Review – The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)
I’ve been a fan of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening since its debut in 1993. It was one of my absolute favorite titles for the original Game Boy and I have played it at least a dozen times. I have even listed it as one of the rare few games that I would have given a perfect score to if Way Too Many Games had been around back then. So obviously when Nintendo announced that Link’s Awakening was getting not just a remaster, but a full on remake, my spirits soared as high as the Wind Fish.
In Link’s Awakening, you play as the titular Link, who has washed ashore of the mysterious Koholint Island after his ship is wrecked in a storm. He is taken in by some benevolent inhabitants of the island, Marin and Tarin, and his adventure begins. Now, Link’s Awakening differs from other Zelda titles in a very notable way: both Zelda and Ganon are absent from this game. It seems hard to imagine a Zelda game without two of its most prominent figures, but Link’s Awakening not only manages to make an enjoyable game without them, it creates a remarkable experience that truly stands on its own.
For those of you who have played Link’s Awakening before, you’ll find the same game and layout here. That’s not to say that it’s exactly the same game as before, as there have been quite a few new additions made to it, but I’ll cover those each individually. The most striking change is without a doubt the overall graphical design.
The art direction of Link’s Awakening is somewhat of a divisive topic among fans. Grezzo has adopted a cutsie amiibo styled look where all of the characters look like toy figurines and the environments look like they’re made from plastic. People either love it or hate it. I absolutely love it, not only because of how adorable it is, but also because of how well it plays into the story. I won’t get into spoilers for those of you youngins that haven’t played this decades old game yet. Suffice it to say that the stark contrast between the game’s hand drawn intro and the following toy-like art style actually serves a well thought out and interesting take on the overall narrative. This design choice was carefully considered and expertly pulled off.
Much like its original version, you’ll still only be able to move in an eight way directional manner. However, this fits the feel and layout of the game well since that’s how it was initially designed. That being said, instead of waiting for the screen to move over to the next area in a grid-like fashion, this time around everything moves fluidly. This makes traversing Koholint Island much quicker and easier.
One of the frustrating things with Link’s Awakening was having to pause the game every few minutes to swap out your items. This was a necessary task since the Game Boy only had two buttons and a D-pad. Now, thanks to the Switch’s vastly improved technology, you can have more options for button mapping your equipment. Plus they made the wise design choice to just automatically activate certain items. For example, you’ll no longer need to assign the Power Bracelet to a button and equip it. Instead it simply acts more like a passive ability and automatically increases Link’s strength. This leads to more time enjoying the game and less time in the menu screens.
Next up is the Dungeon Maker. You can access this feature by finding Dampé’s shack. This is just one of a few ways that Nintendo has managed to get some of your favorite characters from other games into this title. Dampé (originally from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time) is now residing in the shack that use to belong to the photographer bunny from the DX version of the game. Since all the bunny did was have you take pictures of various things to collect prizes, this isn’t really too sad of a swap.
You can’t go into this mode thinking it’s going to be as versatile and intricate as a Mario Maker kind of setup. It’s fairly basic, but that’s understandable considering most of the level designs in Link’s Awakening are somewhat simplistic themselves. Every time you beat a dungeon, you can visit Dampé and he’ll have new dungeon mechanics you can utilize based off of what you discovered in your journey. By the end of your game, you can create a fun mashup of all the different dungeons into one crazy level if you so desire. All it takes is some time and creativity.
In addition to Dampé, there are also many Mario characters that you can find throughout the game. Still present are the Goombas and Pirahna Plants located in certain dungeons, as well as the Yoshi doll that serves as one of the starting points of the long trading side quest. However, now you’ll notice empty stands and trophy-like bases in several NPC households. These all have plaques assigned to them displaying the type of figurine that can be placed there. You can find these in the Claw Game in Mabe Village. They don’t really do anything except for add some extra charm to the villager’s dwellings. Everyone wants a Boo figurine in their house, right?
Link’s Awakening also features several smaller additions like being able to place pins in your world map, more heart pieces and seashells, and empty bottles to contain fairies. The fairy bottles have become a Zelda staple in later iterations, so it’s nice to see them make an appearance here. They are really handy to have around when going up against tougher bosses. Unless you grew up playing the original version like me, in which case you’ll more than likely find them pretty useless. The original “Master Quest” for this game was an unofficial challenge set forth by friends to simply not pick up any of the heart containers gifted to you after defeating a boss and see if you could still beat the game. It was insanely difficult, but I did it. High-five to younger me!
I really have to give some praise to the sound department in Link’s Awakening. The sound effects have all been redone and they add so much more realism to this game. The swords have a more believable metallic ring to them and the bombs have far more weight to their blasts. By far my favorite revamped sound design was the singing voice of Marin. In the original game, she sings “Ballad of the Wind Fish” with chiptune notes, since that’s all that was possible at the time. Now however, they actually got a real voice actress to sing for her. There’s still no voice acting otherwise, but hearing “Ballad of the Wind Fish” sung properly with beautiful vocals was such a huge highlight for me.
The musical score as a whole has gotten completely remade, while still keeping the same songs as before. Instead of hearing different chiptune beats, now you’ll hear each area’s score played out with different orchestral instruments. This does a wonderful job of truly selling the different feel of each environment. I have to give credit to Ryo Nagamatsu, who composed this score. He really went above and beyond to recreate and enrich these classic tunes while still keeping true to their original form.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve played Link’s Awakening before or if this is your first time, you should absolutely buy it. It breaks the traditional Zelda mold in a few ways, but has made a name for itself as a true masterpiece of a game. This remake has improved upon every aspect of the original and is a delight to behold. Now here’s hoping they’ll give some of the others like A Link to the Past the same kind of treatment. Or perhaps bring back this kind of Zelda charm to the grossly lacking newer installments (I’m looking at you Breath of the Wild).
Whether or not you’re a fan of the new art style, there’s no denying that it’s masterfully rendered.
You’ll still move in the same eight directional manner, but movements are smoother and the transitions from screen to screen are fluid and less grid-like. The additional button mapping option for items or automatic implementation is a huge improvement.
All of the sound effects are more believable and they even have a voice actress this time around for Marin’s song. The musical score is absolutely divine and perfectly fits this game in every way.
It’s the same Link’s Awakening that you know and love, but with additional content plus a visual and musical overhaul. This game will endearingly charm its way into your heart.
Final Verdict: 10
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is available now on Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.