Released on: September 20 2019
Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Price: $79.99 CDN ($59.99 US)
The Legend of Zelda: a series so revered that it makes me wonder how I went this long without reviewing a single entry of it yet. A Link to the Past was my introduction to the series back on the Super Nintendo. I always preferred top-down style Zelda games, as it made finding things much easier for me. When I was a little older, I discovered that there was a Zelda game on the Game Boy called The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. It felt different than other Zelda games, even other top-down ones. It was a game I never beat as a kid. Now, with the remake of Link’s Awakening on the Switch, I can finally complete this unfinished chapter of my video game collection. Is Link’s Awakening for the Nintendo Switch a remake worth writing home about?
Set shortly after Link’s adventures in A Link to the Past, we find our hero sailing on a turbulent sea. He struggles to keep his ship steady. As if things couldn’t get any worse, a lighting bolt crashes into our hero’s boat. Fortunately, Link washes ashore on a mysterious island and recovers thanks to Marin, a resident of the island. Our hero awakens and sets off on an unprecedented journey to return home. The story starts relatively simple, but the player will soon realize that a lot of things are out of the ordinary. Without spoiling too much, I will say I thoroughly enjoyed Link’s Awakening’s story as it made me wonder if my journey was hurting people.
The first thing that hit me like a ton of bricks was how gorgeous Link’s Awakening for the Switch looks. The original was no slouch either, given that it was on the Game Boy, then re-released on the Game Boy Color, but the toy-like visuals of the Switch remake are astounding. The characters, the enemies, and the environments are so charming that it made backtracking to these areas a treat rather than a chore.
The Zelda series is known to have an excellent soundtrack, and Link’s Awakening is no exception. I always felt Link’s Awakening’s music deserved more love, so it is nice to see it getting some love. The Switch version’s arrangements are faithful, yet add their own modern, island-esque flair to the music.
One aspect I like about remakes is that it gives an older game a chance to improve on a lot of issues to truly make it something special. Link’s Awakening takes the opportunity to polish out some archaic aspects of the original and makes this underrated title shine. No longer is the player forced to open the menu to equip the sword to defeat monsters or reaccess the menu to swap an item for the shield. The sword and shield have dedicated buttons, which is a godsend. It makes exploring Koholint Island much less tedious. Another vast improvement over the original is with passive items (like the Power Bracer) no longer being individual items, but being activated, either by a dedicated button or with the right context.
When it comes to the Zelda series, I tend to favor the classic ones, specifically A Link to the Past. Items in the classic Zelda games had a more global design philosophy, in that items found in dungeons, while useful for clearing the dungeon it was found in and defeating its boss, had applications well into the future. In the case of Link’s Awakening, the items found in dungeons were useful everywhere. Roc’s Feather, for example, let’s Link jump. With such an insanely useful ability, it makes Roc’s Feather integral to the majority of the game. Using items in creative ways, forcing me to think outside of the box, is what I love the most about the Zelda series, and is what Link’s Awakening gets right.
If the player enjoys Easter eggs, then they will love Link’ Awakening. There are so many references to other franchises and characters. From the very beginning, if the player is well versed in their video game knowledge, they will notice an enemy belonging to another Nintendo franchise. I am a sucker for cross-overs, so finding all the Easter eggs had me giggling through my entire time with Link’s Awakening. What I find smart about putting so many Easter eggs in Link’s Awakening, is the fact that the Zelda series, being an adventure game, is all about exploring and what the player finds, making Easter egg hunting conducive to exploration.
It’s not all sunshine on this island…
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, I was not able to beat Link’s Awakening as a kid. When I reached the part that trumped me when I was young, I figured out why that was. While I love classic Zelda games, their main weakness is how obscure some of the puzzles are, and Link’s Awakening is no exception. With the advent of the internet, unclear solutions are a non-issue, but back in the day, it kept me from beating the game. Link’s Awakening is going for authenticity, for better or for worse.
Being on Game Boy, it stands to reason that Link’s Awakening is a little on the short side. Since this is a remake, the Switch remake feels brief. The player can make quick work of Link’s Awakening once they know the solution to the puzzles. Even getting everything in the game feels simpler to do here than in most Zelda games, regardless of the dungeon maker. Link’s Awakening is a full-priced game, so it being this brief makes the asking price feel steep.
Speaking of the dungeon maker, it was the highly anticipated feature of the Switch remake of Link’s Awakening that got a lot of people excited. Fans were expecting a Mario Maker-esque dungeon maker, with tons of freedom, online sharing, and tons of replayability. Sadly, Link’s Awakening’s dungeon maker comes off as tedious and has none of those desired features. Players find tiles around the world to use in the dungeon maker, to which they then make dungeons using the dungeon maker. I wouldn’t have given the dungeon maker a second thought… if it wasn’t keeping items from the player. Overall, I thought the dungeon maker was a missed opportunity.
For completionists, there is nothing worthwhile for obtaining everything in the game. There is a slightly different ending if the player manages to beat Link’s Awakening without dying. It is a little disappointing to go through all that trouble for a meager reward.
Despite a steep asking price, an underwhelming dungeon maker, and a paltry completion reward, Link’s Awakening is charming, hilarious, and well worth exploring. For fans of the Zelda series looking for something different, Link’s Awakening for the Switch is well worth picking up.