Twenty-six years ago, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was released for the Nintendo GameBoy, and five years later in a colourised release for the GameBoy Color. Now, the adventure has been reimagined for a new audience with a release on Nintendo Switch, displayed in a three-dimensional widescreen view, compared to the original game’s square ratio. The game retains its traditional top-down formula, and is an enhanced remake of the original, including features from Link’s Awakening DX. But how does it compare to those classic GameBoy games?
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Developed by Nintendo EPD and GREZZO
Published by Nintendo
Released: 20th September 2019
Review copy provided by Nintendo
The game opens with an impressive animated cutscene of a stormy sea. Bolts of lightning rain down on the violent ocean, and monstrous waves build to unfathomable heights. Amidst the chaos, a small wooden boat braves the waters, and a young man we know as Link, draped in a green tunic, clings on for dear life as his vessel is tossed around. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning hits the mast and lights up the sky with a thunderous roar. The scene ends with a young girl called Marin walking down a shore, who finds Link unconscious. She attempts to wake him, but is he even alive? Did he survive that perilous storm? I play on to discover where the adventure leads next..
Before you begin, you will be asked to choose a save slot and difficulty level. For the purpose of this review, I chose Normal difficulty, but if you want a challenge you may choose the Hero difficulty, where you will receive twice as much damage and receive no recovery heart drops. Once you have chosen a name, the game can finally begin!
Link awakens from his deep slumber to the sight of two friendly faces. Marin, the girl who discovered you earlier, explains that you were tossing and turning in your sleep, but is glad to see that you’re awake. She informs you that you are on Koholint Island, and that since your arrival, monsters have appeared throughout the land. An older man called Tarin is also present, who hands your shield back after it was found washed up on the shore. You are given instructions by Marin to head south to Toronbo Shores. Eventually you will find your sword there, and begin to explore this mysterious island.
The game’s controls are fairly simple to grasp, you control Link by using the left analog stick to move around, and assign items and weapons to your X and Y buttons. The – button lets you view the overworld map, and the + button will display your inventory. The map has been overhauled for the new game, allowing you to place markers down in areas of important interest, which you can return to later. The inclusion of a ‘Memories’ section lets you recall important conversations from characters, and lets you view your progress on the collectables you find. While you are navigating these menus, you can use the L and R buttons to navigate to the system menu, where you can manage your game save. You can even load another save directly from this menu without having to quit the game.
One fun little easter egg that I discovered when trying to delete an unwanted save, is that the game asks you to press certain buttons and hold them for three seconds. If you press them in order, they will play the notes of the classic ‘secret’ jingle found across many Zelda titles.
The ZR button can be used to shield yourself from enemy attacks, and once you obtain your sword, it can be used by pressing A at any time. A great quality of life improvement over the original game, is that your sword and shield are always equipped, compared to the original game where you had to change between them in order to use them. Other items that are found later in the game, and are equipped permanently, are the Power Bracelet and Pegasus Boots. This is a small yet useful change that original players will be happy to see.
Once you leave the house you have been resting in, you will discover that you are in an area of the Island called Mabe Village, populated with some fun characters and points of interest you should explore and return to later in the game. My first impressions of the overworld was its vibrancy. The new title adopts a beautiful clay-like art style, which fits well with the game and its story. The little touches here and there, such as butterflies fluttering by and the sound of birds and crickets chirping, are perfect touches, enhancing the original title and bringing it into the 21st century.
The game’s score features beautiful orchestral arrangements of the original soundtrack, complemented by some impressive sound design that enhances the world you traverse. The music is not as big and intense as a symphony orchestra, each instrument can be heard clearly and suits each environment perfectly, closer to a chamber sized ensemble. My favourite pieces were the Eagle Tower dungeon, Tal Tal Heights, the Animal Village and the main Overworld theme. I had a huge grin on my face when I heard the original chiptune music peppered across some of the themes, taking me on a huge nostalgia trip. Overall, I have a high appreciation of what the audio team did with the game.
Mabe Village has its own shop where you can purchase useful items with rupees to aid you on your quest, such as a shovel, bow and heart pieces. Stock will replenish occasionally, so it’s always worth going back to see what you can buy. If you’re low on rupees and sly enough, you can even steal items from the shop! Be warned though, karma doesn’t take kindly to thieves…
The Trendy Game is a place where you can try and win prizes using a giant crane for a mere ten rupees a pop! Similar to the shop, there are a number of useful items you can get your hands on to aid you in your quest. A new addition to the Trendy Game over the original Link’s Awakening, are Figures, which include characters from across the Super Mario series, and can be placed in pedestals within buildings around Mabe Village. Once you have delivered a Figure to the appropriate pedestal, you can go back to the Trendy Game to collect another one. Once you have collected all of them, the owner of the establishment, the Trendy Gamester, may give you something nice!
The Trendy Game also features a Yoshi Doll, marking the return of the Trading Sequence quest from the original game, requiring you to deliver it to a specific location in order to trade it for another item, which can then be traded for another, and so forth. Part of the quest is mandatory in order to progress deeper into the game. Also found in Mabe Village is the fishing pond, where you will be encouraged to catch the largest fish you can tempt onto your hook, in exchange for a prize. Additionally, there are some neat items that can be collected from the depths of the pond too, so it’s worth checking out.
As you step foot outside of Mabe Village, you will encounter monsters that will be very keen to attack you and deplete your health to zero. While your sword and shield will help you confront most enemy threats, enemies can drop a range useful items such as hearts, rupees, bombs and arrows to give you an advantage, and two other items in particular will help you in combat situations. Collecting a Piece of Power will make you stronger, allowing you to deal more damage to the enemies that threaten you for a limited time, while a Guardian Acorn will reduce the amount of damage you take for a short while. Once you obtain the Pegasus Boots, you will be able to dash into Apple Trees across the overworld and collect the fruit to instantly replenish your health.
Koholint Island is full of memorable characters and conversations that made me smile and chuckle. Once I obtained my sword, the first thing I did was approach Marin, who was wandering around the weather vane, so I could hear her sing like I did in the original. Her performance was beautiful! Some dialogue highlights would be the kids in Mabe Village offering some great advice, only to add that they’re not quite sure because they’re just kids. Or Sale of the Sale’s House O’ Bananas who is absolutely obsessed with dog food.
Characters in the game can often give you useful information to help guide you to areas of interest, or point out things you may have overlooked. The most appropriate person to reach out to is Old Man Ulrina, who can be reached via telephone booths across the Island, and is on hand to give you a hint to where you need to go next. While he can be located in Mabe Village, he is very shy in person. But there are many other characters throughout the land who are willing to help Link on his journey, so it is always beneficial to speak to everyone you encounter.
There are many secrets spread out across the overworld, underground, caves and mountains of Koholint Island, and if you pay close attention to the environment around you by diving underwater, bombing cracks in walls or backtracking to previously visited areas and using your Hookshot, you could discover these secrets, and the treasures they hold. You may even find Secret Seashells, which are hidden throughout the land, and can be traded in at a place called the Seashell Mansion for some really special items depending on how many you are able to collect.
You can even try your hand at the Rapids Ride. Just head to the office at the base of Tal Tal Heights, and attempt to collect as many rupees, heart containers and other great items as you can in the Rapids Raid mode. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a challenge, you can try to set a record time in the Rapids Race by reaching the end of the course as fast as you can. I decided to give this a try, and obtained a time of 00:32.71, can you beat it?
Link’s Awakening has eight dungeons to navigate, each one bringing you closer to your goal of obtaining eight key items known as the Instruments of the Sirens. Dungeons are filled with many evil monsters and obstacles, which you will need to overcome in order to progress through to the Nightmares of each dungeon and collect the instrument it protects. Some rooms will require a key to enter, these can be found from chests you will encounter along the way.
If you have discovered the dungeon’s compass, it will notify you with a jingle if there is a key hidden in the room. A map can also be found in each dungeon you explore, which will make your journey more efficient. If you find a Stone Beak, it can be placed inside Owl Statues, which will in turn give you a hint that can be used somewhere within the dungeon. Those statues can also be found across the overworld for additional support.
I enjoyed the challenge of each dungeon, but the most tedious one for me was Eagle’s Tower, a dungeon I struggled with in the original Gameboy titles also. It requires you to hit crystal switches in order to raise and lower orange and blue switch blocks and multiple floors. I am ashamed to say that I spent a good couple of hours trying to complete it, and while I admire the level design, I won’t be revisiting this dungeon again any time soon!
Finally, I want to highlight Chamber Dungeons, which is one of the key additions to the remake. Dampé, a character from Ocarina of Time, makes a debut appearance in this version of Link’s Awakening, and if you speak to him at his shack, he will let you create some unique dungeons! Dampé’s Shack has replaced the Camera Shop from Link’s Awakening DX.
Chamber Dungeons allow you to use rooms from previously explored dungeons within the game, and arrange them to your liking to create something new, providing you follow some key rules to ensure your arrangements are playable. For example, a Chamber Dungeon must always include an entrance and a Nightmare Lair. The game will tell you if your rooms aren’t connected properly before you can play it. Rooms are placed within different shaped Chamber stones, which can be discovered, bought or rewarded to you. You are able to save your arrangements to an amiibo to share with other players.
During my playthrough, I created a few Chamber Dungeons, and had some fun arranging a dungeon full of mini bosses. On one occasion, I placed a room full of switch blocks with a crystal switch, but the switch was unreachable, and because I didn’t include another crystal switch room, it meant the dungeon couldn’t be completed. While the game failed to identify this issue and thought it was completable, I was able to come back out and edit it further to correct the mistake. Hopefully Nintendo will release a patch to correct this in the future.
I certainly enjoyed my time playing Link’s Awakening on the Switch. The quality of life improvements in the controls are appreciated, and I adore the updated art, animations and audio. As a fan of the original title however, I was expecting some new content and surprises. Unfortunately, the Chamber Dungeons fall short of my expectations due to the inability to share my creations with friends online, or even locally without the need for an amiibo.
It’s a typical Nintendo decision that baffles me, because this would have been a great opportunity to encourage subscribers to Nintendo Switch Online, and given the game some longevity. Imagine having the ability to download your friends dungeons, or view online leaderboards so you can compete for the fastest completion times with friends or against the world? Or even special dungeons released by Nintendo on a monthly basis?
My hope is that this is a mode that can be developed further, so a fully fledged “Zelda Maker” style game can be developed in the vein of the Super Mario Maker games. While it isn’t a deal breaker, I was also disappointed to see that the Photographer and Camera Shop was removed from the updated game, because it provided some very memorable and humorous moments from the DX game.
Overall though, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for Nintendo Switch is a faithful remake of a beloved title that deserved an upgrade. I highly recommend it!
Final rating – 4.5 out of 5
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening launches exclusively for Nintendo Switch family systems on 20th September 2019!
Darren is a huge Nintendo fan from the days of the Gameboy Color and his copy of Pokémon Blue. Over time, he developed a passion for the Metroid franchise, and runs the Metroid community fan website Shinesparkers. He contributes his thoughts here from time to time!