There are some things you just can’t control.
I mean seriously, it’s not my fault that I wasn’t around for the formative years of Zelda. The world welcomed me during the N64’s rule, two years before the release of Ocarina of Time, and my family’s SNES was stolen before I was old enough to remember it. So, unlike many members of the Zelda community, I don’t have the cherished memory of plugging into my SNES or NES the thick cartridges containing 2D realms; I’m a child of the 3D era, pure and simple.
When I was younger, I thought I’d never be able to play the games older than me that I’d read so much about, but that mistaken fantasy changed when I discovered the Virtual Console on the Wii and 3DS. I’ve been able to purchase classic Zeldas and I’ve recently begun playing these 2D games. I picked up Link’s Awakening DX first. To my chagrin, the new style threw me off in ways I wasn’t expecting. I looked into a radically different era of gaming. Through my world-of-3D eyes, here is how the island of Koholint appeared.
I flipped open my 3DS and maneuvered around the home screen until I reached the Link’s Awakening DX square and mashed “A” to enter the game. On the top screen, an unfamiliar boat was illuminated by flashes of lightning. I rapidly hit “start,” eager to start the game. With my name (“Linka”, of course) entered into the first file, I began my journey. Black-haired Link in a bed was the first thing that popped up on the screen. A girl standing off on one side began to talk to him. She introduced herself as Marin of Koholint and finished with instructions on where to find a sword. “What kind of an introduction is that?” I thought to myself. When I found out a few days later that the title screen was supposed to serve as part of the introduction, I felt a bit embarrassed. My 3D games had title screens of no relevance to the plot, so I was used to skipping them.
Once I had control of Link, I pushed him out of the house and down to the end of the next screen. When I got there, the screen paused and slid down to another of the same size, pushing Link with it. Huh. That was new. Maybe the best way to get used to this screen-scrolling style would be to walk around this village a bit. So I explored. A shop, another shop, a statue of a rooster… Wait, was that a Chain Chomp? Wrong… franchise, but it made me smile. I always enjoyed admiring the pictures of Mario in the Courtyard of Ocarina, but this was so much more blatant it threw me off for a second. Oh hey, there was also a small white bird! Probably a Cucco! I kept that in mind as I strolled left and down a few screens to the beach. When I hopped over my first cliff, I was very surprised, especially when I found I couldn’t climb back up them but had to walk on ramps to get back to the village. 3D aspects in a game that renders as 2D? Way to go Nintendo, you bend that physics!
I finally reached the sandy screens of the beach and saw Octoroks walking around. Though I tried my best to avoid them, my unaccustomed thumbs accidentally ran Link into the side of one more than once. When I finally reached the screen with the sword, I had but little health. I maneuvered Link over to the sword and he thrust it up into the air. I thought to myself “aw yeah” and proceeded to retreat a few screens in order to teach those Octoroks a lesson. Lack of 2D experience once again failed me. Link didn’t turn in the directions I wanted him to. His sword swung at an angle 90° away from where the enemies were. Before I knew it, Link was collapsed on the ground with “Game Over” hanging above his head.
For me, the game presented a huge learning curve. Link seemed to move around either too much or not enough regardless of the care I put into the controls. By the game’s conclusion, I’d died 34 times, with all my deaths occurring during or before the 5th dungeon, Catfish’s Maw. I’m not sure if my increased success at surviving was actually due to a huge improvement in my playing skills or rather due to the better items and more hearts found late in the game.
Because I died so many times throughout the story, I experienced an emotion that a video game had never given me: a sense of achievement. There’s a unique pride that comes with beating a boss who’s taken your life several times, with finally solving the puzzle that’s kept you stuck for days. I smiled when I finally urged Link up to the Wind Fish’s egg, all eight instruments in hand. No video game had ever made me feel quite so accomplished before.
The capacity for emotion that the plot presented also surprised me. Knowing the hardware of the original Game Boy, I knew that the plethora of text that appears in the 3D Zelda games would be lessened quite a bit. I imagined that, with such little opportunity for words, the plot wouldn’t provide more than just simple fun. The little text that did appear, though, was placed so expertly and worded so concisely that it created all kinds of emotions. I think that the pieces of music played alongside the text helped with this.
I don’t think any plot twist has caught me quite so much as entering Southern Face Shrine for the first time. Reading the text on the ancient inscription about waking the Wind Fish gave me serious chills. My eyes bulged, my mind blown. The credits had also left me surprisingly melancholy.
I can say with certainty that my journey through Link’s Awakening has to be one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had; the Game Boy Color title might even have jumped into my number two video game slot (after Ocarina of Time, of course, which is a very nostalgic game for me). I’m definitely ready to jump into more 2D Zelda worlds.