The journey to where handheld Zeldas all started is proving to be a fruitful one.
The Legend of Zelda titles on the Game Boy handheld line were my jam. I've played the Oracle games and of course Link's Awakening countless times over the years. If I'm being completely frank with myself, I've played the games so much to really notice how simple yet bold the design choices were. They took a thrilling no-filler approach, which still clicks with me to this very day. When the remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening was announced, you better believe I was excited. There are fuzzy memories when it comes to exploring Koholint Island, especially the finer points of the adventure. How does all of this translate to the Nintendo Switch version? Well, mostly in a profound way.
If you have never played Link's Awakening, you're in for quite an extravagant adventure. What makes the game so unique in the Zelda mythos is how weird it is. The game takes place far away from Hyrule: Koholint Island. These unique surroundings make for a journey filled with unique characters and otherworldly references that I still find immediately striking. The ultimate goal in Link's Awakening is to wake up the Wind Fish and escape the island safely. To do this, the player will need to go through various dungeons and collect magical instruments. It is entirely possible to head straight for the main objectives, but obviously there is a lot to see and do off the beaten path.
Outside of getting to the Wind Fish, you can easily lose yourself in what the island offers you. I quickly found myself swapping items with the various inhabitants as part of a sizeable trading quest or playing the Trendy Game claw machine. There are also Secret Seashells and the usual array of Heart Pieces to find. Personally, however, I absolutely adore the fishing minigame in Link's Awakening. You throw out a line, capture your target by reeling in as quick as you can, and earn a pretty penny doing so. The game gives you that freedom, too, as there are no restrictions on much money you can carry. There are other items that do have limited uses, but you will soon find that they are upgradable.
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening glides along very nicely for the most part. You will explore the overhead map, find clues to the next location by solving overworld puzzles and head into various dungeons with all the swiftness you can muster. It must be said, however, that there is a difference of feel when you compare the overworld with the dungeons. The overworld is seen as one singular location in the game, tasking you with traversing large parts of the map. Link’s Awakening will try to load things in this large scale location, making the game suffer from some frame rate dips. The dungeons see you moving from room to room with a split second to transition. Overall, the interior settings of the game seems to run a lot smoother.
The various gameplay elements are the star of the show. Link's Awakening starts off with familiar staples, the sword and shield, and you quickly start building from there. For example, in the Tail Cave early on, you will get access to the Roc's Feather. Once equipped, it allows you to jump over gaps and find new ways to explore a dungeon. The Bottle Grotto introduces the Power Bracelet, which allows you to pick up and throw heavy jars, which is an important theme in this location. Every dungeon does something intriguing and plays with expectations, forcing you to use the new mechanics you just learned. The second dungeon sees you fighting a genie where the Power Bracelet is, naturally, a required piece of equipment.
That brings us to the biggest change in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening: you don't have to equip much of anything anymore. In the original outing, you had two slots to equip any tools you needed in that moment. Outside of the feather, which requires a Y or X button press, everything is just stacked on top of Link's abilities. The Power Bracelet is a good example of this as you will now lift up anything when you get close and press the A-button. The general feeling is this change in the remake truly benefits the flow of the game. In the original, a good chunk of the adventure was spent rearranging your inventory slots, which has minimized in the remake. I see this solely as an improvement that makes the game more welcoming to all without throwing away its difficulty curve.
The map has been very much improved as well. As you go out and explore the island, the map will be slowly filled in, making it much easier to backtrack. You can zoom in, place markers at specific locations on the map and see where you need to go at a glance. In addition, there is a Memories menu. Here you can read the advice you were given by the Owl, Marin, and many other characters. You won't see the cutscenes again but are just given the information you need to remind yourself of where to go. The player will also be able to see all of the collected items, so you're completely caught up on where you're heading.
The appearance of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening seems to represent two sides of the same coin. Personally, I think the game looks great from an art style point of view. The world has been delightfully recreated with lush backdrops and claymation-esque characters. The game just made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. That said, there is a decided frame rate issue in the overworld. In addition, there is this weird blur effect at the bottom of the screen that makes everything it touches look odd. It likely ensures that certain elements in the overworld can respawn, but the effect in general really didn't sit right with me.
All in all though, I am really enjoying The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening remake. Sure, this might be the straight up Game Boy Color DX version just in HD, but the game holds up surprisingly well. The room structure of the dungeons makes everything snappy and a joy to play. Add to that, the wonderful cast of characters and the various side quests you can undertake, and you’ve got a journey that is a real hoot. Naturally, the graphical mishaps are disappointing, but it didn't take away much of everything else that I enjoyed.