The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (1993)
You should have seen me last night, readers – I was unstoppable. I started my whimsical journey by taking flight, just bloody well jumping into the air and propelling myself forward. With the freedom of the entire world and its majesty before me waiting to be explored, I decided to start seeking out all my old enemies and slapping them in the face instead. I flew to each of my nemeses at breakneck speed and issued them loud, satisfying slaps before gleefully whisking myself away for my next target.
When I got bored with that, I landed and walked through a door where I knew there would be a harem waiting exclusively for me – and there was, a wonderful steam room with sultry raven-haired maidens and their heaving bosoms sat before me, soapy sponges in hand, longing for me to join them. Bloody great, I thought. So I confidently strode towards them, completely assured of my fate… before I moved my body just the wrong way and suddenly found myself in a contorted position in bed. My flight ability, my lovely harem – all gone. And then that quick realisation that it was all just a dream, and that nothing of the sort had happened to me, nor would it ever. Nuts!
They say you can have around 3-6 dreams per night, but most of the time you barely even remember any. What good is that? I am seemingly having the time of my life here, brain, and you won’t even let me properly take part. So I read up about this lucid dreaming lark. Make yourself fully aware that you’re dreaming, and bolster your harems accordingly. I might even be able to take control of this recurring dream I have, where I’m in a black-and-white boxing ring Raging Bull style, and I get clobbered without even raising my hands in defence. Maybe this time I could finally fight the bugger back. Why not?
I consumed all the lucid dreaming literature I could, and was told I ought to start a dream journal. Write down all of the strange details I remember from my dreams, and that will help dream recollection as a whole, and then I can start acting out my childish fantasies in the dreamworld from there.
I did this for a while, but when you’re scrambling to jot down the details of deathly sword fights with forgotten childhood chums and houses collapsing around you as onlooking Harry Potter characters scream in terror, you start to wonder if it really does help and if you’re not unwittingly exiling yourself to madness.
In any case, for the sake of my sanity I pretty much abandoned this practice when I started getting unsettling dreams, if not full blown nightmares, of me putting my fragile little car into four-wheel skids. These ghastly visions featured exaggerated Hollywood skid noises and everything, and probably ended with me rolling and killing myself and about twelve others.
The real nail in the lucid dreaming coffin for me was the proviso that there would almost certainly be a few cases of sleep paralysis early on, a pretty nasty phenomenon where you are temporarily struck down with some sort of Locked-In Syndrome before some sort of foul creature creeps into your room and begins to take advantage, including quite literally sitting on your face while you sweat with fear. It almost sounds like a laugh, especially if you’re lucky enough to have some chesty succubus infiltrate your room instead, but anyone who’s had this terrible affliction will know never to trust their underpants again.
No, maybe the dreamworld isn’t for me, and I should just gladly take my random flying-slapping sessions as they come. After all, the dreamworld tends to be quite unsettling, full of suspicious characters and a lot more expansive and disjointed than things seem. It’s a lot like The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening in that regard, although in saying that I’ve probably spoiled the majority of the game. Initially designed as a portable version of Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening became its own animal and quickly established itself as a black-and-white flagship of the brick Game Boy, and got a crucial colour (apologies, color) rerelease years later for the Game Boy Color.
Alongside Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow, Link’s Awakening ranks as the best adventure the Game Boy has to offer, and probably no handheld Zelda has beaten it to this day (discounting the Switch version of Breath of the Wild). The game is bursting with things to do – eight full dungeons (plus an extra mini dungeon on the DX rerelease), a large overworld that you’ll need to explore every screen of, a trading sequence, plenty of items new and old, and engaging characters for the first time in Zelda.
But what really sets it apart is its subject matter, its surreal nature. This game is like some sort of offbeat concept that Dali would have come up with, while he drifted into that hallucinatory purgatory between awakeness and sleep, and throw up the most bizarre nonsense as a result. Actually, he would really go hell for leather to deprive himself of sleep, by sitting down on a chair with a saucer beneath him and a spoon hanging out of his hand. When he would fall asleep and lose his grip on the spoon, it would clatter onto the saucer and wake him up again.
He would do this several times and it was probably at this point that he started to actually see lobsters using his phone and clocks melting at ninety-degree angles. On an unrelated note, Dali made several creative suicide attempts later in life, including attempting to fully dehydrate himself, and was once quoted as saying “I am drugs”.
Link’s Awakening isn’t drugs, but the characters may very well be on something. They never really say what you might expect them to say, and their personalities are as quirky as their designs. You’ll even come up against Goombas and Shy Guys in this game, as well as Kirby himself. The soundtrack brings a haunting quality to the usual Zelda tunes, and when the bosses start talking back to you after you destroy them, telling you to stop what you’re doing because you don’t know the truth you pilchard, you definitely start to feel your own mind slip.
At a time when the Zelda series was only hitting its stride, Link’s Awakening proved an important title. Given its limited hardware, its playability and portability were a feat as impressive as Link to the Past and it became significant for Game Boy and Nintendo in general – proving that just because a game system could fit in your pocket didn’t mean that the games had to have any less substance to them. Pick yourself up the DX version of the game and run through some of the purest Zelda out there because I promise you this: all these years later, the game still handles like a dream.
04 February 2018