Thursday, March 16, 2023

Link's Awakening: Prototype Map

Tears of the Kingdom will return to the Hyrule from Breath of the Wild, but this won't be the first time that Nintendo has re-used the world from another Zelda game. In fact, they loved the Hyrule from A Link to the Past so much that they've used it in two more games: there was a modified version of it in the Satellaview exclusive spin-off, Ancient Stone Tablets, and it was revisited once more in A Link Between Worlds. But before all this they've actually worked on bringing this Hyrule to the Game Boy.

This game would eventually turn into what we know as Link's Awakening, but you can still see today some of the similarities. Kanalet Castle sits relatively close to the map's center, where it originally was intended to become Hyrule Castle. Mabe Village is found to the west, where Kakariko would have been, and the Mysterious Woods are right above the village, just like the Lost Woods. Martha's Bay is close to where Lake Hylia would have been, and the Ancient Ruins are to the east, like the Eastern Palace, with lots of Armos statues around. You have the mountains to the north with a tower on top, with waterfalls from there leading into the island's rivers and the castle moat. And this list goes on... Of course Koholint became its own thing, but this doesn't change the fact that it was born out of the Hyrule from A Link to the Past.

Now, you may recall the Gigaleak from 2020, where a lot of data from Nintendo got made public, which included documentation, source files, and other things, mainly from their older titles. Apparently, part of these files included the early prototype map of Link's Awakening, from the time where it was still meant to be A Link to the Past on the Game Boy. And thanks to MrCheeze on Twitter we are now able to see how it looks like when put together:


Behold! This is fun to study and puts many things into an interesting perspective. Like, the Seashell Mansion was effectively Link's house at some point. Or the small pond between the Fortune Teller and the graveyard eventually became Manbo's Pond.

The Lost Woods were entirely shut off, except for the entrances to the southwest, and feel a lot more like a maze here. Curiously, one of the screens, the one with the six bushes at the bottom, looks very close to what ended up in the final game. This seems to be an exception, however, together with the entrance to the Eastern Palace, which looks almost exactly like the entrance to the Ancient Ruins.

It's also interesting how the small forest to the west of Hyrule Castle wasn't connected to it in this version. Instead, there was a dungeon entrance there, which looks very similar to the Tail Cave, only with lion statues. The sprite for this statue can even still be found in the final version of the game, it's simply unused (see TCRF). They've ultimately put a dungeon into this forest area with Ancient Stone Tablets, so it's interesting to see that they've considered this as a spot for a new dungeon before.

And another dungeon entrance can be found at the swamp in the south with the floodgate ruins. It looks a lot like the one for the Key Cavern, where this is where the eyes originally came from. It always felt like the dungeon was intended to be swamp-based – with its location, the "Slime Key" and all that –, but what remained are the eyeball enemies.

The Mario statues there are certainly something else, though. Coincidentally, there was a Mario statue in a Japanese manga for A Link to the Past, which came in a guide from 1992. Melora from History of Hyrule (one of my favorite Zelda sites) has been recently scanning this manga, where she has been pointing this out today (see here):

manga panel of Link with a lantern in a dark grassy area with a pedestal next to him, which has a stone head of Mario on it

This is quite awesome, whether this was a coincidence or something deliberate. It could be that the guys working on the manga saw the prototype at some point. Or it could be that the development team was simply inspired by the manga  and decided to put the Mario statues into the new version of A Link to the Past. This statue may even be where all the Super Mario content in Link's Awakening started...

We probably will never know, but it's nice to finally have a more detailed insight into what they have originally been working on! Too bad that the leak didn't include anything from the Oracle games, because it would have been awesome to see such a prototype map for Oracle of Seasons, which had a very similar development history, only that there they were trying to remake the NES The Legend of Zelda. But of course this wasn't done at Nintendo, but at Capcom.

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