The first Gameboy Legend of Zelda game is an impressive package for its system. The visual style of A Link to the Past translates pretty well to the small screen, though in many ways the game is a throwback to the original Zelda, particulary in its screen-by-screen nature.
Link’s Awakening departs in several key ways from its SNES predecessor, as a result of the system it’s on. For instance, for the first time in the series, your sword is treated just like any other item, and you can assign one item each to the two face buttons. In addition to giving you a general bit of flexibility, this allows for a few interesting combinations of items (such as firing bomb arrows) and makes it easy to use another weapon as your primary arm. Your shield is treated similarly, meaning that you can’t rely on it to block anything unless it’s actively in use. However, your shield is quite useful, moreso than in previous games, to make up for this.
The strength of Link’s Awakening also tends to be its weakness. The game features eight sprawling dungeons filled with traps and puzzles. A few of the solutions can be a bit obtuse, but the dungeon design is very solid overall. However, the overworld is laid out somewhat similarly to the dungeons, and the screen-by-screen nature of the game makes it very easy to lose your way. The world is not open like in Zelda 1 or even Link to the Past, instead being gated by various dungeon items. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not a problem, but getting to that point can be frustrating.
The game also has a tendency to occasionally throw things at you with no hints or prompts. Several times during the game, it’s unclear where you’re supposed to go next, or even in what direction you should travel. And several secrets are completely unfair, requiring you to bomb unmarked walls in some of the dozens of small caves in the game.
On the whole, Link’s Awakening is an impressive outing for the Gameboy, but the lack of hints and guidance can sometimes cause problems. Once you’ve figured it all out, the game really comes together. With several great Zelda dungeons, Link’s Awakening is highly recommended to fans of the series, particularly fans of the other portable games that are heavily inspired by this entry.