"Though the world is massive and intricately-designed (and the dungeons too), there are likely to come several points where you find yourself groaning as you realize you have to make a trip back over most of the map. At such times, the map can seem a shade too sparesely populated by worthy opponents, or the number of rocks and holes you encounter may prove irritating."
If I were an elven boy in Hyrule, I think I would just sit around at home, cowering over my soup bowl, leaving my hut only to milk the cow or to fetch water for a bath. You wouldn't find me sailing across choppy seas in a rickety boat, particularly if I had already saved the land once from a dastardly villain. Yet that's exactly what Link decides to do in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX. And as any sane elf would expect, he wakes on a beach with his sword nowhere to be found and a cute girl at his side.
Now, girl aside, Link is pretty bummed out by this whole turn of events. But he makes the best of it, and races down a beach to find his sword. The whole time, he weaves through a maze of seaweed and monsters, until he at last finds the trusty blade and reclaims it. From there, it's classic Zelda action as he embarks on the most cliché of quests you've ever heard of, a mission to wake a mysterious giant fish and thus force its consciousness to return and get things back to normal.
Er... so maybe the quest isn't so cliché after all. However, it is familiar. This is because from the moment you turn the power on, just about everything you see will remind you that you're in a Shigeru Miyamoto game starring an elf named Link. The graphics are very similar to those in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, which wasn't released so terribly long before this game. The trees have the same approximate look to them, as do the rocks and huts and grass and boulders and, well, everything. Even the bosses look similar, such as a writhing mass of segments that will remind you of the giant worm you faced in A Link to the Past. The main visual difference here is that everything looks just a shade smaller, like it was beat on the head with a mallet.
And since this is the 'DX' version of the game, there's even some color. Originally, this title was released in glorious black and white, with every shade of gray in between. With a little color splashed throughout, things are definitely improved over that version. The cliff faces are brown, the grass green. Best of all, the water is blue! Shocking, I know. But seriously, there's some of the best use of color on the system, particularly compared to games of this time. In fact, Nintendo was so serious about this face-lift that they even supplemented it with a color-driven dungeon only available when the game is played in a color-capable system.
This dungeon is a short one, to be sure, and the puzzles are rather rudimentary. But the reward at the end is very nice, moreso due to the fact that it makes the game so much simpler. By the time you access the dungeon, you'll be most of the way through the title, so its cheapening effect is appropriately reduced. Newer gamers might not even be aware that dungeon exists unless they consult a guide. A grave situation, indeed!
As far as the visuals go, I'm not sure how this edition compares to the original, though I suspect they're the same. And by 'the same,' I mean 'quite good.' Music isn't just a few bars looping until you want to stick an arrow through your head to end the racket; instead, they benefit from a good amount of instrumental variety, and a general peppiness that is a credit to the cartridge. It's hard to find a stinker among the whole soundtrack, with a very cool tune for the mountaintop exploration, and some very cool dungeon music to boot. The 'general' overworld music is also a nice remix of the classic Zelda theme song, with a few differences so it doesn't get old too quickly. Some of the best stuff you'll find on the handheld.
Likewise, sound effects are marvelous. Whenever Link uses the feather to hop, there's the generic but oh-so-appropriate 'whoop' sound that lets you know he's briefly airborne. If he swings his sword, there's a different sound, and still another if he strikes an enemy or if the fortunate foe manages to get in a few attacks of its own. Nice stuff all around.
But wait, you say. So what if the music is awesome, the sound fantastic, and the graphics something out of the Museum of Fine Art? What about the gameplay? And I say: gameplay is good.
As you may have suspected, Link will wander through an expansive overworld, finding hidden dungeons, entering them, working through to a boss, and then repeating. It's the same formula that worked back when The Legend of Zelda hit the NES, and that's mostly remained the same. The overworld is divided like a grid, 16x16 panels. That's quite a bit of land to explore, and of course there's the dungeons to account for, as well. Link's feet will definitely get sore. The good news is that all that travel doesn't feel pointless. There aren't many squares in the map that are just there so the developers can pat themselves on the back and say ''We made it big.'' Areas are intricately connected, and you'll have to gain new abilities and items before some portions of the map can be reached. It's quite typical of the genre, and executed with class we can only expect from Zelda.
Dungeons are even better, with a good number of mind-bending puzzles that will keep you guessing. In fact, I would say that a lot of the puzzles you'll encounter rival even those in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I won't give away any examples, because that would be doing you a disservice, but the variety definitely extends past the oft-bashed 'trip a switch and move to the next room' stuff we saw in earlier titles in the franchise. A lot of what's here feels like the logical extension of the Super Nintendo big brother, and you may well find yourself blushing as you head online to find a FAQ.
Of course, all these strengths are not without some drawbacks. Though the world is massive and intricately-designed (and the dungeons too), there are likely to come several points where you find yourself groaning as you realize you have to make a trip back over most of the map. At such times, the map can seem a shade too sparsely populated by worthy opponents, or the number of rocks and holes you encounter may prove irritating.
Which brings me to what I think is the game's biggest flaw: the menu system. To Nintendo's credit, the company packed an in-depth title into a simple, portable system. But the lack of buttons means that switching between items in your inventory becomes a real pain in the behind. In a game like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, you could assign different items to different buttons. Here, that's not so much the case. You only have two action buttons to work with, the 'A' and 'B' buttons. One of those will almost certainly be assigned to the sword, while another might have a bomb or whatever. Regardless of how you choose to arrange things, though, it seems like every few screens a new obstacle will come around that requires a switch. There's a hole you have to jump with the feather, or some obstacle you must blast with a bomb. Even worse are areas where you must remove your sword and equip boots, then equip a feather to the other button, just so you can cross a wide gap. Then it's time to switch them all over again so you can fight the enemies in the next room. These switches definitely interfere with an otherwise stellar performance.
In the end, though, such complaints are more the fault of the system than the developers. And when it comes to what the developers packed into this cartridge, well, it's nothing short of spectacular. Thank goodness Link doesn't learn his lesson and keeps venturing out to find adventure. It keeps us couch gamers entertained!
Staff review by Jason Venter (Date unavailable)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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