I never played The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on Game Boy, so it holds no nostalgia for me. I’m not saying this to rile up Zelda fans, but I think it’s worth bearing in mind when deciding if the remake is worth it for you because it totally divided my opinion. opinion’s divided. I found it to be an incredibly charming slice of mini-Zelda but it left me pining for something more.
There are plenty of great moments in Link’s Awakening that will no doubt evoke joy from fans of the original and new players alike. And in terms of it being a remake of a classic game, Nintendo has really nailed it – maybe even a little too much.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: it’s simply beautiful. Nintendo has poured tons of character into the world with vibrant colours, charming character models, and a style that feels familiar yet distinctly modern. Exploring the, admittedly small (remember, this was originally squeezed onto a Game Boy cartridge) map is a joy the first time through, with plenty of secrets and treasures to uncover. Despite its size, there’s plenty to see and do.
As you can probably guess, you’ll encounter a range of dungeons throughout your journey and that’s where most of the fun is to be had. Given the limitations of the hardware back in 1993 it’s pretty remarkable how well the dungeons hold up. With thoughtful design, charming puzzles, and staple boss battles, they’re incredibly fun bite-sized challenges.
Link’s Awakening is Visually Stunning, Feeling Familiar Yet Distinctly Modern
A new edition to the Switch version is the dungeon designer, which you unlock as you play. It’s a pretty simple feature overall but it’s a nice little bonus nonetheless.
Nintendo has done a great job updating the controls for modern standards, and it helps that the Switch has a lot more to work with than the Game Boy did. It makes managing items a breeze, which I can imagine was quite cumbersome in the original. It’s bizarre that there’s no option to move with the d-pad though. That would have helped add to the nostalgia – perhaps it’s due to the Switch’s naff d-pad, though that doesn’t make a lot of sense given the recent release of the Switch Lite. Ultimately, it feels like an oversight.
Speaking of oversights, we’re surprised Nintendo decided to ship Link’s Awakening with its well-documented frame-rate issues. It’s never quite distracting enough to be regarded as unplayable, but the drops are regularly noticable – especially in the main world. Thankfully, frame rate drops are rare in dungeons. We didn’t notice any difference between docked or undocked either, so you can’t escape it.
Moreover, and this won’t be a big deal for many as Zelda plots have never been particularly complex, but Link’s Awakening takes this to another level. The story is so simple that it’s nearly non-existent, though the wacky world to explore and a few special guests from the world of Nintendo (no spoilers!) do make up for it a bit.
We’d Question How Well it’s Aged Though, With Many of the Game’s Systems Feeling Stuck in the Past
That brings me nicely to my biggest issue with Link’s Awakening: it just hasn’t aged all that well. I was often left feeling frustrated and, quite frankly bored, by the repetitive and odd tasks I had to complete between dungeons. Also, no matter how beautiful the world is, it did end up being quite tedious having to trudge across the small map so many times. Sure, there are fast travel points but it didn’t do much to mitigate the boredom felt between dungeons.
Overall, Nintendo has done an excellent job introducing Link’s Awakening to a new audience. The fresh lick of paint is stunning, it screams charm and personality, and the updated controls make the game more accessuible than ever. Nintendo deserves huge credit for making a 26 year old game feel this modern.
For fans of the original, getting Link’s Awakening on Switch is a no brainer – it’s everything you could want in a remake. First time players might find themselves put off, frustrated, or perhaps even bored by some of the old school game design though. Still, there’s no denying the charm.