All the way back in 1993, the original Link’s Awakening was released on the Game Boy. Like most Zelda games, it was a beloved classic, and an announcement of a remake got many fans excited. Does this overhauled classic meet (or exceed) the standard set by the original?
The most noticeable change for this remake is, of course, the visuals. Therefore it makes the most sense to start from here.
The 3D environments and animations are just stunning! The combination of the lighting and bright colours really help the visuals pop, as every area just comes alive! You’ll notice how the area further behind you blurs away, which gives full focus to the area right in front of you. It’s a really cool effect that feels impactful.
So the only thing I don’t like about the new visuals is the character design. Some might not agree, but I think it’s way too cutesy! It reminds me of those trashy Pop Vinyl figurines. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t mind Toon Link at all!
The game’s frame rate also takes a dip when you enter new areas, which is surprising given Nintendo’s quality control. But once the drop goes away, the game runs nice and smooth afterwards.
Replaying this game has reminded me of one thing. Gaming worlds used to be so much smaller than what they are today. Maybe they felt big in the past, but when you go back and play them again, it’s mind-blogging just how far gaming has come.
Of course, Link’s Awakening was a handheld game, and in the 90’s, technology didn’t allow for these games the size they deserved. But if we fast forward to today, sometimes gaming worlds are too big for their own good!
I bring this up because apart from a visual overhaul, Nintendo kept this game’s map exactly the same, and with today’s technology, I felt like they could have expanded it even more.
This game is small compared to today’s standards, in fact, I’m flying through the game! I know it’s a remake and they should stay true to the original, but how good would it have been if they added more regions, maybe even more dungeons? When they remade Resident Evil 2, they made changes to it that I felt were very welcome. Why not do the same here?
But on the flipside, sometimes less is more. Maybe by having a compact world, it allows for things to be crammed in, rather than spread out. I know one of my main criticisms of Zelda: BOTW is that in between all the things to do, there’s a whole lot of nothingness to get through. With Link’s Awakening, you’re constantly doing something fun, whether it be fighting monsters, solving puzzles, or simply chopping down bushes.
So even though it’s still a small world, it’s always incredibly fun to play through, even though the fun may be short-lived.
Now to talk about the general gameplay, and how much it has improved!
If you don’t know anything about this game, it’s on a top-down view, keeping it old school. But that old school gameplay has been cleaned up and brought to the modern age.
Link’s movements in the original were already smooth and not restricted to a grid. In the remake, Link continues to glide around the screen with all that expected Nintendo polish.
The controls are nice and responsive, and feels like to dream to play. This includes combat too. While it’s not incredibly complicated, it’s just been refined so well and remains fun throughout the entire game. There’s good enemy variety that require different tactics in order to take them down.
There’s just a perfect mix of combat, puzzle, and exploration. Everything is designed so well and none of those components drag the others down. They compliment each other and gives what I believe is a perfectly balanced, and enjoyable, gameplay experience.
Exploration and Progression
Probably my favourite part about this game will be the next talking point- exploration and progression.
Koholint Island is presented as a fairly open world. You have a decent amount of freedom from the start, but you’ll also notice there’s a lot of areas you’re shut out from. Backtracking and Metroidvania elements are so much fun for me. There’s something addictive and exciting about journeying back to access what was previously blocked and see what further challenges or rewards lay ahead.
To pull this off effectively, the game’s world needs to be designed well and thoughtfully. Nintendo once again show off their brilliance!
As you progress, you’ll gain new items that give you more skills in battle, but also serve for exploration purposes. The feeling of emerging from a completed dungeon, with new item in hand and realising that the world is going to be more open to you, is one of the most exciting and fun feelings you can have with this game!
Another aspect I love is how the game only gently guides you to where you need to go next, but never pinpoints exactly or tells you what you need to do. Ok, there is a hint hotline you can use, but that does take the fun out of it. Plenty of times during my play through so far, I’ve felt lost, but it’s one of the most refreshing feelings I’ve had in recent years.
I love how the game forces you to properly explore, because so many games take that away by having waypoint markers, and you lose that sense of adventure.
That’s why I love the extreme detail of the map, as I’ve spent plenty of time scouring it, just looking for any area I’ve yet to explore, and seeing if there’s anything I’ve left behind, or seeing where I can use my new item. Even if I’m stuck for a while, that ‘Eureka’ feeling you get when you finally find where you’re supposed to go, will always be the moments you remember most.
One of the main things people love about Zelda is its dungeons. Link’s Awakening gives us 8 of them (maybe more hint hint), and they are just as fun as any other Zelda game.
While they may be fun, don’t expect them to be as big or as challenging though. Based off a 90’s handheld game, it’s not just the overall game itself that was small, but the dungeons had to follow suit.
You’ll likely clear most main dungeon in well under an hour, and you’ll also find them limited in puzzle design. Though the last few dungeons are longer and more complex, so you have that to look forward to.
That’s just how it is, being a smaller game, but it doesn’t make it any less fun. You’ll still experience that joy of completing each puzzle, clearing each room of enemies, and finding that next treasure chest as you hold your breath with anticipation as you open it.
As always, each dungeon ends in a boss fight that cleverly uses any new mechanic or items found in that dungeon.
Same goes for the actual dungeons too. That’s another thing I love about them, the way they’re designed to make use of any new item you acquire. As the game progresses, each dungeon not only is based on the new main item you find, but also the items you earned beforehand, making each new dungeon more and more fun to play through.
More Than Just A Visual Overhaul
While it is the most noticeable change, there are plenty of others if you remember the original well. Being on an entirely new console, the controls are obviously different to the Gameboy and Gameboy Colour. Thanks to their being more buttons, this has allowed for a much better experience when playing.
The joystick allows for better movement and more freedom. Also the fact that there’s more buttons makes it a LOT more convenient as the Gameboy only has two! So rather than having one button as your main weapon, and the other as whatever item you needed to use, the Switch has permanently assigned the sword and shield to their own buttons, allowing you to assign more items to the X and Y buttons.
So no more constantly switching out items like before, of course you still have to switch items around, but no way near as much as before!
Other additions include things like more seashells to collect, more figurines to collect at the Trendy game, and actual bottles to collect fairies (the original didn’t even have them).
But probably the biggest addition, in terms of content, is the dungeon maker. As you play through more dungeons throughout the game, you can unlock their rooms to be used to create your own dungeon, and earn rewards in doing so. This adds even more replay value once you’ve finish the main story. But unfortunately this isn’t a ‘true’ dungeon maker, as you’re only using pre-existing rooms and simply connecting them together.
So while it’s not a complete reimagining like, for example, the Resident Evil 2 remake, but it’s not just a simply visual remake either. They’ve refined the game and fixed many flaws to make it as perfect as possible. There are enough additions to keep you playing longer, and the overall experience is much more improved.
To be honest, I’ve enjoyed this remake more than the original, which I played about 15 years ago. I welcome Nintendo to do many more remakes of their classic games, and I’ll be confident they’ll do it justice, just like with Link’s Awakening.
Anyway, the Link’s Awakening remake turned out better than expected! I played the original about 15 years ago, and I’ve enjoyed it even more this time around.
I put Link’s Awakening as the Switch’s third best game (behind Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey) and I believe every Switch owner should play this! It perfectly combines combat, exploration, and puzzle together to create what feels like a complete game. It may be a short game, but you’ll enjoy every second of it!