Monday, 7 October 2013

GB Link's Awakening

The Zelda franchise has been a staple product by Nintendo for decades with little changing from the core mechanics of the game. Swords will be grabbed, things collected for power, hookshots to be acquired, water dungeons to be feared, items to be traded for more and more items.

Take a look at any of the games and you'll see the same pattern repeat with perhaps a little sub note "This time it's sailing" or "This time it's flying" or "This time you're also a wolf" and so on and so forth. Monsters will be killed, princesses will be saved, Gannon (usually) gets his shit slapped back and forth (or his shadow in this case).

But why do I look at this game? Why do I ignore the 2 NES iterations for now and focus on the poorly viewable Gameboy edition? Because I feel that this game is the most suited for its console. If you were to give me a Gameboy and tell me that I had to have one game super-glued in there for the rest of its existence. My mind will likely go to Zelda rather than Tetris, Pokémon or similar themed games.

It all starts innocently enough with Link (Or dickshit if you like to rename things) being ship wrecked and waking up on an island beach where he is found by the local inhabitants, missing all of his items from his previous adventure. Would be nice to just once, start a game with all the items and weapons and KEEP them the whole time or upgrade them. Not throw in some convoluted idea of having them taken/lost/broken etc.

So dickshit wakes up and hops out of bed, talking to the nearest big-nosed citizen of the island hands back the shield he found with "dickshit" written on the inside and assumes that was his name too. Rather fortunate he wasn't a teacher with a series of heavily defaced school desks, lest he though the name was "Dave fucked Becky 4 evar" and a whole series of badly drawn, spunking cocks. Though perhaps that's just difficult to write in ASCII these days... ~ c===3 Nope, there's no excuse.

Shield in hand, Dickshit then takes it upon himself to get his stuff back together and get off the island while occasionally popping in and out to help with various problems and situations that have arisen for the island goers. Particularly that with his arrival, the monsters are getting restless and someone needs to collect 8 items (8 bosses... why does 8 seem so predominant in Zelda lore anyway?) to wake up the mystical Wind Fish that will grant a wish, or some such bull, and let Dickshit escape the island. The bosses don't want this, the island-goers want to help and various towns and villagers will aid and support throughout.

But no Zelda game is complete without side missions and quests. One long ongoing quest is the item trade, starting with a Yoshi doll and trading all the way up through bananas, pineapples, sticks, dog meat, necklaces, scales and finally a magnifying lens... "Good trade" of which helps you read the magical answer to the final dungeon. Or just read a guide. Alternatively, collecting 20 secret seashells and going into the secret seashell hut will give you the Level 2 sword which gives you laser shooting abilities at full health and generally causes more pain than the Level 1.

As you progress you'll find various dungeons, contained within are monsters and beasties and the more fun hearts that boost your health, an item that will help you get to the next dungeon and/or kill the current dungeon's boss. Another steady consistency for the series, dungeon 1 contains a feather and is needed to get to the boss and jump over holes to get to dungeon 2. Dungeon 2 contains a power bracelet that lets you pick stuff up which you need to do to break the boss's container, and pick up items in the way to dungeon 3. So the whole island can be explored and searched though only when you've enough items to fulfil those criteria.

Yes there's another hookshot and yes there's a water/swimming based dungeon though the real pig of a dungeon is the Eagle Tower where you've got to think in 3 dimensions quite extensively with little precursor for it.

During the game you'll find clues and hints to the nature of the island, help save and rescue people that will aid you in your quest and find all manner of rupees, items, shells and other such that will boost your stats and strength in various guises. You'll quickly learn where the shop is and how to get around the island quickly with regards to teleport spots and mystical musical notes. Which plays a key theme of the game with 8 instruments needing to be found to awaken the Wind Fish (in name only, for it is neither).

As it transpires the game is very much the big twist in itself except for the "you're really asleep" twist it turns out you're an unwilling participant in something else's dream and to escape the island you'll need to wake that creature up, but the bosses and nightmares of the dungeons don't want that to happen as it'll make everything disappear (and they do mean everything). Leaving a little moral dilemma of wondering whether you really should be waking up the sleeping dreamer if it means the end to all the creatures, all the villagers, the semi-focused love interest, who are all blissfully unaware of what may happen or what will happen should you succeed. To escape you have to end them all.

Now, this draws up various metaphysical arguments, like if you should care that something is about to fade out of existence that previously just popped into existence? Who is dreaming the dream? Why do chickens attack if you hit them repeatedly? ... Ok maybe not that one. Should you feel bad that an island ceases to exist just to free you from the binds that hold you or would it have been more noble to leave the inhabitants alive and living their day to day lives while you co-habit their realm with them?

Those more in touch with their thoughtful sides of nature, may have reservations about a game that forces you to destroy the entire game-world upon completing it having already exterminated the evils contained within. It's certainly not the thought provoking situation one would expect from a game that has you riding down rapids rides, playing songs with giant frogs, riding a flying rooster, or phoning an old guy for hints on where to go but talking to him in person is something he's too shy to do.

It certainly takes the shine off the heroes' perfect edge. The ending also makes you out to be a bastard too, given who you watch fade out when the dreamer awakens. (Unless you beat the game without dying once...)

Controls are very responsive to being used, navigating yourself in the 8 main directions of the compass points, your A and B button can be switched out for any combination of items you have, be it sword and shield to hookshot and bombs, arrows, magic powder, shovel, fire rods etc. Usually you'll have the sword and feather for navigation while using the power bracelet really should have been a passive item for picking up and lobbing stuff around. While moving and navigating dungeons and maps has you walking off the edge of the screen to the next area, for some that might feel a little claustrophobic from the SNES version having scrolling areas but given the Gameboy's graphic limitations and blurring, it makes the best of the situation and does admirably so.

Combat can be a little awkward at times if you're being bounced into something that causes injury, draining more hearts and then being knocked down a hole. Most holes will cause damage and respawn you at the point where you entered the screen while some (usually indicated, not always) will drop you into an area underneath though this is particularly notable for the 7th dungeon where you can fall down several floors to navigate around the dungeon. Though be particularly careful in the 7th dungeon as there's a way to trap a key item in a place you can't get to and bollocks up everything.

Though, with a game this fun, I don't mind playing through several times. Though the 1st dungeon boss can rebound you down a hole, forcing you to climb back and by the time you get there, he's back to full health... Lovely. There are parts that grate.

It certainly grows upon you and the longer you play it the more familiar you'll become with the game. Eventually you'll know exactly where everything is in the map and know how and where and when to get from the Animal Village, to the Raft Adventure, or back to the shop that now calls you THIEF!!! for stealing the 980 rupee item and doing a runner. Incidentally, EVERYONE will call you that afterwards and going back into the shop is an instant death for returning to the scene of the crime. Varying degrees of punishment and retribution on that one, everyone calling you thief and showing an inherent distrust of you, to dying for returning to the shop (perhaps with the intention of returning the item, but likely because you forgot you five-fingered-discounted the bow and arrow set like a cheap bastard).

There are moments of annoyance however when the game intentionally gives you a very useful item or colleague (Flying Rooster... Looking at you...) which acts as the key to attaining the level 7 dungeon, only to have it revoked by the end of the dungeon and ends up with some guy that looks after chickens and won't give the Rooster back. A formerly dead Rooster that you resurrected... What a git. Without it, you can't "hover" any more and are limited to jumping with the feather and running shoes to a 3 hole gap (maybe more if you're fortunate) and it feels like the potential to really explore has been removed.

The pace and flow of the game is very balanced and the game doesn't leave you at any point thinking it's too small or too large. The island size is perfect for the means and modes of transportation than are available and the dungeons evenly spread far enough to give you a suitably sized sight-seeing tour of the surrounding neighbourhoods before getting down and scrappy within the dungeons and duking it out with all manner of nasties and bosses. Special mention going to the Stalfos Knight that you have to fight several times before he does a runner.

An enjoyable romp from to start to finish brought down by a few glitches and game-breakable errors that could be happened upon if you're not careful. (Incidentally, DO take the powder with you to the final boss fight...)

Now time to get my fire rod and burn that fox and all the chickens I can find.