Oh nostalgia, what would we ever do without you? Sometimes you can be a blessing, and other times, it can be an unpleasant reminder. Nintendo is no stranger to nostalgia, as many of their games make references and callbacks to past games. The Legend of Zelda series has taken it a step further with remastered titles like Wind Waker HD and Ocarina of Time 3D. Now, we have a fully remade version of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, the 1993 Game Boy classic, courtesy of developer Grezzo. Does this remake still retain the magic of the original? Or is the formula starting to show its age?
I’ll be honest. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is one of my favorite titles in the series. I heavily enjoyed playing the original, and I enjoyed the two Oracle series games that came after even more. When Nintendo announced that they were remaking Link’s Awakening, I was excited to play it again. The charming story and characters, the wonderfully written music, and the classic gameplay; I couldn’t wait. Now a new generation can experience this title on their Nintendo Switch, and fans of the original can reminisce.
The story of Link’s Awakening takes place after the plot of A Link to the Past. Sailing to new countries, series protagonist Link finds himself caught in a storm, destroying his boat and shipwrecking him on an island. On Koholint Island, he’s found by a young girl named Marin, who treats him along with her father Tarin. Shortly after Link wakes up and recovers his sword, an owl tells him he must awaken the Wind Fish. The guardian of the island, a prophecy claims a young hero will gather the eight Instruments of the Sirens and wake the deity. The story is simple, yet effective, and full of charm, and it maintains that in this remake.
Link’s Awakening plays like a classic top-down Zelda title. Link will have the use of his sword and shield, mapped to the B button and R button respectively. This is actually an improvement from the original, where Link had to use his equipment slots for these items. Now these slots are free for Link to use any of the other items he collects along his adventure. Another change is the way Link explores Koholint Island. Before, every section would be it’s own tile on the map. Now, it’s all one scrolling world, minus the occasional building and dungeon. Don’t worry though, the side-scrolling segments are still in tact. Unfortunately, this does affect performance, as the frame rate tends to drop, especially when entering different areas.
Being a remake, most of that is mainly in the aesthetics. Link’s Awakening on the Switch has a toy-like theme, making every character and environment feel part of a miniature diorama. This adds an exceptional level of charm to the game, especially with all the colorful characters Link will meet. While the visuals are new, the writing remains mostly the same. There are a few updates here and there, but this is still the same adventure. The game even includes the Color Dungeon from the DX version of the game. Despite this, the photo quest-line has been removed, though many of the events still remain.
Much of the music, including the iconic “Ballad of the Wind Fish,” returns with majestic quality. They retain the spirit of the originals, but also update the classics for the modern day. While much of the original game represents itself, there are still some new features too. Players can now collect dungeon segments and give them to Dampé to arrange dungeons. Not only can players explore the dungeons for rupees, but they can share them using an amiibo. It would have been better to make it an online function, but it’s not really required to enjoy the game. Another new addition is a series of Super Mario Bros. collectible figures. While fun to collect with the Trendy claw game, they’re really more for bragging rights.
The difficulty of Link’s Awakening is definitely inconsistent. Story progress can be pretty easy due to a narrative that basically holds your hand. On the other hand, some dungeon puzzles can be real head-scratchers. A lot of the puzzles require memorization, full familiarity with the mechanics, and more. Luckily there’s a marking feature in the map for those that need the extra tool. Even then, some dungeons can be intimidating due to having to do certain things in sequence. As far as the enemies go, most of them will be pretty easy to take down. Players can even utilize their shield to make certain enemies stagger, allowing counterattacks.
Overall, the level design of the game, both in dungeons and the overworld map, still hold up. It cleverly makes a world that opens up as players collect more items, many things hidden in plain sight. A lot of this also stems from the trade quest that takes place over the majority of the game. Players will trade a variety of items to eventually get a couple great items. The characters to trade with are strategically placed, feeling just challenging enough to have to track down. The dungeon designs also utilize a solid mix of challenge, both in puzzles and in combat. The game encourages players to use most of the items they collect, rather than just a single item. Plenty of secrets are also hidden all throughout Koholint Island, encouraging exploration.
Boss designs are probably the only things that feel really dated. They are great depictions of the original Game Boy versions, but they feel rather simplistic. This is obviously due to the source material, which didn’t have much to work with visually. Even then, it’s a minor issue, but something still worth mentioning. At least the other characters are fun to look at, and there’s a lot of fun Easter eggs to discover too. The overall presentation is great, especially the animated cutscenes in the beginning and end. Grezzo really did a great job keeping the original alive and well in this remake, finding the perfect style to use.
Say what you want about nostalgia, but Link’s Awakening is still an amazing game. Grezzo’s remake captures the spirit and heart of the original while also introducing it’s own charms. While it’s not quite the same effort of Resident Evil 2, it’s a great way to bring a classic to 2019. Some might not find a 10 hour adventure in this style worth the price of admission, but Zelda fans will likely still find value here. My hope is that remakes of Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons happen soon too. While it has a few flaws, mostly in the performance department, don’t be fooled. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is still a dream come true.