Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 10/01/2019 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Link’s Awakening is one of the games I see frequently mentioned in discussions of favorite Zelda games, but despite having the Game Boy Color re-release of the original, Link’s Awakening DX, I never got around to playing it. I know it’s one of the defining games of the original Game Boy’s library, but I just never seemed to find the time. With such a beautiful and exciting remake being released on Switch, though, I decided it was high time that I experience this classic action-adventure game for myself.
Link’s Awakening’s intro sees Link at sea during a storm. This storm ends up destroying his boat, causing him to wash ashore a mysterious island. He soon learns that the island is protected by a Wind Fish, and that in order for anyone to leave the island, the Wind Fish must be awakened. There’s a prophecy, however, that if the Wind Fish is awakened, the island and all of its inhabitants will cease to exist. What is Link to do? Escape the island to return to Princess Zelda’s side and risk ending the island and everyone who calls it home, or resign himself to staying on the monster-infested island forever to protect the villagers living there? It’s quite the moral quandary, and the only way to unravel the mystery of the island is to trudge along your quest and discover its secrets.
It seems pretty clear from the success of Breath of the Wild and the statements from Nintendo since that game’s release that most if not all of the future Zelda games will be much more open-ended than the traditional linear Zelda games, but Link’s Awakening is an exception to that. This is a virtually perfectly faithful recreation of the original Game Boy game while still including modern quality of life improvements and upgrading the visuals from 8-bit pixel sprites to full HD models. The game itself, however, keeps a 2.5D perspective so as to stay more faithful to the original, and the effort to which the development team went to recreate the original Game Boy world perfectly is astounding. It’s truly a testament both to the developer’s dedication to the original game’s legacy as well as to the importance that the original Link’s Awakening had on the action-adventure genre as a whole.
In a lot of ways, this game is a major feather in the Switch’s cap. As I mentioned, the world is perfectly recreated, and the visuals are absolutely beautiful. The glossy, plastic toy-like appearance of the world and character models fits perfectly, and the music really feels like what those 8-bit tunes would have been had they been created 25 years later. Not all is perfect, though, and while I found them to be only a minor inconvenience, there are some performance issues that have caused a lot to grief to some more perceptive players. The frame rate is the biggest issue. Normally, the game keeps a pretty solid 60 fps, but during area transitions, there’s a consistent albeit very brief drop to 30 fps before jumping back to 60 fps. This didn’t detract from the experience for me personally, but it was rather jarring especially at first. In addition, there are occasions with either a lot of enemies on screen or a lot of effects like fire or dust that will cause some minor slowdown. Again, it’s nothing that I personally to be a major impact on the experience, but opinions online differ wildly, so it’s definitely something worth noting.
There is one very important addition that was made to the game that I’d be remiss not to gush about a little, and that’s the dungeon creator. There’s a totally optional side feature that lets you create your own Zelda dungeons and run through them. Given the square room grid nature of Link’s Awakening’s dungeons, it’s basically a matter of taking pre-created rooms and arranging them like puzzle pieces. With the various bosses, mini-bosses, chests, locked doors, etc, this opens up a lot of options for some really creative and challenging dungeons. It feels a lot like the kind of creative outlet that Super Mario Maker provided, and I REALLY hope that this is a testing-the-waters prelude to a full-fledged Legend of Zelda Maker game because honestly, I had more fun with that than I did the actual game itself.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is an absolute marvel, and while it’s certainly not perfect, it’s an exceptionally good time and a fantastic experience that I consider to be a non-negotiable must-play for Switch owners. For those who loved the Game Boy original, it’s an extremely faithful homage while still bringing modern QoL improvements to the game, and for those who, like me, never experienced the original Game Boy version of the game, it’s a great way to experience one of the truly beloved Zelda adventures. Some folks I know have said that $60 is a steep asking price for a remake, and I can’t entirely disagree with that, but it’s my humble opinion that this is a remake impressive enough in both its accuracy to the original and in its improvements over the mechanical limitations of the original that it’s a fair asking price all things considered. If you’re a fan of the Legend of Zelda’s traditional dungeon-based adventure formula, you’d seriously be doing yourself a disservice not to gives this one a go.