After the longest Direct drought in history, Nintendo dropped a stunning showcase of upcoming 2019 titles on February 13. But none could measure up to the left-field dream game announcement of a “reimagined” Link’s Awakening. And how timely that such an announcement would drop exactly halfway through this very Link’s Awakening analysis series, where I analyze The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening dungeon-by-dungeon! As I have The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, each entry in this series focuses on a particular dungeon, delving into the intricacies of various aspects of design. Because it adds color and an additional optional dungeon, I will be looking specifically at the 1998 re-release The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX. In this entry, I will be examining Link’s Awakening’s seventh dungeon, Turtle Rock.
The road from Eagle’s Tower to Turtle Rock is short in both time and distance. Upon departing Eagle’s Tower, Link stumbles upon a hapless Marin stuck on an aerial platform, who he saves by hookshotting past and grabbing her. After saving Marin, Link heads west through Tal Tal Mountains, passing falling boulders and a fire canon until eventually coming across the turtle skeleton reminiscent of that in A Link to the Past. He must then revive the turtle through song and defeat him, thereby opening the entrance to Turtle Rock. With some fun storytelling, obstacles and battles (and no fetch quest), this inter-dungeon sequence is paced and balanced perfectly for the end game.
Turtle Rock is a forty-six screen volcano with lava pits and rivulets that frequently act as obstacles. Though the largest dungeon in the game, it keeps navigation relatively simple by minimizing backtracking (at least compared to past dungeons) and using several key rooms as visual markers. In some regards, Turtle Rock is the opposite of Eagle’s Tower — almost every screen features a special puzzle or combat scenario that feels handcrafted for that particular screen, yet it also fits together with adjacent screens to form a cohesive whole. There are also plenty of pickups throughout the dungeon so Link always has what he needs to enter the next area. While the path through the dungeon can sometimes become a bit circular and repetitious, there are a few hidden shortcuts that hasten traversal, especially in the second half. Meanwhile, the moving blocks, ice blocks, and bombable wall puzzles are some of the most engaging brain teasers in the game, and the dungeon’s brief outdoor section provides a cool breather that splits the dungeon in two. Occasionally, the player may lack a clear path forward (such as when they have to bomb a wall to find the dungeon’s only switch), but these frustrations are minor compared to those of Eagle’s Tower.
As what seems to be a volcano, Turtle Rock’s primary theme is heat. It integrates the theme much more thoroughly than most dungeons by using lava as an obstacle throughout the dungeon, which also gives the dungeon a particularly fiery ambience. The dungeon’s fire-based item and boss further convey its theme, as do the fantastic ice melting puzzles in the sidescrolling sections. There is also a secondary turtle theme, with the dungeon’s name and layout both evoking the turtle Link fights in order to access the dungeon.
The Magic Rod is an awesome weapon that allows Link to shoot high-damage fireballs capable of melting ice. It’s incredibly powerful, but since it’s introduced more than halfway through the final dungeon it never feels overpowered. Meanwhile, it is fun and empowering to use in combat, and the couple of ice melting puzzles that incorporate the Magic Rod are the most interesting and engaging sidescrolling sections in the game. Overall, the Magic Rod is one of the few items in the game’s back half that feels like a genuine upgrade, and its unique properties make both combat and puzzle-solving a blast.
Turtle Rock is home to sixteen enemies, all of which were featured in past dungeons except for Vire. Vire fire fireballs at Link before swooping in and becoming vulnerable to a sword slash. They are an enjoyable enemy, but having them tied to unlocking the doors of multiple rooms means the player will have to fight them too many times. Four of the remaining fifteen enemies are former minibosses (Hinox, Rolling Bones, Smasher, and Cue Ball), which remain enjoyable fights but like Vile are often tied to unlocking doors and therefore have to be fought several times. Meanwhile, all the enemies in the dungeon are superbly placed, making for a slew of unique combat scenarios that always feel delicately handcrafted. For example, while Gibdos were strewn about Eagler’s Tower in seemingly random fashion, they only appear here in one room with an unstable surface. Their ample health combined with the room’s insecure flooring makes for a somewhat lengthy battle where Link must be in near-constant motion. Here, the enemies and architecture match perfectly to create a unique scenario that amplifies the strengths of its individual components.
Blaino is the dungeon’s pugilist miniboss, who throws a couple types of punches, including a charge attack that sends Link flying back to the start of the dungeon. Like a Punch-Out! fight, Link will spend most of the time guarding against an onslaught of attacks, waiting for a window in which he can flank Blaino. It’s a decent fight, but it can be easily cheesed with the Pegasus Boots and isn’t quite as deep as, say, this dungeon’s lava-themed battle against Cue Ball. The dungeon’s final boss, Hot Head, is a flame that jumps around shooting fireballs at Link. It’s a fast and frenetic fight, but it’s also incredibly short and easy, and it basically just asks Link to spam the Magic Rod.
Turtle Rock may not be totally cleansed of the game’s frequent navigational woes, but it is the most consistently interesting and enjoyable dungeon in Link’s Awakening, both room-for-room and as one cohesive place. While most dungeons are weighed down by a glaring flaw (often concerning pathfinding or sense of place), Turtle Rock doesn’t suffer from any major weaknesses. Its steady stream of specialized puzzles and battles makes for an enjoyable and climactic near-final romp that builds off the strengths of past dungeons while also carving its own identity. While many dungeons in Link’s Awakening define themselves by a gimmick or halfhearted theme, Turtle Rock is most memorable because it is the only dungeon in the game whose ambitious but careful design straddles the line between closed and open, new and old, and too easy and too hard. It is the peak of dungeon design in Link’s Awakening, and perhaps the only dungeon in the game that measures up to the best dungeons of other Zeldas.
For deep dives into other levels from Link’s Awakening, as well as levels from other classic Nintendo games such as Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, click here.