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Virtual Console Essentials: Link's Awakening

Nintendo's handheld dream arrives on 3DS...

While we're all entranced by the sparkling remake of Ocarina Of Time, spare a thought for Link's Awakening. Chucked on to the 3DS Virtual Console for twice the price of lesser games, while the likes of Excitebike get proper 3D makeovers, it would be all too easy to overlook this little gem.

The game was created by a veritable Who's Who of Nintendo talent. Director Takashi Tezuka has been involved in practically every major Nintendo release since Super Mario Bros, and it was the first job for scriptwriter Yoshiaki Koizumi, who later went on to direct Super Mario Galaxy.

MAKING IT UP

Koizumi's role, initially as the writer of the manual, meant he had the freedom to invent the game's entire backstory. At a time when Nintendo weren't particularly concerned with detailed plots, Koizumi - a film student - plucked Link from Hyrule and cast him as a figment of a dream, trapped inside the mind of a deity known as the Wind Fish.

When a shipwrecked Link washes up on this island of the imagination, his ultimate aim is to wake the Wind Fish, ending the dream and returning him to his homeland. But as he draws closer to assembling the enchanted instruments required to play the song that will break the spell, he wonders what will happen to the island's inhabitants. Are they, too, part of a dream, or by playing the song will he erase them from existence?

Of course, the plot doesn't make a vast amount of difference to the core gameplay, which is a streamlined form of the template established in A Link To The Past and seen in the majority of subsequent Zelda titles. What makes it stick in the memory is the polished quality of it, and the denseness with which it's packed into the deceptively small overworld.

Over here, there's a village; over there, a couple of screens away, a desert. Mountains to the north, rivers to the south. The map looks tiny in overview, areas are positioned in such an ingenious manner that it seems far bigger than it really is. It's a marvel of miniaturisation.

GLORIOUS GAME BOY COLOR

The dungeon design is equally efficient, and some of the seven temples bear comparison with any of the more celebrated console Zelda titles. This being the DX version, re-released for the Game Boy Color in 1998 (five years after the original) there's a hidden bonus minidungeon to find.

Zoom

An additional snapshot sub-quest lets you find photos of Link at various points, although you can no longer print them, as you once could on the Game Boy Printer. The option to save them to an SD card would have been a nice touch, and one that shouldn't be beyond the realms of expectation when we're being charged over a fiver, but it isn't here.

Still, this is arguably the best thing ever made for a system that dominated handheld gaming for over a decade. When you're finished with Ocarina 3D there's a perfectly formed mini-Zelda waiting on Virtual Console.

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