The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Review — Redefining An Age-Old Classic
Link's Awakening is a remarkable remake of one of the more overlooked titles in the Legend of Zelda franchise.
I always thought that the next top-down Zelda title after Breath of the Wild would feel a bit weird. Nintendo’s Switch launch title has gone on to become the best-selling game in the series and brought in a numerous amount of new players to the franchise. I imagined that going back to that classic Zelda formula would feel a bit strange after the amount of freedom that was given in Breath of the Wild.
Thankfully those concerns were wiped clean after my first few minutes with Link’s Awakening. The remake completely captures the weirdness, charm, and sense of adventure of the original Game Boy title while also making a few quality of life improvements that were much appreciated.
I like to think that Link’s Awakening is tied with Majora’s Mask as the oddest game in the series. There is no Zelda to rescue, no Ganon to defeat, no Hyrule. Instead, this adventure begins with Link setting sail on the high seas. A flash of lightning tears his boat apart and he is washed up onto the shores of Koholint Island where he must collect the 8 Instruments of the Sirens so that he can awaken the mysterious Wind Fish who will get him off the island.
Weird, right? Hell, even the enemies throughout the game are pretty weird because plenty of them are from the Mario universe. There are plenty of times Link will come across Goombas, Boos, Chain-Chomps, and Shy Guys. One dungeon even has an enemy that is literally just Kirby. But, all of this weirdness is sort of justified upon completion of the game.
Grezzo’s remake of the classic 1993 title comes with a few quality of life improvements. For starters, Link’s sword, shield, Pegasus boots, and power bracelet are now tied to permanent buttons and no longer have to be equipped from the item screen. It was always a pain to have to equip and unequip them in the original since the Game Boy only featured an A and B button. A plethora of heart pieces were added as well as seashells to find that really pad out the experience. Finally, a dungeon creator was added to the game that really was a big swing and miss, but more on that in a bit.
It is sort of funny to say this since the graphics on the Game Boy were so limited at the time, but the remake of Link’s Awakening on the Switch is exactly what I felt it looked like in my imaginative mind as a child. I think its mainly Link’s eyes for some reason. The art style Grezzo has created for this remake just oozes charm and is comfort food for your eyeballs. It is just delightful to look at. Characters have this overall cuteness factor that warms your heart. I mean, just look at little Link — adorable. On top of that, the screen has a bit of a blur effect around the edges, making whatever is in the middle pop just a bit more. It creates this dreamlike visual that is a fantastic touch.
As stated earlier, coming back to the top-down perspective with Zelda was going to feel a bit odd at first. But it’s like they say, don’t fix what isn’t broken. Top-down Zelda games provide an unrivaled tactile control that makes sword slashing and bow shooting a joy and a breeze. Link can move in eight separate directions just like in the original game. One would think that it would be more beneficial to have full analog control, but since the entire structure of Koholint Island and the dungeons on it were created with this move set in mind, the move set actually fits perfectly. I felt like I was in full control of Link and enemies were never out of reach. Plus, some foes can now be countered compared to just mindless swiping in the original.
Another thing that I always enjoyed about Link’s Awakening is that Link can now combine some item funcitonalies to traverse obstacles in the world. After collecting the Roc’s Feather item, Link can now jump and bypass any areas that were blocked off by a hole in the ground. But, there are some areas that have a few holes, making the jump a bit too long to make. However, once Link collects the Pegasus Boots, he can get a running start to make longer leaps. It’s also worth noting how funny and adorable the pitter-pattering of Link’s feet when he uses the Pegasus Boots.
With that in mind, there are some other combinations of items such as using the bombs and arrows at the same time to launch a bomb arrow. This item combination has always been a stand out for the series and I hope it gets brought back in future top-down games. I’ve always loved that Link’s Awakening also doesn’t even tell you about it. There is just a certain moment in the game where the idea just clicks in your mind and it’s brilliant.
I forgot how great the later dungeons in Link’s Awakening are. I have to admit that the first few dungeons in the game are a little too easy for my taste, but the last few are right up my alley. The 7th dungeon in the game, Eagle’s Tower, tasks you with traversing the area with a giant weight that can be tossed at four separate pillars, giving players access to the boss room. Not only do you have to think about where to go to next in the dungeon, but you must also think about how to get the weight to that location as well since it can’t go down or upstairs. Rather then Link running from room to room and going from puzzle to puzzle, the entire dungeon is a puzzle.
The later dungeons gave me a fun and rewarding challenge and I think they are some of the best in the entire series. On top of that, the new map system that can be used inside these dungeons is a wonderful upgrade since you have the ability to place pins to remember certain locations such as walls that you haven’t bombed yet or a switch that you keep forgetting about.
That same concept can also be applied to the overworld map as well. Since Koholint Island is structured in such a linear way, players will often run into heart pieces or areas that can not be accessed yet because they are missing an item. It’s easy to bring up the map and select a pin to drop to remember that certain location. No longer will players have to use their own hand-drawn maps.
After a few hours, I had plenty of markers everywhere that I later returned to so I could collect my reward. I know some people aren’t that big of fans of blocking progression due to having not reached a specific moment in the game yet, which I can sort of agree with sometimes. Breath of the Wild and A Link Between Worlds did an awesome job of rectifying this issue. However, I have never seen it as that big of a problem. I have always felt that Zelda games do a fantastic job of slowly strengthening the player until they are a force to be reckoned with thanks to an entire arsenal of tools and weapons that can be used at will. Plus, you will discover all of these secrets on your own. I always enjoy that compared to something like Assassin’s Creed where all the side objectives are laid out on the map for you.
The progression system in Link’s Awakening can almost be compared to a Metroidvania game. Since there are times Link needs a certain item or combination of items to progress, many times areas will be blocked off and you will have to return at a later point. Just like how Samus unlocks all the different doors of Zebes, Link will slowly unlock all of Koholint Island. Even if you aren’t that big of a fan of the classic Zelda formula, you have to admit that the games do an incredible job of progressing the player’s abilities and slowly unraveling the world.
One brand new feature added in the remake is the Chamber Dungeon which is essentially a dungeon creator. Sounds awesome, right? Well, sadly I have to say that it doesn’t play as good as it sounds. The amount of customization is extremely limited and without any way to upload your created dungeons online, it just felt like there was no point. The only way to share your level with friends is to download it to an amiibo and give that amiibo to a friend. I know that this mode was not going to be as fleshed out as Super Mario Maker but I still was let down just a bit by it. It makes me think that an actual Zelda maker just wouldn’t work.
There are a few things that have to be brought up about this game though that some people may or may not tolerate. First, the frame rate can stutter at times. It was nothing egregious and sometimes I would forget it was happening. But I have never been one really care about having 30FPS compared to 60FPS. Sure, 60 is nice, but as long as I am having a great time, it is not a big deal to me. If you are one of those people that build their own PC to play every game at 120 FPS, then the dips will probably frustrate you.
Another complaint is that Link’s Awakening can be a little obtuse. I guess that might just be something that comes with a game created in 1993. Sometimes you will come to a spot that is blocked and have no idea how to progress. There is a trading sequence that goes on throughout most of the game that some would think would be a fun side objective to unlock something, but it actually is mandatory to progress at certain times. If players just talk to all the locals of Koholint Island though when they are running around they should have no problem getting through the elaborate trading quest. Plus, if you ever get lost, you can always go to one of the telephone booths for a hint.
Even with the downsides though, Link’s Awakening is everything you can hope for in a remake. It contains a carefully constructed world that is faithful to the original, a fantastic art style that somehow is reminiscent of the primitive graphics on the Game Boy, and a plethora of quality of life improvements to help modernize the game a bit. Now that Grezzo has remade three Zelda games, I can’t help but hope that they continue on their quest by remaking Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was fantastic back in 1993 and the original is still great to this day. But Grezzo’s remake is now the definitive Link’s Awakening experience. If you missed it on the Game Boy, there is no question that this is a must-buy for Switch owners. Koholint Island features some of the best dungeons, level design, weapons, and boss battles in the entire series. Everyone should come to its shores to awaken the Wind Fish.