A challenge rang out in Nintendo's offices sometime around 20 years ago. The Zelda series' third installment, A Link to the Past, had been an incredible hit for the SNES -- but could that same 16-bit success be replicated on the much less powerful, monochromatic Game Boy? The designers of the day took to the task and triumphed, crafting the fourth Legend of Zelda adventure and the first ever made for a portable system, Link's Awakening.
Five years after that the game had achieved its own stunning success and was so well regarded that Nintendo revisited it, adding a new splash of color, some fresh bits of content and even an all-new dungeon to explore -- re-releasing the title as The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX for the Game Boy Color. It was marketed as the definitive edition of the adventure. And it was.
Link's Awakening has now been re-released a second time, as its DX remake has become the first Game Boy Color title to be made available for digital download through the new 3DS eShop. It's helping to kick off an all-new era of Virtual Console content for Nintendo, and the presentation upgrades it's been given in making the transition away from a fixed, physical format make this fresh edition trump the tiny cartridge version we last saw back in 1998.
You have two different display options. By default, the 3DS expands the lower GBC resolution display to fit the new system's upper screen. The result is a little blurry, since the new screen's ratio isn't a perfect match for what the old Game Boy was working with. It's a workable view and certainly playable, it just doesn't look that sharp.
The second display option has been given more effort, though, and it's the one I prefer so far -- it renders the viewable game area at its original 160 x 144 pixel resolution. Since that's quite a bit smaller than filling the whole 3DS display, this option then surrounds the game display area with a border graphic of an old Game Boy Color system. It's a pretty slick look. (Just hold down Start or Select when launching the game from the main 3DS menu.)
The developers who put together this new Virtual Console emulator for GBC titles even added a few fun finishing touches like a functioning battery light on the face of the faux Game Boy unit, and you can push up the 3D slider to activate a subtle 3D effect as well.
The tradeoff, of course, is size. Staring at a gameplay area that's only 160 x 144 pixels large in the middle of a screen meant for 400 x 240 pixel images could cause you a bit of eyestrain over time. I haven't had any trouble myself so far, but it's worth a word of warning. (And if you did have problems, you could always go back to the default, larger mode.)
Beyond the two visual choices, this new Virtual Console version of Link's Awakening also adds convenience to the gameplay as well. 3DS VC releases have inherited the game-saving "Suspend Point" feature from the Wii's Virtual Console, meaning you can stop playing at any time using the Home Button and come straight back to where you left off (without having to use Zelda DX's own, more cumbersome save system).
The game then goes one better beyond even that, by also bringing in the all-new "Restore Point" option. This menu choice lets you create a save file that you can come back to at any time. Again and again, if you want to. You can set a Restore Point right before a boss battle, for example, and then just load it back up if you fail the fight -- saving yourself the trouble of having to walk back through the dungeon or refill Link's health to try beating the boss again. It's a novel feature that's been a fixture of the PC emulator scene forever, and I'm kind of shocked that Nintendo's actually brought the idea into its official products (since using it can feel a bit like cheating) -- but hey, it's handy, and it definitely adds a new sense of freshness to playing old-school games like this.
If it seems I'm not talking much about the actual game, it's because I'm not. Link's Awakening is an incredible, absolutely classic Legend of Zelda adventure with a reputation still so solid nearly two decades after its initial release that I feel like I don't have to spend much time selling you on the idea of playing it.
It's classic Zelda. Our hero Link washes up on the shores of a mysterious island called Koholint and must gather eight musical instruments from eight different dungeons in order to wake the sleeping Wind Fish, imprisoned inside a gigantic egg. You gather traditional equipment like the Power Bracelet and Pegasus Boots to navigate the island's many environments, and this game introduced several new concepts like jumping (with the Roc's Feather item), occasional side-scrolling sequences (when you discover secret underground passageways) and a whole lot of knowing nods to other Nintendo franchises (a bunch of Mario enemies appear, and you even fight Kirby at one point).
All those things taken together, you should not pass by Link's Awakening under any circumstances -- it's a required play for all Nintendo fans. That's why I've been more focused on presentation issues here, as they're the real indicator of whether or not this is a successful re-release.
And, unfortunately, there has been at least one sacrifice made in bringing the game into the eShop -- the Game Boy Printer functionality. This was such a niche feature that it's unlikely it'll be missed by anyone, but it's still worth noting. The original cartridge version of Link's Awakening DX could hook up to the old Game Boy Printer peripheral to print out comical images of Link that you collect throughout the quest. When you reach those same points in this version, the "Print" option will still appear on-screen -- it just won't do anything. Nintendo could have invested just a bit more effort to creatively address that issue, perhaps letting players save those photos to the 3DS SD Card when those moments came along -- but, alas, there's no solution. So it's a minor issue, but it is an issue.
Nintendo's wasted no time in championing its second Virtual Console service, unleashing one of its greatest Game Boy classics to help launch the all-new 3DS eShop. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX was an incredible remake of an already sensational game back in the '90s, and the new presentation bonuses this 3DS download version has brought to the table make it even more of a wonderful gaming experience -- and it costs less than six bucks to buy!
If you've never played Link's Awakening before you'd be crazy not to do so now, and even if you've explored every inch of Koholint Island multiple times you should still seriously consider doing it again. Nintendo's designers took up the challenge of replicating A Link to the Past's success and succeeded. Link's Awakening was a masterpiece, DX made it better, and now the eShop has improved it even further. Near perfection, friends. Download now.