REVIEW: ‘Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’ Makes all that was old new (Switch)

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Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a top down adventure puzzle game published by Nintendo and developed by Nintendo and Grezzo. While sailing on the high seas, Link’s boat is assaulted by a terrible storm. He is thrown overboard and lost in the waves.

When he awakens, he finds himself on a sandy beach. He has arrived on the island of Koholint. There he is found by a girl named Marin. Marin explains to Link that the only way off of the island is to awaken the Windfish who sleeps in an egg atop the tallest mountain in Koholint. As Link begins his adventure he is aided by a mysterious owl who informs Link he must gather the eight magical instruments if he hopes to wake the sleeper. Link’s adventure is about to begin.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening first found its way into gamers’ hands back in 1993 on the Game Boy. Now, 26 years later, this fan-favorite returns with a gorgeous new visual style and revamped controls so the game plays with a smoothness modern audiences can enjoy. This game holds a special, quirky place in the history of Legend of Zelda games. It is one of only two games in the franchise that doesn’t revolve around Link on a quest to save Princess Zelda from the clutches of Ganon.

In addition to the uniqueness of the main story The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening also contains more references to Nintendo’s other classic franchises than any other Zelda game. From a Yoshi doll, and gumba enemies, to even an appearance by Kirby himself, this game is a lovely tribute to Nintendo as a whole.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening plays in the classic top-down view of all the pre-N64 Zelda games. Link must navigate a world map, exploring dungeons to acquire gear that will allow him to further explore more of the island. Equipment like the hook shot, which allows Link to cross large chasms, to the iconic power gauntlet which allows Link to move heavy debris from his path are all crucial for Link’s quest to wake the wind fish.

Link’s time exploring Koholint Island has also been smoothed out with the implementation of a seamless scrolling surface world. Originally The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’s map was built on hard tiles. When the player reached the edge of one it would pause play and shift to the next screen. Now, the world scrolls with you. It’s a wonderful quality of life improvement for the game and the Zelda series as a whole.

Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

The combat in Link’s Awakening is set to a fairly slow pace. Many encounters feel almost like small puzzles themselves as opposed to true action combat. Shielded enemies must be stunned before attacks. And mimics must be tricked into showing there backs to Link so he can get his shot in.

Perhaps the biggest shake with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening comes with how it utilizes  Link’s equipment. Often times, equipment found by Link will be used mostly for a single dungeon. Once this highlight is done, the equipment is seldom used again, if at all. This game does an excellent job of bringing equipment back throughout the adventure. This also highlights how one of the biggest changes in this remake improves the game so much: the equipment management system.

When The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening first released it had to work with only the two face buttons on the Game Boy. This meant a lot of going in and out of menus, swapping sword and shield for utility items and back quickly. Now that it’s on the Nintendo Switch though, the folks at Nintendo take full advantage of the numerous button available. With some buttons permanently assigned to sword, shield, and Pegasus boots, the most frequently needed gear is always handy. This greatly reduces the amount of time flipping in and out of menus and smooths out gameplay incredibly.

The other big changes to The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening come in the audio and visual department. The spinach green pixel art of the original release is long gone. This has been replaced with a gorgeous visual look that is reminiscent of wooden toys. Everything seen from characters to houses and trees looks handcrafted. This look is not only fitting for the story being told, but also puts the game into a similar feel as other recent Nintendo ventures like Yoshi’s Crafted World.

Just as the visuals in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening got a massive upgrade, so too did the audio. The score has been completely reimagined. Even here the developers never missed an opportunity to build on this game’s charm. My favorite example comes when Link arrives at Animal Town. While there, the music shifts so the sounds are provided by the animals themselves instead of instruments.

Nintendo also included a brand new dungeon editor for players to enjoy. As Link clears dungeons you unlock some of the rooms he’s adventured through and can use them to make custom dungeons. Dungeon rooms are also unlocked by fulfilling challenges with the dungeon editor itself. This is a fun side diversion, but unfortunately, it doesn’t have the capacity to share your dungeons with others. Without that, it feels like a neat experiment, but a bit of a missed opportunity as well.

While overall The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a splendid ride, it does have a few hiccups. These mostly come in the form of vague mission objectives that show up throughout the game. Being told you have to find someone but having no clue where to look for them is frustrating.

My only other gripe is with the choice to not allow the player to control Link with the directional arrows. The game’s design was made for a D-pad controller and there were several moments where I found myself wishing I could go back to that. Especially as the Switch isn’t known for having the most precise thumbsticks.

In the end, though these complaints cannot weight down the gaming experience that is The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. From the gorgeous visuals to the excellent puzzle design, this game offers a top-notch experience. Whether you are returning to Koholint Island after a long absence or making your first trip, there is a lot love in this game.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is available now on the Nintendo Switch.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

In the end, though these complaints cannot weight down the gaming experience that is The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. From the gorgeous visuals to the excellent puzzle design, this game offers a top-notch experience.