Surprisingly for such a little hand-held game, there is a lot of strategy involved in the dungeon crawling and fighting. None of the usual gambit of run-up-to-the-boss-and-hit-him-a-lot. Some bosses require you to break outer shells, some require you to memorize moving patterns, some can’t even be hurt by your sword. The puzzles also require some bits of thinking at times. Block pushing and candle lighting all make token appearances here, but some other harder puzzles like move copying enemies make the dungeons more challenging than you’d expect.
The plot is as straightforward as you’d expect from an early Zelda game. Link, off on a sailing adventure, is hit by a storm and washed up on Koholint island. The natives of the island kindly inform Link that the only way to get off the island is to wake up a large beast called the “Wind Fish.” Link must go on a quest for magical instruments so that he can wake the Wind Fish with the magical music. Hilarity ensues.
The only real problem with the game is its straightforward approach. It’s almost impossible to not do things in the order the game intends, mostly because of the specialized items each dungeon holds. In a way, it’s fairly refreshing to be able to charge through a game without having to strain yourself thinking so much. Eventually it gets a bit old when/if you get stuck and literally cannot do anything. Very few side-quests are present to partake in, minus a fairly amusing trading system similar to that in Ocarina of Time. This combined with the linear story can leave you feeling a bit constricted in the end, but the redeeming features well overshoot the few issues I may have.
In fairly recent memory, (all right, 10 years ago) the game was re-released for the Game Boy Color as Link’s Awakening DX. The only real addition was a new dungeon based on the concept of being able to tell colors from shades of grey, but for the perks of color, it was worth it. Color removes any problems that were present with the graphics and also gives the game a nice new look, I’d say.
A small side quest is presented in the new version involving pictures. A mouse with a camera occasionally finds you throughout your adventure taking pictures of you for a personal album. It’s not all that engaging of a bonus feature, but it is fun looking at all the pictures you’ve accumulated. It’s also fairly difficult to collect ‘em all, so that provides a bit of sport in the whole deal.
All that is really as close to the present as you’re going to get out of this game. As I said before, it’s not nearly as appreciated as it should be these days. The Zelda series has continued to flourish on handhelds, though. The acclaimed Oracle series was a fine follow up to Link’s Awakening, and Minnish Cap wasn’t too shabby itself. LA did set quite a fine precedent for it’s followers to… er, follow.