When it comes to the Zelda franchise, Link’s Awakening for Game Boy has always been an unsung champion. It is a fantastic adventure from start to finish, but it doesn’t have the same power behind its name as the heavy hitters like A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, or Breath of the Wild. I honestly don’t believe this remake for the Nintendo Switch will do anything to change that fact. But while the game may not be a mind-blowing leap forward for Zelda, it provides a shining opportunity to revisit the first handheld entry in the series after being rebuilt from the ground up for modern hardware.
This overhaul does its absolute darnedest to emulate the experience of the original Link’s Awakening: the map is identical down to the bush and the characters themselves look like Game Boy sprites that have been run through a 3D conversion machine with their beady, black eyes and toy-like appearance. The bright and cheery diorama aesthetic works well with the game’s zany setting of Koholint Island, where you are just as likely to encounter a Goomba or Chain Chomp from Super Mario as a Moblin or Wizzrobe from the Zelda series proper.
Link wakes up to this strange society after being caught in a storm while lost out at sea. He was rescued by a young woman named Marin who finds him washed up on the beach. After being nursed back to help, Link sets out to reclaim his sword and explore his new surroundings. It doesn’t take long before we are tasked with an important mission to wake the Wind Fish by defeating the Nightmares plaguing Koholint Island and playing the eight magical instruments they have stolen. Typical fair for our boy Link!
Link’s Awakening on Switch plays like a faithful recreation of the Game Boy classic, yet with tons of new bells and whistles to accommodate players with a better quality of play. Movement and combat are still fluid, and just like the other top-down titles in the series, Link can swing his sword just about as fast as you can mash the button. Nintendo also smoothed out the process of using and selecting items: rather than only having the option of two pieces of equipment at a time, players always have the sword and shield designated to the B and R buttons, while X and Y are both reserved for things like bombs, the bow, hookshot, etc. Even better, the Pegasus Boots are now relegated to holding down the A button, while the Power Bracelet can be used when pressing A next to the movable object. The streamlined item management greatly reduced my time having to navigate menus.
Some other changes are an increased number of Seashells (from 20 up to 50), along with some useful new rewards sprinkled in for every 10 you find. There is even a brand new tracker that dings loudly whenever you are near a shell and removes the necessity of digging up EVERY SINGLE SQUARE on the entire map, as in the original 😛 Unless you are a true completionist, however, I would only recommend taking the time to find 40 shells. I’m not saying the reward is like Breath of the Wild’s golden poop for find all the Koroks, but it’s pretty unimportant nonetheless. The fishing and crane game minigames have also been overhauled for the new technology. Fish are now much trickier to catch, but also provide more rewards as you channel your inner Jeremy Wade and clear out the pond over and over. The crane game even features its own proper physics engine now, so you can feel just as frustrated as in real life when an item falls out of the claw even after you perfectly snag it. GAH! It’s not bad enough to be terrible, but it did make for a few annoying moments.
Through it all, though, the game delivers in its presentation. The vibrant colors jump off the screen and smack you in the face with cute designs, popping environments, and more than a handful of references to other Nintendo series. Perfectly complementing the cheery visual tone is the peppy soundtrack: a fun revision of the original soundtrack featuring a hybrid chip-tune and instrumental makeup. The Overworld Theme had me smiling from ear to ear, while the inspiring Piece of Power tune had me bobbing my head up and down like a giddy schoolchild as I sliced my way through hordes of Moblins and Slimes.
One final new addition to Link’s Awakening is the Dampe Dungeon-Builder. Players encounter this famous Gravekeeper early on in the game and he allows you to craft your own, unique dungeon using pieces of the eight dungeons from the main game. These can be shared with friends, as well as attempted on your own to earn rupees and other random rewards. While an intriguing idea, these are all rooms and challenges that the player has beaten before and they don’t technically offer “new” content when all is said and done. I quickly left Dampe behind and didn’t look back.
Link’s Awakening has a few other negatives besides this sad gravekeeper, first and foremost being the noticeable frame rate drops. Simply walking across a screen, even one devoid of enemies or objects, often cuts down your visual quality by at least half and spend several seconds at a noticeable chug before catching up. It’s not enough to hurt the gameplay significantly, but just like a mosquito zipping around your head and buzzing loudly, it got old real quick. I was also a bit let-down that the game didn’t change how you acquire the boomerang. Rather than being a useful item, it is still shoehorned in near the finale and only if you complete the huge trading sequence quest. Not only that, but it makes you give up another item to get it rather than just being a reward. Most people give up the shovel, but that prevents you from getting any further Seashells that are buried if you haven’t already. And if you already have all the Seashells, you’re far enough in the game that a boomerang makes literally no difference. The boomerang feels like a useless hunk of junk to me.
I recommend playing Link’s Awakening if you are a fan of the Zelda series or are seeking a fun action-adventure title. However, it is also a very short adventure: I beat it within just a few days of infrequent play. It was a fun time, but might not feel worth the 60 dollar investment to some people who only want to play through it once and move on. If the brevity and negatives don’t scare you, then you are in for one heck of a fun time!
Final Rating: 4/5
Review Score Translator
5/5- Magnificent! A quality game that goes above and beyond to deliver a near-perfect experience
4/5- Great! A game that is a joy to play despite a few minor hiccups along the way
3/5- Fun! A good game that has some issues, but is still worth playing despite the frustrations
2/5- Meh! A game with at least a handful of redeeming qualities, despite the majority of it being a mess
1/5- Yikes! A game that shouldn’t have been allowed past the final stage of developer approval