As we continue into this wonderful era of remakes where classic games are being rebooted and remastered with a solid success rate, it was only a matter of time until we reached another Zelda game. This epic franchise has seen many ports and remasters to bring these beloved games to new generations and give them higher quality graphics. However, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening marks the first time a Zelda title has been so thoroughly reworked for a new system. So you must be wondering, how did it turn out?
It Turned Out Pretty Good
I didn’t play the original Link’s Awakening. As a kid, I was never in a position to have any handhelds. But I did do a bit of research before the release just to get a sense of where this remake was coming from. The most notable change between them, outside of the total graphics overhaul, is the removal of screen tiles for the overworld and some dungeon areas. Most of the dungeons maintain the square screens with near-perfect recreations of puzzles and design for the remake. Yet, on the overworld, you can roam freely without sliding between screens, a design probably limited by the original Game Boy’s power.
In general, I find the new visual style appealing. Some don’t, but the glossy textures of the environment and characters along with the tilt-shifted isometric perspective make Link’s Awakening feel like playing with a diorama. It is an aesthetic choice, sure, but I can see how people who loved the original (and now iconic) view of a pixel art world would be unhappy. In the end, I think it would be hard to contend that the improvement of the many visual effects isn’t a welcome addition.
Classic Zelda…With a Twist
Link’s Awakening was originally created as a passion project for experimenting with the Game Boy hardware by Nintendo developers after work. After A Link to the Past launched, they got the go-ahead to make a handheld version of the game. However, Link’s Awakening became a unique title featuring characters from other Nintendo games and omitted the character for which the game was named – Princess Zelda.
While the game does start you out with the classic “Link awakes from a bed to start an adventure,” it quickly changes things up by sending you on a different style of a quest. Rather than simply trying to save a princess from Ganon, you’re shipwrecked instead. As Link, you have to escape an island and return home. You’re led around on this journey by a talking owl, who tells you that you need to collect eight magical instruments from each of the dungeons. You’ll use them to wake the “Wind Fish” inside a giant egg on top of the central mountain. If it sounds strange to you, it did to me as well, but it works.
Throughout this adventure, you’ll see all sorts of things taken directly from other Nintendo games. There are chain chomps, goombas, cheep cheeps, piranha plants, and Kirby even makes a strange cameo. These out-of-context characters and creatures do manage to fit right into the design of the game, though. You’re usually able to dispatch them just as you would an enemy in a typical Zelda game. But even though these crossover elements integrate well, they still stand out.
Puzzles, Progress, and Paying Attention
The bulk of my effort in playing Link’s Awakening was figuring out puzzles. I don’t think many are particularly challenging, but I did find myself – more than a few times – not able to find a solution very quickly. Sometimes I would just not know where to go or what to do next, even with the handy little “tip phones” littered throughout the game. It usually meant just talking to the right person. But other times, I’d be in a dungeon and simply not see the next step forward. This usually amounted to me just missing a destructible wall or a place where a key drops. In either case, it usually meant I’d get a little frustrated before figuring it out.
The progress that you make in the game, unlocking various items that allow you to get around or through obstacles, is typical of most Zelda games. Getting the ability to jump allows you to cross gaps and leap over pits. Finding the power bracelet lets you lift boulders out of your path and throw them. Picking up the Pegasus Boots gives Link his familiar charge attack. All of these and more are used as keys to unlock various parts of the map and, of course, are used as solutions to each of the dungeons. It makes for a sense of progression that is very clear and allows you to revisit multiple areas, uncovering secrets and getting to areas you could only just see before.
The bosses and mini-bosses throughout the game have a collection of designs that are split between being recognizable from other Zelda games and being quite strange. There were more than a couple of times I couldn’t see the way to take one out and had to look it up before moving forward. Most of the time, in typical Zelda fashion, it just involved using whatever item you picked up in that dungeon. However, sometimes it would be something a little convoluted that probably could have been broadcast a bit more clearly.
One boss, for instance, would progressively bounce toward you and was armored to prevent attacks. I read that the bow was useful for this, but since it’s not an item the game hands you, I didn’t have it yet. So I had to do well-timed spin attacks to hit him from the side or back and get around his shield and armor.
Even with those moments of confusion, I was always excited to see a new boss. Zelda bosses are usually memorable experiences, and most of the bosses in Link’s Awakening’s were no different. They always presented just enough of a challenge to be distinct from one another, but once you knew how to beat them, the execution was never too overwhelming.
The Performance Problem
The Switch is one of the first Nintendo consoles I’ve encountered with such regular problems in game performance. However, outside of Breath of the Wild, it is rare that first-party Nintendo games have issues. Link’s Awakening is now the second first-party game I’ve played with these problems, and it seems more common here.
Digital Foundry did a pre-release video that identified the issue, or at least the symptoms of it. The game runs at 60 frames per second, but when the framerate drops below that, it goes straight to 30 frames per second. Normally small framerate drops aren’t too noticeable. However, a sharp drop like that makes the game look like the whole thing is stuttering. When it happens, it can be extremely jarring.
This wouldn’t be much of an issue if it didn’t happen that often, but it can occur in many different areas. It will happen anytime you’re in the swamp area, and often when several enemies are on screen at the same time. It does seem to be relegated mostly to the overworld, though. When in dungeons, I can’t recall a time it happened, even with quite a few enemies in view. This may be because these are the areas featuring split-up tiled screens for each room. The modern world lets developers update games though, so if you’re reading this, down the line it may have been a problem already solved.
Dream Lover (So I Don’t Have to Dream Alone)
It’s easy to see why Link’s Awakening has been loved for so long. It’s all of the fun of a typical Zelda game with a lot of odd bits and pieces thrown in. I imagine it stood out a great deal from the previous three Zelda games when it first released. Today, after so many off-the-wall Zelda games, it doesn’t seem as extraordinary, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.
It has a few bumps in the pacing and the performance issues are a real damper on the fun, but it would be difficult for those to overcome the quality of this game. Link’s Awakening has the magic you want from a Zelda title, and it does so in the compact package of a handheld game. It feels as significant as A Link to the Past without quite as much of the ‘seriousness’ in the story. It belongs on the shelf with all of the games you’re compelled to play as a Switch owner.
What do you think? Did you enjoy the remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
Link's Awakening is a faithful remake of the original with all of the classic fun in a new and visually appealing package. If it wasn't for the performance problems, it would be unstoppable.
- Faithful reproduction of the original
- Classic and enjoyable Zelda-style gameplay
- Challenging dungeons with many puzzles and bosses
- Beautiful diorama-styled design
- Solid soundtrack with refreshed songs from the original
- Large framerate drops in some areas
- Occasional areas where the next step is hard to determine
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