There are many Nintendo and Zelda fans that look back on Link’s Awakening with a fondness and reverence for this somewhat odd, one-off Game Boy title that had unique dungeon designs and a grab bag of Nintendo luminaries appearing in cameo roles. With its somewhat mystical, slightly nonsensical story coupled with accessible game play, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening deserved the praise it garnered over a quarter century (!) ago, and the remake version now on the Switch is equally worthy of accolade. I will admit, though, that the original does not have the solid place in my gaming memory that it occupies for many, so I approached the remake more or less as brand new experience. It is still delightful.
Art design and graphics may not make or break a game but that doesn’t make Link’s Awakening’s stylish, plastic-diorama-like aesthetic less charming. There is a colorful, good natured innocence squeezed into every pixel, environment and creature design that just exudes joy and of course all of it is a universe away from the primitive, two-toned graphics of the original. The island of Koholint is rendered with witty detail and while the game is built around multiple visits to the same areas, doing so never becomes repetitive. Each run through an area usually means new secrets or areas to explore as abilities and items are discovered, and there are more shortcuts than in a handful of Souls games. Compared to the vast open world of Breath of the Wild, Koholint is relatively diminutive but there is plenty of content, witty characters and quirky quests to discover on the path to leaving the island.
While Link’s Awakening preserves the original game’s story — Link awakes on the island and begins a quest to escape by trying to rouse the mysterious Wind Fish — along with its many odd and entertaining side quests, and revamps the antiquated, primitive control scheme with easy to use, intuitive button assignments and the kinds of features that modern gamers are used to, like the ability to revisit quest assignments or place markers on the map. And of course exploration is unbounded by a restrictive, one small section at a time screen. While we’re talking about presentation, Link’s Awakening is underscored by lovely, jaunty and sometimes mysterious music now rendered by a live orchestra which adds to the warmth and shine of the package. Beyond the control scheme, combat, exploration and puzzle solving (and the puzzles themselves) are faithful to the timeless original. While the frame rate rarely dips in docked mode, there is some slowdown in portable mode in those sections where the action is intense or dense with characters.
Link’s Awakening caters to all levels of skill by unlocking the Hero mode from the start and by easing new players into combat relatively slowly. One notable feature is gravedigger Dampé’s Dungeon Creator, which allows players to indulge their creative impulses by fashioning new dungeons out of rooms they have previously cleared. While it’s a little limited in scope, it is easy to use and adds even more fun content to the game.
While it isn’t technically a new game, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening looks and feels as fresh and inviting as any new game released on the Switch. It preserves all the strange, playful fun of the original while utterly transforming it visually and mechanically, and preserves everything that made Link’s Awakening a classic. Whether you’re playing it for the first time or revisiting a longtime favorite, you won’t be disappointed.