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The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Sept. 20, 2019


Switch Review - 'The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 24, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

In this modern The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening re-imagining, players travel to the mysterious island of Koholint to guide Link on a perilous adventure.

Buy The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

Remakes are tough in that they need to strike the right balance between new and nostalgic. Sometimes you get massively different remakes like Resident Evil 2, which was released earlier this year. Other times, remakes change too much and don't capture what made the original fun. Occasionally, you get something like The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, which is one of the most faithful remakes in modern memory. It adds new visuals and a few quality of life updates to the original 1993 classic, and the result is nostalgic in all the right ways, but there are a few drawbacks.

Link's Awakening opens with Link on a boat, caught in the middle of a terrible storm. He awakens on a small island known as Koholint. Rescued by a young woman named Marin, Link finds that he is trapped on the island and has no way to escape. The only way off the island is to collect magical instruments that, when gathered together, can wake the Wind Fish. Once again, our pointy-eared hero sets out to solve mysteries and save the day.

If you've never played Link's Awakening, its big selling point was, "Zelda, but portable." It is a very traditional Zelda game in that Link explores a large overworld, finds dungeons, collects items, and defeats bosses to collect enough trinkets (in this case, instruments) to unlock the final fight. You'll collect heart pieces, find keys, get all of the traditional Zelda items (bombs, bow, hookshot, etc.).

Link's Awakening began life on the Game Boy, and that means that Koholint Island didn't have a ton of space to work with, so the result was a very dense Zelda experience. Pretty much every screen and every segment have some sort of secret or hidden item, ranging from heart pieces to seashells that you can collect to unlock bonuses. If you're coming into this expecting a Breath of the Wild or even A Link Between Worlds, it may seem a bit tiny. The dungeons and puzzles are fun, and it's a great game to pick up and play for a few minutes at a time or for hours in a marathon.

Link's Awakening came from an era when Nintendo could be extremely odd and experimental, and it shows. While the core gameplay is very obviously a handheld version of A Link to the Past, the title has a lot of interesting quirks. There are lots of hidden secrets, side-quests, and amusing interactions. There are also a bunch of Mario cameos, including Goombas, Piranha Plants, Yoshi, and a lengthy side-quest involving a chain chomp. If not for the obvious Zelda monsters and Link himself, this could be a Mario spin-off!

Link's Awakening is based on the Game Boy Color version of the game, so it has a few additional features, such as the bonus Color Dungeon where you can unlock a new tunic for Link. Otherwise, it's extremely similar to the original game, but it isn't 1:1. There are some new puzzles and items to collect. There are some minor updates to the overworld and the user interface, so they're easier to use. The Pegasus Boots, shield and sword now have their own dedicated buttons instead of taking up one of your two inventory slots. This can break a couple of puzzles, as you can do things you couldn't before, but by and large, it's a good change.

Unfortunately, the biggest new feature is also the most disappointing. Dampe's Dungeon is a sort of "build your own dungeon" feature, where you can piece together tiles to create a custom Zelda dungeon. This sounds cool on paper, but the vast majority of the tiles are rooms from dungeons that you've already finished. It's not Zelda Maker but it lets you rearrange existing dungeons. What had the potential to add a ton of value to the game becomes a forgettable minigame instead. It doesn't detract from the game, but I found myself bored of it after a few runs, and the game seemed to encourage making small, easy dungeons rather than big, sprawling ones.

Link's Awakening only has two big problems, but they are both rather significant. The first is that it is an extremely loyal remake of the original Game Boy title. This is a good thing in a lot of ways, but it's also worth noting that it means the port that fits comfortably on a Game Boy cartridge. As such, the world map is small, and the game is very condensed. There's very little filler, but you can burn through the game fairly quickly, even if you're a new player. That feels thin for a $60 title, and the feature that is supposed to add extra value (Dampe's Dungeons) is the weakest part of the game.

If anything were to turn off people from this remake, it would be the inconsistent frame rate, so hopefully, that's something that can be patched. For whatever reason, the frame rate will chug every time you go to a new "screen," which happens all the time if you're on the overworld map. The constant shifts from 60fps to 30fps and back again are worse than if the entire game were just 30fps throughout. After enough time playing the game, I managed to tune out the effect, but it never felt great.

It's unfortunate because frame rate aside, Link's Awakening looks great. The character models look like ridiculously adorable figurines, and it gives the entire game the feel of someone playing with toys. The animations are very cute, and they do a fantastic job of updating Game Boy sprites while retaining the original charm. Indeed, the entire game is a delight to see in motion, and it's a nice way to update the old 2D-style Zelda sprites for a modern console. The soundtrack is also excellent, containing a number of incredibly catchy remixed versions of some outstanding songs. I wish there were a way to play the original music, but that's a minor complaint at best.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is a delightful remake of an excellent game. A lot of its strength is predicated on the fact that it was built on an already exceptional Zelda game, and if you have any nostalgia for the Game Boy version, you'll be charmed by this update. The game's only real flaws are its overall short length and the frustrating frame rate issues. If you're a Zelda fan, it's still absolutely worth checking out, and if the frame rate issues get patched, this title will be the best way to play the handheld classic.

Score: 8.0/10

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