Don't nap through this adventure.
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is an unusual beast. Though it may seem like a typical Zelda game on the surface -- that gold-labeled exterior can be deceiving -- there are several things missing that are trademarks of the series. Gone is the land of Hyrule; you are instead placed on Koholint Island, a parcel of land separated from all things of the outside world. Gone is the dark wizard Ganon; only the mighty Wind Fish can overlook the land with his ire... or his sleeping ire, as the case may be. But, perhaps most importantly, gone is Princess Zelda! Though the game bares her name, she is nowhere to be found in the entire journey. In fact, there really isn't anyone to save at all, except yourself when the going gets tough. The closest you get is Marin, an island girl with a lovely singing voice and a little crush on our hero. Still, to call this game "The Legend of Zelda" seems like a misnomer. The subtitle, "Link's Awakening," seems sufficient to describe the content.
That's not to say that other elements of the Zelda franchise are absent. Yes, although the aforementioned staples of the series were purposely left out, but that doesn't mean Link is entering unfamiliar territory! Link still finds his infamous sword, along with the memory of how to charge it up and swing it in a big circle to slice all that lurk around him. Like the original Legend of Zelda, Link moves around one screen at a time. Link must also visit a series of dungeons, just like previous games and ones beyond it, hidden amongst a dauntingly large overworld (though a map feature is helpful).
Still, Link's Awakening does have a strange premise by comparison to every other Zelda game on the market. Link is apparently sailing one of his ships (not something he normally did until the events of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker) when a nasty sea storm causes his vessel to crash via an unlucky lightning strike. He is later found washed up on the beach of Koholint Island by Marin, a local resident. Link awakens in her home, dazed and confused about his whereabouts. I doubt he was ever intending to go there. He soon determines that the island is a manifestation of the Wind Fish, who sleeps endlessly inside an egg atop a mountain (that is easier to access than most other places in the game, no less). To save himself and return to his homeland, Link must gather the eight island instruments and play them for the Wind Fish, awakening the fatigued flounder and causing his dream of the island to end. The inhabitants won't like that, but they'll get over it once they cease their existing.
Expect both the unexpected and the familiar on Koholint Island.
As you progress through the game, you slowly build up an arsenal of different items that will help you get to more locations in the overworld and are essential to completing subsequent dungeons (which is why they are specifically named Level 1, Level 2, etc.). Perhaps the most radical addition to Link's item sack is the Roc's feather, which allows Link to jump. Link never jumps. He hadn't jumped in any game prior, and I doubt he's really jumped much in any Zelda game since, so it's a very odd experience. And yet, it seems natural at the same time, which is good because so much of the game requires him to have that vertical mobility in order to be accessible. Other "classic" accessories make their appearances, such as Link's bow and arrows, bombs, boomerang, hookshot, and even Magic Powder, so Zelda enthusiasts should still feel right at home. And let's not forget his sword and shield combo; his sword is just as functional as ever, and his shield perhaps moreso, now that he can bump enemies AND move certain stationary ones out of his way.
What's stranger still about this game is the sudden influx of outside references, mostly from the Super Mario series. Super Smash Bros. aside, Nintendo game franchises rarely cross paths, so it was very odd to see, early on, a crane game where I could win a Yoshi doll or a character who looks suspiciously like Mario. Link later has to rescue, and then take for a walk, Madam MeowMeow's dog, who so closely resembles a Chain Chomp. And when you visit dungeons, you will invariably have to go underground, where Goombas and Pirahna Plants might be hiding. I'm sure there are more, but the memory, she is so hazy... But it's odd how much external video game culture has seeped into the world of Koholint Island, although when you discover how the game actually ends, maybe it makes a bit more sense. Or none at all.
If the Legend of Zelda series has a black sheep, Link's Awakening is definitely the top contender. Though it bares many of the elements of a standard Zelda game, it deviates so much in tone that it could very well be a standalone title (and, for the first part of its development, it was). It is, however, a pretty decent game and one that no Game Boy owner should be without. It was later colourized in honour of the new Game Boy Color that emerged in the late 1990s as Link's Awakening DX, and it is also available on the 3DS eShop for younger gamers to experience. Though I wouldn't recommend it as a starting point for the series, Link's Awakening is assuredly a notable inclusion to the franchise and Link's first portable excursion. Plus, it never hurts to get out of Hyrule every once in a while.