Out of all the games in the Zelda franchise, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is by far my favorite. It’s also one of my favorite games of all time, with many fond days and nights playing it on my first generation Game Boy, pretty much everywhere I went. The story was and remains a breath of fresh air when compared to other titles. My nearly impossible expectations for the game and its legacy have made it hard for subsequent Zelda games to recapture that magic. Thus, when the remake for Link’s Awakening was announced, I was both overjoyed and concerned. My favorite game was getting a fresh coat of paint – but would it hold up as good as the original does, in my heart of hearts? The answer is mostly a huge yes, but with some caveats – read on to find out why in my full review!
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: September 20th, 2019
The original Link’s Awakening had a distinct, classic Zelda look and feel, complete with a topdown perspective and some basic sprite work to fit within the Game Boy’s limited power. Adapting that to a new look is not simple feat, and I’m happy to say Nintendo really nailed the visuals in the remake.
Developer Grezzo has done a wonderful job maintaining the charm and bite-sized feel of Link’s Awakening. The character models, environments, textures, animations – everything has a whimsical feel that really connects that bridge with older pixel art and high-definition visuals.
In the original Link’s Awakening I thought the crystals you charged through were just that – crystals. In the remake they pop like tents or balloons. The mini-bosses, moblins, everything has been fully realized in HD and it’s like rediscovering one of my favorite games all over again.
The visual scale of the original game was something that fit nicely into the Game Boy – the remake is basically a 1:1 remake in terms of overall scale and visual themes. The main difference, aside from adapting 2D sprites into 3D, is the screen-shifting is gone. This has positive and negative quirks.
The seamless transition between the screens is great, however it seems to be pushing the Switch hardware to its limits. Both in handheld and docked mode, the game regularly sees its framerate drop. It gets quite noticeable, and maybe keeping the screen shifting would’ve alleviated this.
This is honestly the only thing holding this remake back from being perfect. The framerate drops aren’t limited to just the busy parts of the overworld, either, it happens in dungeons as well. I was honestly really bummed out to see an otherwise perfect remake held back by the unstable framerate.
Gameplay in the Link’s Awakening remake is just like the visuals – basically an exact recreation of the original game. From the overworld to the houses in Mabe village, everything in Koholint Island plays and feels like it did back in the day. Even the way Link moves and attacks feels just right.
A big change up in gameplay is that Link’s equipment has been tweaked to match the Switch. You no longer have to equip a gauntlet to pick up heavy things, but you’ll still need to equip the feather to jump. It doesn’t feel as cumbersome as the original, which had you swapping constantly.
One thing to note is that the remake is so faithful to the original game in terms of content that even individual tiles of grass are exactly where they should be. This is also a factor if you’ve played the original to death like me – you’ll blast through its puzzles, secrets, and more, as it’s all unchanged.
All of the small quirks in the game, mostly remnants from the game being a passion project made after hours by Nintendo’s core staff, all remain. The Bow-Wow’s inspired by Super Mario’s Chain Chomps are there, alongside Mr. Write, who is inspired by SimCity’s Dr. Wright.
One of my main gripes with Breath of the Wild was its lack of true dungeons. The dungeons in Link’s Awakening aren’t as big as its successors, but they are fun in their own right and have some clever puzzles installed. Some other subtle quality of life enhancements have been made.
There’s the fast travel / warping system to let you breeze around the Koholint overworld, as you’ll be doing that quite a bit to get all the secret seashells. There are more of them, in fact, and there’s a sensor now to make them easier to find. You can also bottle fairies like in other Zelda games.
There’s a dungeon maker mode added, but unfortunately it has no online connectivity so you’re just making dungeons to clear yourself – this kind of defeats the purpose of this mode entirely. You’re limited to the rooms you get from chamber stones, and that’s pretty much it.
The story in Link’s Awakening has always been something that captured my imagination, decades later after uncovering its secrets as a kid. Without spoiling anything, the big twist at the end of the game instilled a lifelong obsession with similar twists in fiction. It blew my mind as a kid.
The overall plot in Link’s Awakening follows an unorthodox story for Link, who for the most part – has been tasked with rescuing a princess and saving the land. This game feels like a mysterious adventure in a strange land, a land where Link is trying to uncover secrets.
As you progress through the game you’ll slowly get more hints of what is truly going on, while also throwing curveballs with its seemingly random NPCs asking for also seemingly random things. There is no grand prophecy, you’re just a shipwrecked Link trying to figure out what is going on.
For all you diehard Zelda fans out there, in terms of the overall series timeline, Link’s Awakening is a sequel to A Link to the Past, Oracle of Seasons, and Oracle of Ages. It’s not directly connected to those games, however brief references to the events in those games exist.
The soundtrack in Link’s Awakening is something that will forever be etched into my memory. I was genuinely curious and somewhat anxious to hear how composers would adapt those synth-y tunes into something modern. For the most part, I love it all.
The various themes, from the triumphant overworld theme to the Tal Tal Heights, all of it sounds just right and reflects the tunes I heard all those years ago. While there are some chiptune laden bits, but there’s mostly orchestral themes going on here and there. All of the music sounds wonderful.
One of my only other gripes with the remake is Link’s voice actor – he sounds like an annoying child and screams like he’s desperate for help. I know the visuals have chibi-fied Link, but this is the Link who saved Hyrule from Ganon. After his triumphs, he now screams like a terrified child.
The remake for The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a resounding triumph overall, with only minor issues that don’t tarnish the legacy of the greatest Zelda game ever made. I may have gripes with Link’s voice actor and the framerate issues, but I really adore this game.
If you’ve never played Link’s Awakening because you never owned a Game Boy or are too young to have given it a chance, you have absolutely no excuses to miss the game again now. Link’s Awakening is simply a joy to play, and remains a love-letter to the franchise.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review copy provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.