The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is the very first Zelda game I ever played. Back in the days when I thought the elf running around was Zelda, it was one of the reasons why I wanted a Game Boy. In fact, I have to shamefully (or rather, shamelessly) admit that it was Pokémon that eventually got my parents to get me a Game Boy, so I never really got to fully experience the classic—not even the DX version.
So when the Switch remake was announced, an opportunity to finally experience it presented itself, and it’s easy to see why the game was so beloved.
What Is It?
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening originally released in 1992 as one of the original Game Boy’s killer apps. Hot off the heels of successful outings with the original Legend of Zelda and the beloved SNES release of A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening was a title Nintendo used to show just what their handheld system was capable of: pure gaming bliss highlighted by an authentic and fully functional Zelda experience.
The game begins with Link on a ship unsuccessfully weathering through a storm, and so he ends up stranded on the colorful Koholint Island where he’s discovered by the maiden Marin who helps nurse him back to health and reunite Link with his sword. It’s here where Link has to figure out the truth of the island in order to get out and be on his merry way.
Link’s Awakening on the Switch is essentially a one-for-one remake from the ground up, except appropriately made in modern 720p instead of the Game Boy’s box-like resolution. As impressive as it is, what jumps out most about the game is its toy-like art style that breathes new life into objects and environments that were both familiar and mysterious. Not since last year’s Octopath Traveler have I seen anything this unique, and it’s great seeing Nintendo continue to take these kinds of chances with perhaps its most beloved series.
Why Should I Care?
If this is your first foray into Link’s Awakening, it’s a weird experience to say the least. For reasons unexplainable, Link’s Awakening features more than a fair share of crossover with stuff from the Mushroom Kingdom, namely enemies. From Chain Chomps, to Goombas, to Yoshi dolls, and even a giant frog that looks like Wart from Super Mario Bros. 2, calling these Easter eggs will definitely raise some eyebrows. Aside from the fact that this stuff doesn’t make any sense, you should expect your run of the mill Zelda gameplay here.
Given the monumental success that Breath of the Wild was, it’s also possible that Link’s Awakening might be your second Zelda experience, and this is a heck of a place to start as well. Link’s Awakening is as engrained in the original formula as other classics like A Link to the Past and more modern top-down Zeldas like A Link Between Worlds were, so newcomers should definitely get a feel for how a “traditional” Zelda game would play.
Despite popular belief, Breath of the Wild was not the first open world Zelda game. The original game and A Link to the Past were both open, non-linear experiences, but Link’s Awakening is one with a golden path, much like Ocarina of Time and other famed Zelda games that came after it. Sure, you have the ability to go wherever you see, but a lot of places will be locked for you to visit later once you have more abilities at your disposal.
The main way to get these abilities are through the game’s eight dungeons. Each of the dungeons feature smart puzzling exactly the way veterans will remember them, with each miniboss guarding special equipment like Roc’s Feather which allows Link to jump, the hookshot for Link to latch onto surfaces to pull him across rough areas, and the Pegasus Boots that allow Link to dash quickly through the screen.
This modern take is pretty much 99% of what the original Game Boy game was, except it also sets itself up to be a great 2019 title, and there’s really no other way we’d prefer it. In the original game, you had to do a lot of pausing and menu surfing to equip items that are ideal for various combat and puzzle situations.
While that’s still sort of a thing with the remake, it’s a lot less bothersome. Items that provide Link with seemingly natural abilities such as the Power Bracelet (which give Link the ability to lift pots and boulders) or Pegasus Boots don’t have to be manually equipped, while you now have two free buttons in X and Y to equip whatever item you please. These quality of life changes make the game far less cumbersome and more unique at the same time because otherwise — the game aged just fine. The main thing I don’t like is the fact that Link traverses slower than I’d like him to, and the scarcity of warp points in the overworld really make the backtracking and such more taxing than it should be. What should be like six-hour game is more of an eight to 12-hour game because of how slow Link runs. There’s really no reason to lengthen a game this way.
Perhaps the most profound feature is the game’s Dungeon Building feature. After you make some progress in the game, you’ll come across the Gravekeeper Dampe who has his own little dungeon-building minigame that allows you to construct your own dungeons. It’s essentially Zelda‘s version of Super Mario Maker except much less involved. There isn’t much for you to really customize as you create your dungeons, but there is some solid intuitiveness to it in the form of putting stairs in your dungeons to connect them in various ways. The in-game reason to create these dungeons, aside from passing the time by finishing your own creations, is you get keep the loot you get while in there. This concept pretty much stemmed from series director Eiji Aonuma’s desire to make a Zelda Maker-type game, and while it isn’t the greatest, at least there’s a possibility of something bigger in the future.
Another welcome feature is the fact that you can play the game in Hero Mode from the get-go. Hero Mode rapidly increases the difficulty by doubling the damage Link takes while also making hearts undiscoverable. To make matters worse, when you die, you don’t even get your full helping of health back — you just get a little more than half, so you have to play cautiously. I’ll say it right here: Hero Mode is no joke. After overcoming the game’s fifth dungeon, which is a little more halfway through the game, I had already died 118 times. I’m pretty sure that’s more than death than any Zelda I’ve ever played… combined, and that’s weird to say because I wouldn’t actually classify this game as hard.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
The main argument people will have about the value of Link’s Awakening is the fact that it’s a remake of a game made for the Game Boy. It’s a refreshing experience, and it’s not a new one, so if you’ve played it before, is it worth the $60?
The answer is yes.
This is undoubtedly now the definitive way of playing the great game that is Link’s Awakening. There are far worse games options on the market, and as it stands, an updated version of Link’s Awakening is simply a great game in 2019. It’s easily one of the best looking games on the Switch and its unique look definitely gives the game a lot of charm. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is an easy recommendation for any Switch library, even at full price.