The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Review

I still remember the day I received my beautiful, transparent original Game Boy for my birthday in my youth. The 4 AA batteries to power it, the wearing out of the labels on games from constant swapping, and trying to play it in the dark when I was supposed to be sleeping. I got the Game Boy late in its console life cycle, but that never bothered me as a kid. Soon after, I got Pokémon Red and the Pokémon craze took off. Among the hype was the Pokémon Trading Card Game. Why do I bring this up? Because much like the infamous item trading sequences featured in The Legend of Zelda series, I too found myself on such a path. Little did I know that after a series of Pokémon card trading, random toy swapping, and Game Boy cartridge trades I would acquire one of my favorite games of all time: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

Link’s Awakening transported me to a portable world that I instantly fell in love with. Those little gray-scale sprites forever reside in a special place in my heart. I played that game over and over so many times that I lost count. At the time, the map felt so big and the adventure even bigger. The different dungeons, the various items to collect, the secrets to be discovered. It was everything I loved and wanted in a Legend of Zelda title. When I first saw the remake of Link’s Awakening earlier this year, I was ecstatic. The graphics looked great, the music was remade, and I was all about the newly revealed title. I must say, despite a few shortcomings in the remake, Nintendo knocked it out of the park with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on Switch.

The World of the Wind Fish

The game opens with a brand new handdrawn animated sequence showing how Link ended up on this island called Koholint. We are then introduced to the new art style of Link’s Awakening, an almost claymation look to Link and the world. It’s one that fits perfectly of a portable game re-imagined in 2019. There is also an added tilt-shift blur effect to seemingly simulate the top-down style of the original. This change, alongside the overworld being completely open this time around, leads to some unfortunate performance issues.

When I was first exploring Mabe Village, where Link wakes up after the shipwreck, I immediately noticed some stuttering and dropped frames. Anytime the player would come out of a building or cave into the overworld, the performance faltered a bit before going back to normal. It was unfortunate to experience this from a Nintendo title. With games such as Super Mario Odyssey that look and run great on the Switch, it’s almost hard to believe that Nintendo was okay with shipping the game in such a state and I was hoping for a day one patch that may address it, but that was not to be found. Thankfully these issues do not appear in dungeons where half the game takes place.

One of my favorite aspects of Link’s Awakening is the music. Some of my favorite music comes from this title, mainly key songs such as The Balled of the Wind Fish and Manbo’s Mambo from the Ocarina. All the music is redone and it’s truly enjoyable. Everything from the Overworld Theme, the Trendy Game Shop to the Boss Battle music and even the ‘secret discovered’ jingle.

Welcomed Changes to Koholint

With a remake being created of a 26 year old game, there are going to be changes made. Most, if not all, were welcomed and needed changes. Simple quality of life changes that made Link’s Awakening ever better than it was. Yes, it is possible. The biggest and most important change was to the controls. If you recall the original Game Boy, you’ll remember that it only has two buttons for actions: A and B. For those that haven’t played the original, these buttons were used for everything. Your shield, your sword, and every item. You could be running around with a Ocarina mapped to one button and bombs on the other, no sword or shield in sight. This is where the biggest and most important change occurs. Your sword and shield are always mapped to the same buttons while freeing up two additional spots for items on X and Y. These new controls make a world of difference and are truly welcomed.

Right before the game was released, I was curious if the added changes of Link’s Awakening DX were to be included, such as the big one being the Color Dungeon. Fret not, for the dungeon is indeed here and provides those with a little extra help if they desire it. In my opinion, these two suits that either provide a damage or defense buff, make the normal mode a bit too easy. You could easily breeze through the game after acquiring them. Thankfully, they added a new Hero mode that provides more of a challenge for players and is available from the start with no need to unlock it. Thank you Nintendo for that.

A new feature added that replaced the Camera Shop from the original, is our favorite groundskeeper Dampé making an appearance. Dampé’s Shack is a new location that players can create their own dungeon using tiles from dungeons they have completed. Dampé also has his own challenges to making maps and completing objectives. These challenges are what I found to be fun with this new addition. Not only was it required to appease my completionist in me with items, but provided a new experience that I enjoyed. What was unfortunate was the lack of an online sharing feature. I was really looking forward to trying out other players maps, ala Super Mario Maker.

While there are many more changes added to Link’s Awakening on Switch, the final one I want to mention is the addition of new items and collectibles. The heart count is increased, resulting in more heart pieces to be found. Seashells are a collectible from the original resulting in rewards based on how many are found, have doubled in quantity. There are fun little decorations that can be placed around the main village for extra flair. Other classic items, such a fairy bottles also show up. For a returning player, I loved having all new items and secrets to be found which also resulted in more game time.

Classic Zelda Reimagined

I had a grin on my face the entire time playing through The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. It kept everything I loved about the original and made it fresh while keeping that nostalgia. I must have taken over a hundred screenshots with the Switch’s built-in feature just so I can refer back to certain moments that I remember so fondly.

Link’s Awakening is a classic Zelda experience that every fan should discover, whether new or old. Traversing the overworld, discovering the personality of each area and dungeon, tackling multiple bosses, completing a cute trading sequence, and recognizing cameos from other Nintendo titles. Even me, having played the original countless times found new revelations in the Switch remake.

I have seen many concerns regarding the price tag of Link’s Awakening at the full retail of $60. I get it. It was a Game Boy game that sold for much less and may not warrant a steep price for the experience. Yet, after playing through the game and seeing all that it provides, I can easily recommend it for full price. New additions and features make multiple playthroughs possible while still remaining enjoyable.

Our Verdict

Despite a few shortcomings such as the performance issues and features not being as fleshed out as they should, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is still an amazing game. With new animated sequences, necessary quality of life changes, welcome new additions, stunning graphics, and music, Link’s Awakening is a spectacular inclusion to any Switch owner and especially every Zelda fan out there.

Young or old, new player or returning player, Link’s Awakening is a game everyone should experience. I’m happy to have in in my collection next to my original copy of the Game Boy title that I acquired in my youth. Check it out as soon as possible, you will not be disappointed. It is worth every rupee.

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