2nd Quest Part 3: Link’s Awakening

In the circles I frequent, both online and in real life, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is considered by many to be one of the premiere games in the series, mentioned up there along with A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. For the longest time I could not understand the love Link’s Awakening received. It was just a smaller, talkier LttP. Plus, it was on the dark often blurry original Gameboy screen. I was never able to push through and really get started in large part because it was just so hard to see. For my 2nd Quest, I played the Gameboy Color’s DX version on my 3DS. Playing it when I could actually see what I was doing made a ton of difference. Now that I’ve beaten it, I still don’t understand the hyperbolic love this game gets. Link’s Awakening is phenomenal for a Gameboy game, but it is greatly hampered by the limitations of that system.

Link’s Awakening does an admirable job cramming what is essentially A Link to the Past on to a Gameboy cart. However, there are some drawbacks. Some come from elements abandoned from the original Legend of Zelda that Link’s Awakening decided not just to bring back but to expand upon, like the side scrolling rooms where new items were hidden. Those are more numerous and larger in LA and they are not particularly good. Most of those segments could have easily been removed. Then there is the limiting, at least after having played later Zelda games, A Button and B Button weapon set up. Sure, Link’s Awakening makes the sword optional, but I still spent way too much time in the menu changing items. This is partly due to the games laudable attempt at more complex puzzles by mixing a variety of items into their solutions. Puzzles have more steps to their completion, but in between each of those steps is pausing the game, going to the menu and changing equipment around. It seriously breaks the flow of the game.

Some of this could have been alleviated by not having the power bracelet be an equipable item. It is the same with the shield. The shield could have just been automatically equipped, like the original LoZ. Really, Link’s toolset is pretty lackluster here. There are the usual tools: bow, hookshot, and bombs, with only a few new or interesting ones. Link’s Awakening is the first appearance of the ocarina, which would play a large part in several games to come. There is also the Roc’s Feather, which allows Link to jump. It is an interesting tool for the 2D games, but Ocarina’s auto jump made it superfluous to most future games. Because of the limited tools, Link’s Awakening feels like the most generic Zelda game.

At least the dungeons are largely good. The first couple are pretty basic, for obvious reasons, but after that they get to be really good. Except for Level 5, it relies on making the player fight the same mini-boss, an exceptionally easy mini-boss, four times. Which in and of itself wouldn’t be so bad, but he only appears in the four fighting rooms in a specific order, meaning that a player who takes the wrong route through the dungeon might have to run through it as many as four times. It is some tedious crap. That is just a small hiccup, ignoring that these are some really good dungeons.

People also talk about how charming LA setting is, the island of Koholint in place of the usual Hyrule. I’ll agree to that some, but not to any real extent. With one exception, the “charming” townsfolk are just mostly the same as the residents of the average video game town. Okay, that is too harsh, the game does give several of them a little more than that, but for the most part they are just townsfolk. Marin, Link sort of love interest, is well realized. She is a genuinely interesting character. There are other supposedly charming moments, including a wealth of references to Mario games. Those are pretty neat, but a quick picture of Peach or stomping some Goombas really doesn’t do a lot for me. Though I did like the appearance of Wart from Super Mario Bros 2, since it is at least thematically appropriate. There are more references to other games, like an enemy that looks suspiciously like Kirby, which does add to the whole dream world feel.

One of the biggest problems I had with the game was how often it would stop the player to give them some useless piece of advice. This is a complaint often leveled at newer entries in the series, especially since Twilight Princess onward, but I think it is worse here than in other games. It is worst with rocks and other lift able things. If the bracelet is not equipped, then every time it stops the player to tell them its too heavy. It is absurdly easy to bump up against something and have to go through that. I found it infuriating.

 
Some of my complaints are admittedly rather nitpicky, but there are enough to hamper my enjoyment of the game. Link’s Awakening is still a really good game. Especially when compared to other gameboy games. It is head and shoulders above most of them but compared to most of the Zelda series, it feels like something of a runt. This one belongs squarely in the liked, not loved category. It was certainly better than Zelda 2, though.

 

Top 10 Games of 2011

With 2011 coming to a close, I am looking back on the games that I played this year and like all great minds, I am making a top 10 list of my favorite games. Now, I am limited to only Wii and handheld games, since those are the only systems I own and I only played about 20 new games this year. Most of what I played was several years old at least. So this is a somewhat limited list. Let’s get on with it.

10. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
This is still a phenomenal game, even after 15 years. The only reason it isn’t higher on the list is that it is an only barely touched up port of a 15 year old game. Still, it is a good port of a great game. If you haven’t played Ocarina of Time, what is wrong with you?

9. Okamiden
If I had stopped this game halfway through, it would probably have been 4 or 5 spots higher on the list. Okamiden started out a delightful romp, but the longer it went on the less fun it was. It looks and sounds great, but the early simplicity is replaced not with increasingly complex difficulty but with sheer tedium. It is hard not to compare Okamiden to the DS Zelda games and find it lacking. It has a cohesive, explorable over world, but it stumbles nearly everywhere else in comparison. Still, it is a very good game, if not a great one like its predecessor.

8. Pokemon White
It is a new Pokemon game. There are a number of changes on the periphery, but the core gameplay remains unchanged. I plowed through to main game right as I got this, but haven’t felt the need to go back for the post game yet. Still, it’s a Pokemon game, you already know it you like it or not. I do like it.

7. Kirby: Return to Dreamland
This doesn’t quite reach the magical heights of Nintendo’s best games, but it is still a terrific co-op plat former. This is the game Kirby fans have been waiting for since Kirby 64 and it didn’t disappoint.

6. Professor Layton and the Last Spector
More Layton is always good. There is little new in this fourth entry (except for London Life, which I’ve barely touched) but as long as there are new puzzles, I’ll buy new Layton games. Plus, newcomer characters Emmy and Inspector Grosky are some of the best new characters of the year. Good, good stuff.

5. Solatorobo: Red the Hunter
Solatorobo is a game that whatever its faults, of which there are several, it is so earnest and heartfelt that is it hard to hold it against the game. It is a delightful romp through a charming, fantastical world. Sure, the game never really moves beyond picking up things and throwing them at enemies and the plot goes off the rails near the end but the bulk of the game is pure cheerful fun.

4. Kirby: Mass Attack
While Return to Dreamland was a classic Kirby platformer, Mass Attack is one of the pink blob’s experimental games. One that worked out better than most. It is a surprisingly intuitive combination of platformer and RTS that is simply a blast to play. If you own any sort of DS you should own this title.

3. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
This comes from the makers of Ace Attorney, and obviously so. It has the same wacky yet dark story and some top notch writing. The story is really great and the puzzle-y gameplay is nearly perfect.

2. Tactics Ogre
I love a good TRPG, and this remake of Tactics Ogre may be the best I’ve ever played. It comes from the same stock as the classic Final Fantasy Tactics and it shows. I put more than 60 hours on this thing and didn’t quite beat it. This game is nearly perfect.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
This isn’t even close. I loved Skyward Sword. I loved every part of it. The new run button, the motion controller sword fighting, you name it. Plus, Groose is the best new character of the year. Every part of this game is great.

I got me a 3DS

Last week I began to learn the joys of 3DS ownership. In my Skyward Sword induced frenzy, the sight of the Ocarina of Time 3DS bundle pushed me over the edge and I splurged. I mean look at this thing:

I was powerless, I had to buy it. I still regret not getting the Zelda DS lite bundle.

It helped that there are now enough games for the system to make owning not a waste of time and money. The 3DS actually had a pretty decent launch line-up, with several good games if no great ones. Since then the trickle of games, the worthwhile ones at least, released have almost exclusively come from Nintendo themselves. Which is not unusual for a Nintendo system. Right now Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario Land 3D lead my list, with Pilot Wings Resort and Star Fox 64 3D just behind. Plus, there are several worthwhile downloadable games between DSiWare and 3DSWare. And the addition of Gameboy Virtual Console, which I’ve already bought Link’s Awakening DX from. Last but not least, my DS backlog can transfer right over.

Honestly, while the 3D effect is truly awesome, I can’t really play with it on for more than about 45 min. It isn’t really a strain, but it is a bit disconcerting. So far I’ve been using to regulate my playtime on Ocarina, keeping me from plowing through the game in one sitting.

I’ve also tried it out for playing DS games. It isn’t perfect. You can either stretch the game to fit the screen, or shrink it to it’s natural resolution. Neither option is as good as playing it on a regular DS, but it is definitely playable. Some of the games actually look pretty good.

There are certainly flaws that will become apparent to me with time, but right now, flush with new ownership, I am very pleased with this machine.