This is the first game to have dungeons appear on my Top 20 Dungeons in the Zelda Series posts (although upon replay of A Link to the Past, I realized some of those needed to be on there). However, here I only considered them as they exist in the remake, and things are slightly shifted around. Link’s Awakening is the first game in the series with unique dungeon music themes, which I’ll talk about a bit, but they won’t really impact my ranking unless they’re a tiebreaker or they make me hate a dungeon (I’m thinking of a track from a specific dungeon in a later game).
I really enjoy all of the dungeons in this game, so it makes me sad to put any of them at the bottom of the list. Face Shrine’s item, the Level 2 Power Bracelet is my least favorite item in the game. It’s not fundamentally different from the Level 1 Power Bracelet, it just allows you to pick up heavier items. It’s used to fight the mini boss, Smasher, who throws a ball at you that you have to pick up and throw back at him. I think this is actually the best use of the item in the dungeon, although I still don’t think you should need an upgrade. Face Shrine has a couple horse head statue puzzles that are a bit annoying (improved in the Switch version where they look and behave more like knight chess pieces). You have to throw them until they both land upright. If you get one but not the other, the upright one falls over again. It’s just a random chance and I wish they had done something more complex with them.
I do like a couple things about the dungeon, like having to throw a pot at a chest to open it and get the nightmare key, and having to jump on top of raised blocks to get to some secret medicine, which is optional, but I always end up using it in the Wind Fish’s Egg. I think one of the best parts of this dungeon is actually the mission to get the Face Key at the South Face Shrine. You have to navigate through an Armos Statue maze and then fight an Armos Knight, who can be a bit challenging. But then you find the game’s big secret, that Koholint Island is an illusion, the Wind Fish’s dream. It’s cute that the boss, or ‘nightmare,’ is named Facade and it’s literally a face in the floor. It’s a simple fight that involves dropping bombs on his face and avoiding the pots and floor tiles flying at you. I probably would’ve liked Facade a bit more if he had appeared in an earlier dungeon – he’s just too easy for so late in the game. The Coral Triangle, the instrument you collect after defeating Facade, is pretty cute too.
This is the first dungeon in the game, and it’s a pretty straightforward one. You have to go to the Mysterious Forest (whose theme I actually I like way better in the DX version than the Switch remake), and find a mushroom to cure Talon of his raccoon condition. Then you can grab the Tail Key, the first key needed to enter a dungeon in the Zelda series, that he was blocking. The dungeon itself is short and sweet, and introduces you to Zelda dungeon concepts. You grab the dungeon item, grab the boss key, fight the mini boss, and boss, while grabbing a few keys along the way. There’s also a side scrolling segment, making a return from the original Legend of Zelda. Roc’s Feather makes its first appearance in the series as Tail Cave’s dungeon item, allowing Link to jump. It’s a great item that I almost always have equipped. Once you have it, you backtrack to the dungeon’s central room, where you can now jump over a gap to get the boss key. And then you’ll head to the right side of the dungeon, where you can jump over a gap to reach the mini boss and boss.
The mini boss and boss come right after each other, with only one room in between. Rolling Bones will roll a spiked log across the room again and again, so you have to make use of Roc’s Feather, and then you attack him while he’s moving to the other side of the room. Moldorm is not a particularly exciting boss, but I love him as a ‘first dungeon’ boss. You just have to slash at the orb on his tail and avoid the corners where if you fall, you’ll fall through to the floor beneath and have to restart the battle. They are pretty easy to avoid though. I love that Moldorm changes color as he takes on damage; it’s neat to see bosses visually impacted by the fight. After defeating Moldorm, you get to collect and listen to the Full Moon Cello, which plays the Ballad of the Wind Fish melody, a great choice for the first dungeon.
You need BowWow, who has been dognapped, to get to this dungeon, so you have to go on a little rescue mission. You fight through Moblin’s Lair, where you’ll take back BowWow and bring him with you to Goponga Swamp. He really enjoys the Goponga Flowers, which he eats up, allowing you to enter Bottle Grotto. Bottle Grotto has a bottle theme, and it pulls off its theming better than Face Shrine. Like Face Shrine, its theme is reflected in the dungeon shape and boss. But the dungeon is also filled with pots, or bottles, which you’ll eventually be able to interact with when you acquire the dungeon item, the Power Bracelet. My favorite use of this is picking up a pot to weight down a block in one of the side scrolling segments.
I’m not really a fan of mini boss Hinox, who also appears as a mini boss in later dungeons (there is one dungeon where I’m okay with him). I’m bad at avoiding him and it’s easy to fall though the cracked floors, which is where you’ll often land when he picks you up and throws you. I love the Genie as this dungeon’s boss – he’s a unique boss who has never returned to the series. You need to use the Power Bracelet to pick up his bottle and throw it at the wall, cracking it. After a few hits in will break and the Genie will be vulnerable to your sword attacks. Then you’ll collect the Conch Horn, which like the first dungeon’s instrument, plays the melody of Ballad of the Wind Fish, cementing it into your brain before switching to other parts of the song.
This dungeon was not included in the original Link’s Awakening – it was added to showcase the color added in the DX version, and it’s an optional dungeon. It’s a cute, simple dungeon and a novelty (which I think loses its effect in the Switch remake). Most of the puzzles are simple and involve color matching, although the one where you have to get nine statues to be the same color can be pretty tricky. Slashing at one changes the color of two others as well. The Color Dungeon’s item is unique in a couple ways. You don’t get it until you complete the dungeon, and you have a choice between two – the red tunic or the blue tunic, marking the first time you have to choose between them. You can however, come back and switch out tunics.
The Color Dungeon has a couple mini bosses. Giant Buzz Blob is a giant blue variation of the buzz blob enemies, easily defeated by using Magic Powder and then slashing at it in its more zol-like form. Stone Hinox, or Dekudon, is a bit more challenging. You have to dodge the rocks he sends at you and jump when he slams into the ground so you aren’t stunned, but he is defeated by just slashing your sword at him. They’re both okay battles, but the final boss actually uses a color based mechanic. Hardhit Beetle has a blue orb that changes to green, yellow, orange, and finally red before you can defeat it. But you have to attack quickly, or it will turn back to blue, which can be difficult, as attacking it knocks you back. Overall, the Color Dungeon is charming, but I think in any other game it would need to be more complex, as here it relies somewhat on its novelty, and a bit of nostalgia with its music, a remix of the original Legend of Zelda dungeon theme.
To get to Key Cavern, you have to obtain the Slime Key (guess they couldn’t call it the Key Key), by going on a little mission for Richard, who used to live in Kanalet Castle. The castle has been overthrown and is now a mini dungeon of sorts, and Richard wants you to gather five Golden Leaves, which you can get by killing enemies there. This is also where the Trading Sequence becomes important, as you can’t enter Kanalet without giving Kiki the monkey a banana, who will then build you a bridge to access the castle. When you bring back the Golden Leaves, Richard will let you go through a secret passage in his house to Pothole Field, which is where the Slime Key is located. This is some pretty advanced in between dungeon stuff for such an early game. Now onto the actual dungeon.
The hallmark puzzle of Key Cavern is so satisfying when you know what you’re supposed to do. There are four locked blocks in a row, and I love gathering the four keys and running right through them. You probably won’t realize this on your first playthrough of the game, which may or may not be frustrating depending on who you are, but the dungeon is called called Key Cavern (it’s also key shaped). Besides, one of the series’s most widely revered dungeons does this too (do you know which one I’m referring to?). Its music is one of my favorite tracks in the game. The Pegasus Boots make Link go fast, and more importantly, allow Link to break strange stones that get in his way. They also let him jump farther when combined with Roc’s Feather – I really like the item combining in the game (hello bomb arrows).
The mini boss, Dodongo Snakes can be pretty frustrating if you don’t know the trick. Like Dodongo, you have to get them to swallow bombs. But I wasted a lot of bombs before realizing that you have to wait a several seconds in between them swallowing each bomb, or they’d just turn away from it. Once however, and I think it was in this dungeon, I defeated one of them before running out of bombs, left to restock, and when I came back the other was defeated (glitch maybe?). I like the use of the Pegasus Boots for fighting this dungeon’s boss, Slime Eyes. First you have to run into the wall with the boots equipped to get the boss to appear. Then you need to slash at Slime Eyes so it starts to separate, and eventually use the Pegasus Boots to break it in two. Once it’s in two pieces, it’ll hop around trying to land on you, and every time it hits the ground it will stun you, so you’ll need to jump around with Roc’s Feather. It’s a pretty complex boss fight for this game, and I think, a lot of fun. Once you defeat Slime Eel, you’ll collect the Sea Lily Bell, which adds some flair to the Ballad of the Wind Fish theme.
Angler’s Tunnel has one of the coolest entrances in the game. It’s behind a waterfall, and you know how much people love their waterfall secrets. The dungeon is pretty open, but there are several areas you can’t access because you can’t swim yet, so you’ll be returning to several rooms once you get this Angler’s Tunnel’s item. Until then, you’ll be using Roc’s Feather a lot to jump over spots with deep water. You get the Flippers in this dungeon, which opens up the rest of the dungeon and the rest of the overworld to explore – you need it to get to the next couple dungeons. Returning to rooms and using the flippers to access new areas is super satisfying. There’s a key you can get to drop down early on in the dungeon, but it falls through a whole, and one of my favorite parts is going back with the flippers to a side scrolling section and diving down to finally grab the last key.
Cue Ball is this dungeon’s mini boss, and I’m usually not a fan of these types of fights in the series, which often have you chasing something and attacking from behind until it turns around. But there are multiple ways of beating him and I usually play it safe by jumping over him as he passes by and slashing at him once. And I like how the room itself is filled with water. Angler’s Tunnel has what’s often called the worst boss fight in the game, Angler Fish. While I like Angler Fish better than some other underwater boss fights in the series, it’s just too simple. I do think he has a cool design, but he could’ve been more complex. Once he’s defeated, you can collect the Surf Harp – harp’s are really cool in general and I highly recommend you go listen to some harp covers of Zelda tunes.
Now we’re getting into the dungeons that made it in to my Top 20. This one’s actually moved down from that list. I still love it, but it wasn’t quite as fun for me. Maybe that’s partly because I hate when bosses reset when you fall off a platform, which is what happens with Evil Eagle here. I even think Evil Eagle is the best boss in the Switch version, but I don’t enjoy it in this game. I actually ended up beating Turtle Rock first to get the Magic Rod, then came back to use it on this boss fight. I do really enjoy bringing down the tower by carrying a heavy ball around the dungeon and throwing it at each of the four pillars to destroy them. This allows you to further ascend the tower. I think it’s an incredible concept, especially for a 2D game, it really adds another dimension. It’s a more puzzle-focused dungeon, which I typically favor, than enemy-focused dungeon.
Hinox returns as a mini boss, and this is the one time I’m pretty okay with fighting him. You can position yourself behind a hole in the floor so he can’t reach you, and then easily defeat him with your boomerang. I love the other mini boss, the Grim Creeper. He summons his minions with his flute and then sends them flying at you. You have to defeat all of them when they fly at you, or else they’ll all come back and come at you again. He’s quite upset when you defeat all of them (I actually feel kinda bad for him), and he’s the one who summons the dungeon boss, Evil Eagle. After defeating Evil Eagle, you can grab the Organ of Evening Calm, which gives us one last preview of the Ballad of the Wind Fish‘s melody.
Turtle Rock did not appear on my Top 20 list, but I’ve really come around to it. It’s really open and can be confusing to navigate, but there are some fun (legit) shortcuts I learned while speedrunning it. I can even skip my least favorite room in the dungeon, which has you feeding bombs to Dodongo Snakes, but from a higher platform, so timing can be rather difficult. You basically have a boss fight at the dungeon entrance – seriously, this game has some awesome dungeon entrances. There are also several repeat mini boss fights including Cue Ball, Rolling Bones, Smasher, and Hinox. It’s nice to fight them again and see how far you’ve come. The new ‘main’ mini-boss, who guards the dungeon item, is Blaino the boxer. He can be tough to get a hit on, and one of his attacks sends you back to the dungeon entrance. As frustrating as that can be, he’s kind of a charming little mini-boss.
I love the dungeon item, the Magic Rod, even if I don’t think it gets enough use in the game. I think the side scrolling ice puzzles are a fun use of the item that requires a bit more thinking than just ‘melt the block’ – there are certain blocks you don’t want to melt. The Magic Rod is required to defeat the dungeon boss, Hot Head, but it’s not as fun to use in the fight as you’re basically just spamming the item button. Once Hot Head has met his demise, you can grab the last instrument you need to awaken the Wind Fish, the Thunder Drum. It’s kind of surprising to me how much I like this dungeon considering how enemy-heavy it is, but I think the navigation and Magic Rod make up for it.
Catfish’s Maw has overtaken Eagle’s Tower for me in the DX version. I really love it in both the DX and Switch versions. Now that you have the Flippers, you can dive under the rocks surrounding the dungeon entrance to get to it. The Master Stalfos fights give this dungeon a bit more personality and energy than the rest of the dungeons. And it fits really well with the dungeon theme music, which is one of my favorites. You have to locate and defeat the Master Stalfos four times before he drops the Hookshot, one of my favorite dungeon items in this game. Like the flippers in Angler’s Tunnel, the Hookshot allows you to access a few more areas in an already pretty open dungeon. You can backtrack and grab a lot of things you couldn’t before. You’ll need to use the Flippers again to access the nightmare key, as you need to dive into a side scrolling area. It’s a very fun dungeon navigate.
The Master Stalfos is the main mini boss fight of this dungeon, but there’s also an optional two Gohma fight, which I generally skip – they’re less fun than the Master Stalfos. The one thing I do not like about this dungeon is its boss, the Slime Eel. I feel like I’m spending most of my time waiting for it to pop out at the right spot so I can hookshot it, and then even if I succeed, I still might not be able to get too much damage in. Sure it’s more complex, and it requires the dungeon item, but it’s just not a super fun fight for me. After defeating Slime Eel, you collect the Wind Marimba.
Thanks for checking out my Link’s Awakening dungeon ranking! Next week, I’m discussing my very first Zelda game, Ocarina of Time.