… BOW WOW! And of course, the bittersweet ending.

    Thanks for giving me a chance to reminisce! 🙂

  • cassada

    man you made me really jealous….. i really want to play this game now!!!! i too get that feeling of awesomeness when ever i figure something out or defeat a boss, even if i've already beaten them a million times!!! also reading this paragraph while listening to the main theme song is awesome!!!!!:D

  • Aurielle

    My father too had an original Gameboy. I loved playing the games like Tetris and Marioland. He also had Link’s Awakening the first Zelda I was introduced to. I dabbled in the game as a little girl, but it wasn’t until ai got my purple see-through Gameboy Color that I seriously played this game.

  • Tim Grayson

    I downloaded this off of the Nintendo eshop onto my 3ds to relive the unforgetable experience. But that wasn't enough for me I ended up buying the physical game (DX Version) off of ebay so I could own it and have it forever and ever. I even went through the trouble of creating a custom case with the help of the cover project scans to display the game as it was sold in stores.

  • Aaron

    how did you get the black cartridge?

  • This could be a great idea. Zelda already has a strong sense of will and wisdom, and is skilled in magic and archery. Seeing a story unfold from her perspective could make for a very entertaining twist.