The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Review
I made a mistake before I started playing the Switch version of Link’s Awakening. I really should have gone back and played the original to refresh my memories on the game. However this was a deliberate move, I wanted to keep it fresh but, in doing so, it wasn’t until I was stuck on something, and my 26-year-old memories failed me on how to do complete something in the game, that it got me to look up a guide. At this point, I was about eighty per cent of the way through the game, and it wasn’t until I went back and watched someone play the original game that I realised really what had changed with this one.
Link’s Awakening is a timeless Zelda title, it hasn’t needed to be remade before this because the core game, the story, and the setting have held up. Not many other games from 26 years ago can attest to this. With Link’s Awakening on the Switch, heck yeah it looks and sounds better, but it’s made the gameplay so much better without me even realising it — it kept my memory of the game intact until I chose to go back and look how it really was.
Link’s Awakening is essentially a spin-off Zelda title, it doesn’t take place in Hyrule, it doesn’t even have Zelda in it and it’s filled with characters from the Mario universe. Koholint Island is a weird place, and it’s when Zelda games get weird they get good. Link is stranded on the island and to get off it he must awake the Wind Fish. If you’ve only ever played Breath of the Wild, this a ‘classic’ Zelda title, one with dungeons, with items that unlock within those dungeons, and it’s fairly linear. This is how they used to be, and it’s still good.
Clearly the game’s graphics and musical presentation is the most obvious change to the game, but generally, the core of the game is the same. Still, since we’re on a modern console, with modern conveniences, a number of things have been changed for the better. The original Game Boy had just two buttons used for items and in that version of the game you switched out items a lot. You had to switch out the sword, shield, Pegasus Boots, Roc’s Feather all the time. Even just to lift things with the bracelet needed an item. Now with the Switch version, things have been a lot easier with the Pegasus Boots on the left trigger, and the Shield on the right. The bracelet is now a latent ability as well, freeing up the two action buttons for everything else.
Another big change is how the game considers “screens”. The original game had the world divided up into screens, and you would move from one to the other and it would load each part as you went. Now, aside from inside dungeons, the world has completely opened up. The idea of a ‘screen’ has gone and you can run from one side of the island to the other with no transition. It makes the world feel more organic and faster to get around. You can also get around the world easier now, as warp points now allow you to choose where you want to go, not just get spit out at a predetermined point.
Other additions include the game having bottles for the first time, you’ll be able to save a fairy in there but it won’t release upon death. There are also more heart pieces laying around, as well as seashells. The reward you used to get for that now requires more than double what you had to collect before.
The game now autosaves (or you can choose to save at any point as well). The last big change for me was the boss fights, which have been tweaked just enough not to be completely different, but even though I hadn’t played the game in a while, I remembered what I had to do — or I did until it didn’t work. They’ve increased the difficulty and remixed the boss battles just enough to keep people on their toes.
When Link’s Awakening got its DX version of the game which added colour they also introduced a few other elements. The added Color Dungeon from that version is still there, but the whole Photo Booth side-quest has been removed. It’s safe to say the Switch does not support the Game Boy printer, after all. In its place, a Chamber Dungeon creator has been added to the game. Dampé, the grave keeper from Ocarina of Time, is new to the game and he wants your help in making some dungeons, he’ll guide you to start giving you certain requirements to fill. Let’s be clear though, this isn’t a Zelda Maker, you use all existing parts from other dungeons in the game to put together a coherent puzzle for someone to play through. It’s novel, but ultimately you’ll either be showing someone on your system what you’ve made or giving them an amiibo with your chamber on it — there’s no online sharing, no codes and in the end, it just feels a bit pointless.
Having avoided it long enough, it’s time to talk about how the game looks. There’s no other way to say this, but it looks so damn adorable. The new art style feels perfect for the game, not just Zelda in general but for Link’s Awakening itself. Link’s so expressive, the other characters are full of life, and enemies that you didn’t know quite what they were meant to be in Game Boy pixel land are imagined in this new style. The world itself is so detailed, all of the houses feel lived in, all the different environments the island have are authentic, fabrics, trees, enemies are just so well put together. The tilt-shift effect isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is only in the overworld.
There’s a problem though, all of this comes at a cost. The game seems to have some really weird performance issues. For the most part, it runs at what seems like native resolution and 60 FPS — except when it doesn’t. It happens at the oddest of times as well. It happens on the overworld when transitioning through areas, it happens as you’re running through the grass and the footsteps slow down just enough to notice. It’s frustrating because you can play the game for a while and then out nowhere you see these stutters in framerate. Link’s Awakening is a timeless game, and how little they’ve had to change it is a testimony to that — but currently, its presentation isn’t that same timelessness.
The game’s music though is totally next level. It has the right amount of just entirely brand new music, tunes with Game Boy music mixed right in and then something like Animal Village which is well just that — animals. When the game boots up and you hear that music it just takes you back; I’ve heard tracks from this game I haven’t heard again since, and it’s just like opening a nostalgic tap.
Link’s Awakening, all these years later, is still an amazing Zelda title, it’s a flood of nostalgia for those who have played it before, and if you haven’t it’s not one of those “old games” that people say were good, but they’re just clouded by nostalgia. The slowdowns in the framerate is a little blemish, as that’s the kinda thing that doesn’t hold up over time. But with the limitations of the Game Boy removed, modern graphics and art, all new music — Link’s Awakening continues to the littlest Zelda title with the biggest heart.
+ Link's Awakening as a core game remains timeless
+ Gorgeous and cute art style, with a splash of odd brings it to life
+ You don't have to swap out your items every 10 seconds anymore
- Weird performance issues
- Dungeon Editor isn't the Zelda Maker you're looking for
- Swapping Dungeons with amiibo and not online is just bizarre