Game Retrospective: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
On the 18th of November 1993, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was released for the Nintendo Game Boy in the UK.
Developed by Nintendo EAD, Link’s Awakening is the fourth title in the Zelda series and the first for a handheld console. Both the game’s director, Takashi Tezuka, and producer, Shigeru Miyamoto, had each worked on the previous three Zelda titles.
The game casts you as series protagonist, Link, who finds himself marooned on a strange island following a shipwreck. He quickly understands that, in order to leave the island, he must awaken its mysterious guardian: an enormous, whale-like creature known as the Wind Fish. With this knowledge, Link explores this new land in search of eight magical musical instruments he learns are required to wake this mystical deity.
Link’s Awakening’s origins can be traced back to programmer Kazuaki Morita who began crafting a Zelda-like side project in his spare time upon receiving one of the first Game Boy development kits, merely as a means to test the capabilities of the new platform. Morita’s passion project steadily drew the attention of a number of his peers, including ‘A Link to the Past’ director, Takashi Tezuka, who each, in turn, began to join Morita in contributing to the title after work. The team often referred to this gathering as their ‘after-school club’.
Despite there being no official plans to bring Zelda to the Game Boy at this time, Tezuka was impressed with the progress of the secret Zelda project and decided to formally pitch the idea to Nintendo management who finally officially sanctioned the project.
While the initial plan was to simply port the SNES title, A Link to Past, to the Game Boy, the team quickly seized the opportunity to try something new and adopt fresh ideas. Tezuka was a huge fan of the American TV series Twin Peaks and tasked the game’s writers Kensuke Tanabe and Yoshiaki Koizumi, to craft a story with a similarly unusual world, featuring suspicious characters and several surreal elements.
Although the game crafted its own unique identity and dropped the familiar Hyrule setting, as well as Princess Zelda and the Tri-Force, it did introduce many elements, now commonplace throughout the franchise, such as extended side quests, a focus upon musical instruments and even the ability to grab cuccos.
Upon release, Link’s Awakening was a huge success. Praised by both critics and gamers, it would go on to sell nearly 4 million copies. It has long-remained a fan-favourite Zelda title, receiving both a colour version, released in 1998 for the Game Boy Color, as well as a full 3D remake for the Nintendo Switch in 2019, a full 26 years after its original release.