After a long wait, Link's Awakening for the Switch is here, refreshed and on the shelves for a new generation. The first Legend of Zelda on handheld has come a long way from its 1993 release and 1998 remake. It's still a wonderful childhood memory for me and one of my favorite games of all time. With such a gap between Link's Awakening DX and the newest version for the Switch, I'll admit I was more than a little excited to dig in again. In my excitement, I may have cut myself opening the package!
We join our hero Link following the events of Link to the Past. Unfortunately, he is caught in a storm while at sea and is shipwrecked on the mysterious island of Koholint. As soon as he wakes, he is immediately thrown into an adventure that has him exploring caves, climbings mountains, and battling fierce foes. On his journey, Link must collect eight musical instruments of the Sirens and awaken the Wind Fish, but to what end?
If you're looking for a game that's a lot of fun and not terribly challenging, or you're a fan of the original, this is a great title to pick up. The graphics have been upgraded to HD, the soundtrack has received the orchestral treatment, and the mechanics have been polished to a high sheen. After 26 years, I'm ready to head back to Koholint on the Nintendo Switch, but will it hold up to the nostalgia?
Nostalgia worth waiting for
Link's Awakening What I like
If you've played any of the previous Legend of Zelda games, you'll jump right into Link's Awakening with no problem. It's an action-adventure game, but the former 2D design has received a 3D upgrade. Players follow Link from a top-down visual angle, and the goal is to explore Koholint Island, find treasures, and find the MacGuffins to wake the Wind Fish.
Of course, there's much more to the title. Players have to solve puzzles using items in their inventory, traverse tricky dungeons, and try their hand at a few whimsical mini-games. While there is plenty to do here, Link's Awakening is a little on the short side — though length isn't necessarily a bad thing since the game is filled with quality gameplay, an engaging story, and tons of replayability. The main story, if you are playing for the first time, can take around 16 hours if you do everything possible. Veterans of the series can plow through in about 12, although this doesn't take the Chamber Dungeon into account since players can customize dungeons all day if they want.
Visuals and sound Small but significant updates
Right at the start, players can choose the level of difficulty they're comfortable with. Unlike the original Link's Awakening, this version gives the players two options: normal and hero mode. The normal mode plays as the game was originally intended, while those attempting hero mode will take double damage without the benefit of heart drops. While the game isn't too hard, this addition can add that needed difficulty for those looking for more of a challenge.
It's an adorable look and the gang is all here, better than I remembered it.
When you do start playing, the visuals are outstanding. From the figures to the trees in the background, the game looks like a giant toy set. The color combination is perfect; it is bright, fresh, and it brings you back to the stark design of the Game Boy Color. The background is so vibrant, but not so much that it's distracting. I love the animation details, from the ocean waves to the fluttering butterflies. It's an adorable look, and the gang is all here, better than I remembered it — well, except the photographer and the Camera Shop, but I hardly miss those. The developers succeeded in doing more than adding a fresh coat of paint to a classic. It looks like an entirely different game, yet feels so familiar at the same time.
In addition to the graphics, the soundtrack has received some TLC. They are the same beautiful tracks I remember, but with an orchestral touch. I was worried about how they would handle the music since every dungeon has its own unique theme. That's a lot of music to enhance, but they did it! The new interpretations do a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of the original tracks. The new sound effects are also a nice touch, though there are some things I wish were done differently. But that's just my nostalgia talking. The game is a visual and auditory wonder.
Gameplay Updated for 2019
Getting to the actual gameplay, some updates take care of drawbacks from the original. Instead of the screen shifts that players experience on the Game Boy and Game Boy Color, the Switch's hardware gets rid of the need to transition over map panels. There's a continual line of sight with a slightly tilted camera view. Not only do you get to move seamlessly from area to area, but you can also see more of the screen itself. While this is a step in the right direction, there are a few drawbacks (more on that later).
When Link swings his sword, it's satisfying. I like the way Link's Awakening handles combat on a 3D platform. I'm a swing-first, ask-questions-later type of gamer, but I found myself using my shield more than I ever did in the original. I love that enemies know how to block, parry, and they are aware of you as you walk around. A great update from the original is that the sword and shield are fixed on your controller. They are assigned to A and B respectively, so no more swapping items out for weapons.
Again, you can't solve every problem by just swinging your sword or using the hero's technique (though I'm confident players will find a way.) Sometimes you need to use the right item or hit a particular spot to defeat an enemy. It will take finesse to defeat some enemies. That's a plus for me; I like variety in my combat. Enemy encounters require a bit more strategy compared to the first game, especially when it comes to the bosses. It's a refreshing touch, though some of the reactions are a bit slower than I would like.
Some updates take care of drawbacks from the original.
Inventory management is no longer a chore. The new game design takes advantage of the increased number of buttons on the Switch. While the older versions of Link's Awakening had players constantly pulling up the game menu to swap items out to solve puzzles, the Switch version has streamlined this. Link's sword and shield have designated buttons, as do several other items, like the pegasus boots. The overall look is much cleaner and easier to use. Another bonus? No more annoying messages! If you come across an obstacle or object that requires you to use an item you might not have yet, there's no mandatory message every... single... time.
Another fantastic menu upgrade is the new overworld map. While the original game had a map, it was tough to read and barely useful. The new map is terrific; there's so much more detail, you can use it to go exactly where you want. Another neat feature lets you add pins, so navigation gets even easier. With the quality upgrade, you can see how the entire grid is laid out.
Additionally, through the map menu, you can access the Memories feature. This lets you re-read essential conversations that happen throughout the game.
That sweet, sweet nostalgia The good ol' days
Link's Awakening is full of nostalgic details that allow you to relive the older game without feeling like a total copy. The attention to detail is for real, with almost every single aspect of the original carried over, including some Easter eggs and small but lovable jokes. Before I even started, I entered "Zelda" instead of Link on the main screen for my save slot. And I was pleasantly surprised by the little secret they carried over (Try it, seriously).
Of course, no game is complete without stealing the outrageously priced bow and arrow from the shopkeep. I didn't care that I could never go back in or that I was branded "THIEF" for the remainder of the game.
Though the camera and picture side quests are removed, you can still see all of the scenes and interactions between Link and other characters. While this isn't exactly necessary, the clips do add a bit of character to the inhabitants of Koholint, the biggest beneficiary being Marin. The Color Dungeon is also just as amazing as I remember it. Plus, the remastered classic dungeon theme that accompanies it is just a joy. That's nostalgia wrapped in nostalgia.
I appreciate that the developers carried over these little details. It made the experience better.
Dungeon Dwelling Chamber Dungeons
While I'm not wholly convinced that the Chamber Dungeons were a great addition, they do have some positives. Much like the Photography side quest, this is a little addition that's supposed to make the game worth the $60 price tag. It's something new, fun, and you can get creative with it.
Dampé, the Grave Digger, enlists your help just after the second dungeon, and he allows you to make your own dungeons to crawl. As you accumulate chambers, you can make your dungeons as challenging or easy as you want. Dampé gives you a few objectives to hit while you construct your dungeons, like adding a few different rooms with keys, and doing so will give you more chamber options or additions. The menu is easy to navigate, and it's pretty simple to put together a dungeon. You can also up the ante if you have the Link's Awakening amiibo, too.
Using the amiibo, I was able to add Shadow Link to my dungeons, and that adds a certain level of unexpected difficulty. In addition to the special amiibo, the other Legend of Zelda amiibos are compatible with the game. Using them will add chambers or additions, much like Shadow Link, to complete your dungeon. I have Midna from Twilight Princess, which gave me a fairy chamber for my dungeons. To complete each objective, you have to complete your dungeon. As a little bonus, you get to keep any rupees you find; that's helpful when you are trying to save up for that bow...unless you steal it, of course.
Link's Awakening What I don't like
While I loved every second of playing this game, I can't ignore the technical issues I encountered. I picked a physical copy of the game at launch. Unfortunately, there have been a few problems with this version of the game. As I played, I experienced random frame rate drops, particularly when moving between grids. While this didn't bother me too much, some of the drops were distracting. At times, I felt like it may have affected gameplay. Sometimes Link's jumps were slow, he would hesitate during a pegasus boots charge, and some of the messages boxes took a second to close.
As someone who experiences motion sickness, I had trouble with the depth of field blur. This happens more when playing the game in handheld mode, but it is present when docked. The problem is that you can't turn it off. In fact, you can't control any visual settings.
While I loved every second of playing this game, I can't ignore the technical issues I encountered.
On a more personal note, I wasn't 100% fond of the vocal choice for Link himself. While his standard actions — like fighting enemies and swinging his sword — weren't bad, some of the other sound bites did grate a bit. I may just be used to the Toon Link voice. I found myself commenting on it whenever Link fell down a pit, which was often during slowed jumps. The voice hit a lower pitch that seemed off for the character, and the more I hear it, the less I like it. I'm used to Link having a higher pitch to his voice, so this is more of a personal pet peeve.
Finally, the Chamber Dungeon feature wasn't as versatile as it could have been. I wasn't expecting Mario Maker level customization, but most of the dungeon-making experience was taking pre-made, already defeated rooms, and putting them in different orders. It would have been nice to move things around a room, add treasure chests, or even re-arrange the pre-made rooms. This could be easily fixed if the developers add a few, never explored, chambers, perhaps something not featured in the game. The amiibo offered some unique aspects, but then again, this is only if you buy the amiibo.
I understand that since this is something of a bonus to the game, it's not going to be super in-depth. However, I can see this being a fun option if the developers ever decided to update it to have more customization options.
Link's Awakening Bottom Line
Nintendo managed to take a classic and refresh it for a whole new generation of gamers, and I am so happy because of it.
Link's Awakening for Switch lives up to the hype. While it does have some technical issues, and the Chamber Dungeons could be improved upon, I could not stop smiling while playing this game. I feel all the negatives could be fixed in one solid update. Nintendo managed to take a classic and refresh it for a whole new generation of gamers, and I am so happy because of it. The toy-box style graphics pair beautifully with the moving score, and the new gameplay elements kept me engaged for hours. I never get tired of battling moblins.
This game did everything I wanted it to do, and so much more. It breathed new life into one of my favorite games of all time, and I cannot wait to play it again.
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