The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is originally a classic Zelda title. The first to appear on the portable Game Boy system, it is the favorite of many Zelda fans, and for good reason. In its first and second debuts on the Game Boy and Game Boy Color, the game had received numerous rewards and is still highly regarded in many writers’ lists. However, legends don’t always carry over well in future re-tellings. Does Link’s Awakening on the Switch keep up the gold standard? Or is it lost to nostalgia? Let’s find out as we review The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake on the Nintendo Switch!
Cartoon/ Fantasy Violence: The quest involves using weapons to slay monsters, though no blood is seen. Some weapons are magical.
Witchcraft: There is an instance of a witch who brews a magical substance that helps the player in his/her quest.
Death: If defeated in battle, the player can die. There is also an instance of a ghost haunting the player.
Grave Digging: An optional dungeon level and cave are located in a graveyard, requiring the player to move gravestones in order to access them.
When I first saw the announcement trailer for the remake of Link’s Awakening, my jaw dropped. The anime-styled intro was absolutely stunning, and the graphics upgrade was shocking. More importantly to me, the game was coming out within the year! Naturally, I preordered it and started playing it as soon as I could. Here’s how my experience was.
We’re Not In Kansas Anymore…
I noticed upon the start of the game how incredible the visuals are. A far cry from the Game Boy graphics I was accustomed to seeing, all the colors are eye-popping and textures feel like actual objects. While I still love the original hamburger-like trees and circular Link sprites, the graphics of the remake are absolutely top notch.
As I progressed through the game, I could never shake the feeling that I was looking into a diorama—a gorgeous, beautiful, colorful diorama. There is a reason why so many people are crafting Koholint Island switch docks and other things of that sort; the styles fit together perfectly.
In the original game, the dungeon “Eagles Tower” took me hours upon hours to beat. This was because I didn’t understand that I needed to take out tower supports in a puzzle in order to lower a level within the dungeon. More importantly, however, I misunderstood the puzzle because I didn’t actually recognize what the supports were—they just looked like black bars rising to the top of the screen. The remake more than easily solved issues like this. With more graphical prowess, this remade copy of Link’s Awakening never has you doubt what you’re looking at.
In the days of the Game Boy and it’s gaming affiliates, it was common for video games to drop the player off in the world and have them explore until they found the next level or area—pretty much by dumb luck. Link’s Awakening still operates similarly to that idea. After each dungeon, the Wind Fish does give a hint where your next dungeon level is, but if you don’t know how to get there, or forget where you were going, you’re pretty much screwed. The only exception is if you use a phone booth, and even then, the phone booth’s hint can be…less than helpful. I spent hours trying to find my way into Animal Village, not realizing the entrance was under a bush.
To put it blankly, Link’s Awakening‘s over-world is a nightmare. Long, straightforward walls form dead ends leading nowhere, holes are everywhere that serve no purpose other than to be inconvenient, and many enemy types are similarly inconvenient in that they dodge or are impervious to regular attacks. In some cases, such as the forest and mountain, you have to travel in and out of a caves in order to just progress one screen, which is really just repetitive and annoying. Mindlessly running from area to area ad infinitum just isn’t fun or challenging.
That being said, thank goodness for warp points. Finding a new warp point was always satisfying, because then I knew that I wouldn’t have to spend another 10 minutes fighting enemies and going through caves whenever I wanted to come back where I was. In the original games, the caves were a mechanic to make games feel bigger than they were, but now it just feels over-inflated.
If I were to comprise a list of Zelda games I recommend for children, Link’s Awakening would be in the top ranks for multiple reasons. It’s light-hearted, charming, visually appealing, and has characters from other Nintendo franchises as Easter eggs. However, the biggest reason is because Link’s Awakening on Switch is extremely easy. On my normal playthrough, I cleared the game within two days, and only died once (because I got stuck on a door in a boss battle, I might add). Everything runs so smoothly on the Switch, much of the challenge is eliminated compared to the rougher Game Boy original. I took out several dungeon bosses without losing more than three hearts, and often with only a few attacks. Boss invincibility frames were longer and enemies were faster in the original compared to the dumbed-down, yet refined remake.
Some of those difficulty factors didn’t even change when I played through on hard mode, either. Enemies were still slow and predictable, and even in the case of dying or being near death, it was pretty easy to make it back to the spa and buy another round of health. Hard mode had given me a run for my money a handful of times, but it was hardly ever due to enemies and more often just due to my recklessness, like falling down holes.
I remember the Game Boy original giving me a much harder time than the remake usually offered. If you want a difficult experience, closer to the original port, I recommend hard mode from the get-go.
Other than menial minigames, there’s mainly only three things you can do in Link’s Awakening: progress in the story, look for collectibles, or participate in the trading sidequest. That’s it, there are no more sidequests after the trading is completed, and characters don’t have much dialogue or mission value. There is an extra dungeon, but experienced Zelda players will complete that within an hour. With how easy the game already is, searching for collectibles and upgrades seems a little pointless and unsatisfactory. Overall, Link’s Awakening feels just like what it is: a remaster of a much older and short game.
When it was revealed that Dampé was going to have a shack in which custom Zelda dungeons could be made, I remember the internet going wild. “Could it be like a new Zelda–Mario Maker?” people wondered. People hoped. Unfortunately, that turned out to be untrue. Rather than making new dungeons brick-by-brick, as I had originally hoped for, the “customized” dungeons just take a hodgepodge of different dungeon rooms from the main quest and plug them together. The second I completed my first franken-dungeon, I immediately lost interest.
Besides the aesthetics, I found one other major improvement in Link’s Awakening remastered over it’s original port: an updated user interface. Link’s Awakening remaster ties the map together, so there is no more side-to-side scrolling from screen to screen. Most everything scrolls continuously, and that freedom feels fantastic in comparison to the original.
While I love the Game Boy Color Zelda games, that is, Link’s Awakening DX, Oracle of Seasons, and Oracle of Ages, they all have one problem I found infuriating: the constant need to pause in order to switch between one of two buttons, as per software limitations. Accordingly, I wanted to jump for joy at the simple fact that Link’s Awakening on the Switch uses all of the Switch’s buttons. Instead of two items at a time, the Sword, Shield, and Pegasus boots are all permanently equipped in the remaster, on top of the two inventory buttons, with buttons to spare! If you do have to pause to change an inventory item, it is a lot less often than in the Game Boy games.
It’s hard to say whether or not Link’s Awakening on the Switch is worth it. As previously stated, the remaster is almost exactly the original game, just with a few upgrades and a new coat of paint. There isn’t any additional storyline, no more sidequests—unless you count some of the minigames and collect-a-thons—and no additional dungeons that were missing in Link’s Awakening DX. What you’re getting is a modernized port of a port, and that’s about it.
If you are a Zelda fan and collector, a first-time Zelda fan, or just a parent shopping for a game their child will enjoy, go ahead and buy it, as you can likely appreciate what the game presents. But, if you’re a gamer looking for an experience akin to , or even A Link Between Worlds, you’re likely going to be disappointed.
A final consideration: While the remake is 59.99, Link’s Awakening DX is currently 5.99 Digital Download on 3DS and has almost the exact same puzzles and map, albeit minus some conveniences and the pretty visuals.
The second I got over the awe of Link’s Awakening‘s Aesthetics, I immediately thought “I hope they remake Seasons and Ages too!” Honestly, there are several factors that lead me to believe that the sequel games are on their way. Much like the original, Link’s Awakening remastered seems to be a test of new ideas which can be used for future installments. In dungeons, the player can now use pins to mark locations on the map. However, Link’s Awakening does not have many large dungeons. The Zelda Oracle games, however, did. It would be a huge improvement to those games just to have that alone. Similarly, it may be possible that Dampé and amiibos have a bigger role in games to come, rather than their fairly minimal role in Link’s Awakening. Lastly, it was confirmed that Nintendo moved Link’s Awakening on the official Zelda timeline to take place before Seasons and Ages.
Considering the true ending to the combined Oracle games used to tie perfectly into the introduction of Link’s Awakening, I would speculate that Nintendo and Grezzo may be looking at all three games simultaneously to reconnect the story. Since Link’s Awakening was the first to be originally released—and is, by far, the simplest of the three—it would make sense for the rest of them to take longer. Sadly, as there is no word yet from Nintendo about this, it’s all conjecture and all I can do is dream on and look to the future of a new era of the Zelda Franchise.
As badly as I want to say that Link’s Awakening on the Switch was a smash-hit, I find myself being unable to. Everything on the Switch port is improved in some sense from the original game, but there just wasn’t enough of a difference to make it stand out. Looking at other remakes, such as Super Mario 64‘s Super Mario 64 DS, there are a bunch of upgrades: more stars, more characters, and new features. But with Link’s Awakening remastered, there really isn’t anything new that’s important, which makes it far less of a game than it could have been, unfortunately. I only hope that my theory on the Oracle games becomes true, because, as it is, Link’s Awakening just doesn’t have enough content to keep Zelda fans held over by itself.
Want to know which Zelda games are the GUG staff’s favorite? Check out our article, GUG Presents: My Favorite Legend of Zelda, here. Link’s Awakening is on the list!
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