I’ve always had a special connection to The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.
It was one of the first Game Boy titles I ever owned back in 1995. While it might sound a little strange, the game also convinced six-year-old me to learn to read. In front of me was this fantastical world that I wanted to experience, but I couldn’t understand it because reading seemed pointless to six-year-old Patrick.
Fast-forward 26 years to 2019 and Link’s Awakening is somehow coming to the Nintendo Switch. This remake retains the innate charm of its predecessor but adds a fresh coat of colourful, cute paint to the experience.
Part of what made Link’s Awakening such a great game back in the mid-90s was how creative its developers were forced to be due to the Game Boy’s limited hardware power. There are 2D platforming segments, a completely original world that has nothing to do with Hyrule and a wide range of key items helped make Link’s Awakening feel like a real Zelda experience on the Game Boy’s small screen.
Due to the limited size of Game Boy cartridges and the console’s minuscule 160 x 144 pixel resolution display, Link’s Awakening’s world is incredibly tiny when compared to other Zelda titles. With that in mind though, there’s an attention to detail in every part of the game that I haven’t seen in any other Zelda title.
This charm thankfully remains in the remake, complete with familiar characters from other Nintendo franchises that often break the fourth wall in clever ways. Rather than a classic pixelated art style, the remake features a charming clay-like look that manages to still evoke the feel of the original title, but with a modern, HD look to it. While Link’s Awakening is definitely a pretty game, the title, unfortunately, suffers from performance issues, particularly when there’s a lot going on the screen at once.
This doesn’t ruin the game, but I did find that it pulled me out of the experience on more than one occasion. Given that Link’s Awakening is a top-down Zelda and not nearly as graphically intensive as Breath of the Wild, the other Zelda on Switch, it’s strange this remake lacks the polish typically found in Nintendo’s titles.
Story-wise, there’s no Ganon, Princess Zelda or even the Triforce. Instead, the game is set on Koholint Island. Link’s sailboat gets destroyed during a bad storm and he washes up on an island that has Mt. Tamaranch at its centre.
There’s a giant egg at the top of this mountain that contains a creature called the ‘Wind Fish.’ In order to leave the island, as you may have already guessed, Link needs to awaken the Wind Fish, which requires the player to collect eight instruments found in dungeons around the game’s world.
Gameplay is very similar to other top-down Zelda titles. Link has a sword and a shield to defend himself from the game’s various foes. Familiar series items like the Power Bracelet, Bombs and the Hookshot are featured in the game, but there are also tools rarely seen in Zelda titles, like a shovel, the Roc’s Feather — which lets Link jump — and the Pegasus Boots.
Items can also be utilized in combination with each other in interesting ways. For example, using the Pegasus Boots and then the Roc’s feather allows Link to run and jump over long distances.
Beyond the visual revamp, Nintendo has also added a Dungeon Maker to the game. Different chambers and features are unlocked by moving through the story, but the tool is overall limited and doesn’t allow as much freedom as a game like Super Mario Maker 2.
Overall, my experience with Link’s Awakening has been an entertaining blast from the past, in part because I haven’t played the game in at least 15 years. I’ve been shocked by how much I’ve forgotten about the classic Zelda game, as well as how much I still remember. Puzzles that stumped me when I was six still managed to confuse me at 30.
For example, right at the beginning of the game, you need to use your shield to push a Sea Urchin enemy out of your way. It took me some time to figure this relatively simple puzzle out, just like it did back when I was six. There were also similar instances in some of the game’s earlier dungeons that resulted in equally satisfying “ah-ha” moments.
Many of the game’s dungeons and sidequests have also aged remarkably well, particularly the Bottle Groto and the Angler’s Tunnel.
If you’re looking for classic, 2D Zelda action, Link’s Awakening is definitely worth checking out. The Legend of Zelda Link’s Awakening is set to release on September 20th, 2019 for the Nintendo Switch.