The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is one of the most beloved entries in the entire Zelda series, so it's little surprise that the announcement that Nintendo is remaking it for the Switch caused such a stir. The 1993 original remains a masterclass in adventure game design, and we personally cannot wait to get our hands on the 2019 edition of this seminal title.
The news also got us thinking about a previous feature we ran which focused on Jeff Hansen, who was a Nintendo World Champion for the early part of the '90s. The feature we ran – along with its accompanying short film – was in fact inspired by Zelda: Link's Awakening; the whole reason we got in touch with Hansen was to speak to him about a press trip we'd read about in a dog-eared issue of EDGE magazine.
The trip – a press junket to promote the game before it launched – involved putting a bunch of games journalists on a cross-country train with the ultimate objective being to discover who could finish it first. While this wouldn't be a global achievement – the game had been released in Japan a few months earlier – it would still be worth bragging about, and Jeff, thanks to his status as Nintendo World Champion, went along for the ride.
"The train trip was especially exciting because neither I nor my parents had ever done a cross-country train trip before," Hansen told us last year. "I think they had a hard time deciding which of them would go; usually, my mom would go with me on our trips, so it was my Dad’s turn."
Each person on the trip was given a Game Boy and a copy of Link's Awakening, which was unreleased in America at this point. "The only people on the train with Nintendo were me, my dad, the Golin-Harris and Nintendo marketing people, and a bunch of journalists," Hansen explains. "Everyone that participated received a fresh new Game Boy and Link’s Awakening – even my Dad, who played it for about 10 minutes and then went back to reading his PC Magazine. Nintendo had only purchased a couple of rooms on the train that had beds, so we all took turns getting some sleep."
While it all sounds well-organised, a spanner was thrown into the works early. "The original plan was to go from New York City to Los Angeles, but shortly before the event, there was a major bridge on that route that collapsed, killing many people," says Hansen. "So plans were changed to go from New York City to Seattle instead. We were a little scared to embark on the trip after hearing the news, but we were also glad that we weren’t the ones on the bridge when it collapsed. There were several major stops along the way where we would wait for hours at a time before embarking again, and some journalists came and went at the Chicago stop."
During his video game glory days, Hansen's usual tactics when approaching a new game often involved collaboration with like-minded gaming friends, but that wasn't something he could rely on in this situation. "There weren’t any of my usual friends to ask for help, and there certainly wasn’t anything I could Google to get hints back then," he says. "There were a couple of Nintendo Counselors that rode with us on the trip, so I was able to ask for a couple of tips from them when I got stuck at the very beginning of the game. After that, though, it was smooth sailing." Hansen's talent – which had bagged him multiple World Championships by this point – took over. "The only thing I really cared about was getting into the game and beating it," he recalls. "I was so occupied that I didn’t pay much attention to the outside world until I beat the game half-way across the country."
It wasn't just prestige that Hansen was competing for here – there was a monetary prize on offer. "Nintendo had announced that the first person on the trip to beat the game would be awarded $1,000, so that was a big part of my motivation for spending every waking hour towards beating it first," he explains. Sadly, despite being the first person to complete the game (you can watch that exact moment here), the money wasn't forthcoming. "Unfortunately, there wasn’t really any incentive for Nintendo to give me – the only non-journalist – the money, so I was a little disappointed to find out that I did not qualify – after I had beaten the game! I recall that there were several others that also beat it before we arrived in Seattle, and the first one to do so after me was declared the official winner."
While it's unlikely, it would be amazing to see Nintendo revive this unique promotional event for the upcoming Switch title.