The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Review
Washed up on a beach in 2019, a full 26 years since the original game came out, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is back on Nintendo Switch in full remade glory.
Link’s Awakening was released on the Gameboy in 1993 and was originally planned as a port of The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past which featured on the Super Nintendo in 1991 (a classic which still holds up today and can be currently found on the SNES for Nintendo Switch Online). During the port is became an original and stand-alone Zelda game which stood out from others in the Legend of Zelda series due to its abandonment of some of the series regular features like Princess Zelda, Ganon and the Triforce. This was a game that wanted to stand on its own two feet and at the time was a modern marvel in development featuring on the Gameboy which features restricted the development team. The end product, despite these restrictions, was a masterpiece of it’s time and one that still holds up today.
Back in early 2019 rumours were going around that a top-down Zelda game was in development, then in February 2019 during a Nintendo Direct Nintendo finished up the direction with the announcement that Link’s Awakening was coming back. Not only that, it was going to be a full remake on the Nintendo Switch. Link’s Awakening had an enhanced edition released before in 1998 on the Gameboy Colour named Link’s Awakening DX, however that was a colour enhancement and a new dungeon added. Link’s Awakening was a commercial success with over 6 million copies sold of Link’s Awakening and the DX version on the Gameboy and Gameboy Colour.
We start the adventure with Link on a boat sailing the seas when all of a sudden his boat is struck by lightning and he’s washed ashore of a mysterious place called Koholint Island. He’s taken back to a small house by a young girl called Marin. Link wakes up at the house and mistakes Marin for Princess Zelda, but she explains to Link he’s on Koholint Island and he should probably go to the beach as the monsters on the island have become restless. As Link makes his way to the beach he’s visited by a friendly owl who explains the Wind Fish is stirring on top of the mountain. Link’s job is to wake the sleeping Wind Fish by playing the instruments of the island which are found around the various dungeons on Koholint Island.
Link’s Awakening is linear in fashion, much like the early games in the series. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild broke this mould with it’s open-world approach in 2017, however, Link’s Awakening is much more linear in fashion. Your job is to find keys to get you into dungeons, pick up the item to make yourself more powerful and then use that item to defeat the boss in the dungeon to collect a series of instruments and then ultimately use them to wake the Wind Fish. There have been a number of improvements to the gameplay mechanics in the remake of Link’s Awakening whereby some items are automatically equipped. For example, on the Gameboy game, you had to equip the power bracelet to pick up heavy items – here on Nintendo Switch this is quipped automatically freeing up the X and Y buttons for other items like bombs or the bow and arrow. Classic items are here like the Hookshot, bottles and the boomerang.
The puzzle design in Link’s Awakening harks back to the mid-’90s however still feels good in 2019. If you’ve never played Link’s Awakening before then this game will be an absolute treat and pairs perfectly well with the recent edition of A Link To The Past on SNES for Nintendo Switch Online. Breath of the Wild introduced breakable weapons to the game and a wide variety of outfits, however, this remake stays true to the early formula of Zelda games.
If you have a subscription to Nintendo Switch Online you can now play the first four Zelda games in the series with two on the NES with The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: Adventures of Link, A Link To The Past on SNES and now Link’s Awakening Remake. It would be interesting to see how new Nintendo fans take to these games given the structure is so different to Breath of the Wild. I remember playing Link’s Awakening on the original Gameboy when it came out in 1993, so it’s been a long time since I played the game. However, it’s like slipping on an old, comfortable pair of shoes with the puzzles feeling familiar but still satisfying to solve.
All of your favourite dungeons are back including the extra Colour Dungeon that was added as part of Link’s Awakening DX. There’s also the delightful trading puzzle which weaves it’s way through the game, culminating in a good weapon that’s not mandatory but adds something to Link’s arsenal.
The graphics and sound have been completely overhauled with a beautiful and new art style for the series. There’s a gloss on all the characters which make them look like amiibo come to life and a tilt shifted view that makes you want to reach into the screen and touch the world. Link is cute, perhaps a little too cute for a hero with a sword, and there wasn’t the uproar we saw here when the game was announced like there was back when Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker was announced. The sound design in the game is fantastic with all the classic tunes from the original game recorded by an orchestra and the audio really soars in this remake.
There’s an overarching positive feeling when playing this game and it’s something that I have always enjoyed about the Legend of Zelda series. The fact that it’s one of my favourite game series of all time does make me a little biased, but I enjoyed every minute of playing through Link’s Awakening. The art style is fresh and new, the gameplay feels familiar but as I haven’t played it in 25 years or so then I couldn’t remember all the puzzles so playing through it again felt fresh and nearly new. The puzzles are satisfying to complete and it’s nice to take a step back in time with Link and have a completely different adventure to the one we had in Breath of the Wild. Where that game broke the mould for the series and took it in a direction whereby it probably won’t return to the former linear style and be tweaked rather than turn 180 degrees, Link’s Awakening stays true to the game formula that created the worldwide phenomenon.
There are a few drawbacks to the game and the main one is its performance. The game does chug and splutter when there are lots of sprites on screen, like in Mabe Village when you try and run through with the pegasus boots. I didn’t find this to be a deal-breaker and make me turn off the game, but it is noticeable. I wouldn’t say it ruins the experience of the game but the framerate issues are there and can’t be ignored. Another small gripe is the price, which has been reflected online with some feedback to Nintendo. This was £49.99 here in the UK, which is quite expensive for a remake. However, a lot of work has gone into it with the graphics and audio so I don’t think it’s too much of a problem.
In summary The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a great remake which stays true to the original and provides graphics, gameplay and audio enhancements on the top of an already successful formula. Much of Nintendo’s fanbase would have been too young or not even born when the first game came out, so releasing this remake now makes perfect sense. To those who have played the game before it’s a reminder of the series classic past and to those who’ve never played the game before its an introduction to the more formulaic Zelda games of yesteryear. I would have liked to have experienced this game without playing it before and it would definitely be interesting to understand opinions of those who encountered Breath of the Wild first and then went back to play this game to see if the perception of the game is different. The freedom that comes with Breath of the Wild cannot be found at the same scale in this game, however, the sense of delight and wonder is still there. It was one of the most anticipated games of 2019 and I think it lives up to that billing and then some. I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing through Link’s Awakening for the second time, this time in full remade glory.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: 20th September 2019