Everything that anyone has ever liked about a Zelda game happens in its most perfect form in the first 30-minute setpiece of the 1993 Game Boy masterpiece The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, a beautiful screen-for-screen remake of which is coming out next month on Nintendo Switch. Listen to me go into extreme detail about the brilliant design of every screen layout in this hour-long video.
In an effort to challenge myself, I’ve been stepping in front of a camera every Wednesday afternoon with no idea what I’m going to say. This week, I recited the layouts of every screen in the first 45 minutes of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening from memory.
The inspiration behind this improvisation has its roots in a particular neurological condition I suffer. To summarise my suffering: I remember everything. It has not made me rich and it is seldom genuinely useful.
Usually, it goes like this: I’ll look at the date, and then I’ll accidentally remember deep childhood memories associated with that date. Basically, I’ve got a Facebook Memory Generator inside my skull.
This week’s instance of my freakish memory took me back to Saturday, August 21st, 1993, into a captain’s chair behind the driver’s seat of my dad’s 1990 Dodge Ram conversion van. My aunt had given me $20 behind my mother’s back. We were returning to my aunt’s house in Pottstown, Pennsylvania from the King of Prussia Mall, where, using that $20, I had just purchased The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening from Electronic’s Boutique.
The ride back to my aunts’s house took about 30 minutes, if I recall correctly. I had already read Nintendo Power’s feature on the game. My play performance was marvellous. I defeated the first boss and returned to the village right as my dad’s van pulled up in my aunts’s driveway. All thanks to my Handy Boy.
By 1993 I was already a Zelda veteran, though this first vertical slice of Link’s Awakening charmed and thrilled me like no game yet had. Later in my life I’d go on to design levels for triple-A video games. My levels were never very good, though maybe none of that would have ever happened without Link’s Awakening.
I rattle off about a billion and a half details in this video, and even though I just spent all day editing it down from its original 80-minute running time, the experience is already slipping back into the haze of my internal Facebook.
So I’ll leave you with this one detail that I feel beautifully sums up the appeal of good video game writing on a molecular level.
Link awakens in a bed. His saviours and caretakers are a man and his young daughter. They tell him to follow a road to the south to see if any of his belongings have washed up on the shore. We follow the road past three screens bursting with tiny yet charming details. On the final screen before we leave town, two young boys are throwing a ball. The ball’s flight path passes over the road, back and forth.
As we leave town, it’s likely we’ll walk beneath the ball as it flies.
On our way back into town with our trusty sword in hand, we pass the kids yet again. We follow the road north to a point where we must leave it, to enter the forest. In the forest, we get a key. We take the key back southward, through the village. The key will unlock the Tail Cave. In order to get to the Tail Cave, we have to leave town through the south exit. This means we pass the catch-playing kids for a third time.
We adventure east, off the road, away from the beach, and to the Tail Cave.
After enduring a cave full of puzzles, obtaining a powerful item that lets us jump, and defeating two visually exciting bosses, we emerge from the dark dungeon. We head back to the village. We enter through the south entrance.
As the screen scrolls upward to reveal the town, before even a single idle frame can transpire, before the catchy village music we’ve already started to love can begin to play, the ball-throwing kids lunge at us. Scary music plays. They tell us “Something’s wrong!” So Dungeon #1 has seamlessly connected to Dungeon #2's pre-dungeon quest.
Link’s Awakening never loses this electric pacing. It is both a perfect video game and a perfect action video game design textbook.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening comes out on Switch on September 20th. I’ve seen the trailers. I’ve read that it’s geometrically the same game as the Game Boy original (and its Game Boy Color remake). In this video, I lay out my case for why getting the exact same game again is a wonderful thing in this case.
Also, I adore the new graphical style. So if you want to consider this video and post my personal review of the Switch version of Link’s Awakening, please do so.
And yes, in case you’re reading: Nintendo, please remake Link Between Worlds. It’s the third-best Zelda (after Link’s Awakening).
And yes, of course I’m saying that Landstalker is the best Zelda game.
By the way! If you personally liked, commented, and/or subscribed to our YouTube channel, that would definitely fuel my habit of making a lot more videos like this. I promise you might love it.