The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was released for the Nintendo Game Boy in North America first in August 1993. It was updated and re-released for the Game Boy Color as Link’s Awakening DX on December 15, 1998. Link’s Awakening began development as an after work project and was originally intended to be a port of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System game The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
Link’s Awakening was directed by Takashi Tezuka, but it first began as a project of Kazuaki Morita. Morita borrowed the company’s only Game Boy development kit at the time and in an attempt to discover the true potential and power of the handheld console, began making a game that closely resembled The Legend of Zelda. When realizing that such a game could be developed for the Game Boy, Tezuka along with Morita and Toshihiko Nakago began work on bringing The Legend of Zelda to the Game Boy.
With other projects taking precedence, the small team would work after hours on this new Game Boy game, seeing more and more how to bring Zelda to the small screen. Remnants of the game’s original “after school club activity” approach can still be seen in the developer’s decisions to use characters who resembled Mario and Luigi, as well as items like Yoshi dolls and the existence of Chain Chomps in this world. Having previously completed work on A Link to the Past, Tezuka eventually pitched the idea to bring it to the Game Boy, increasing the amount of available development kits from one to two.
As a company, Nintendo rarely wastes a good idea. Often, gameplay ideas or systems will work their way from one game’s development into another when there is not enough time or space to implement them. With much leftover from A Link to the Past, the team felt that a new version on Game Boy would allow them to use those unused ideas. The game too, never departed from the development standpoint that it was a side project, so Tezuka and the team approached it at times like a parody of Zelda in some regards. This can be seen in some of the odd departures the game takes from standard Zelda games, particularly in its odd setting and the way the story progresses.
Yoshiaki Koizumi joined the team to help create the game’s story, after previously designing the manual for A Link to the Past and providing the game’s backstory in the process. Here, Koizumi created the opening of the game, which shows Link stranded on the island of Koholint, tasked with awakening the Wind Fish in order to leave and return to Hyrule. Koizumi was joined by Kensuke Tanabe to develop the game’s script, Tanabe adding different sub-events in the game.
Link’s Awakening is unique, as it presents itself as a dream that Link is having. Upon completing the game, a cutscene shows Link waking upon a raft in the ocean. This story idea from Koizumi was joined by Tezuka’s idea of having a cast of “suspicious type” characters in a similar vein to the television show Twin Peaks. This small town of people, each with their own quirks and histories eventually bled into the worlds of both Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, later games in the series that would appear on the Nintendo 64.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a weird game when played in the context of what we knew as “traditional” Zelda games at the time. Now, it fits into its own little pocket of that universe but not without spreading its roots deep into the other stretches of the Zelda timeline. Many pieces of this little side project game later defined the best moments in other Zelda games. This is the first game in the series to have a genuine plot and story, as well as the first to allow the player to assign different weapons and items to the A and B buttons, allowing for varieties in the ways that puzzles are solved.
The game is easily found in most local video game shops that carry old cartridges, if you’re looking for the original experience. Note that there are differences between the original and DX versions of the game in addition to the visual overhaul, such as removing a glitch that allowed the player to travel freely among the map via a screen warp (this is also removed in later releases of the original game). It is also available via the Nintendo 3DS eShop.