Review: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

The original Gameboy version of Link’s Awakening is considered by many to be among the best Zelda games, though this is not an opinion I generally share. It has a number of gameplay flaws that I found frustrating. The Nintendo Switch remake addresses all those and more, bringing Link’s Awakening into its full potential.

Generally speaking, “remake” is the correct term here. While plenty of specifics have changed to fit the much more powerful console, some of which (such as being able to attack at 45 degree angles) have significant gameplay implications, this very much feels like the original Link’s Awakening. This is most apparent by the enormous size of the tiles the overworld and particularly dungeons are made of, since each room is still restricted to the amount of visible area as the original. These giant, detailed tiles enhance the game in an odd way, trimming the fat of dungeon design and leaving only the essentials.

While staying true to the source material, the game makes graphical improvements where it can. The overworld is no longer divided into distinct screens, and some large dungeon rooms are also treated as a single whole. This does have the effect of making it obvious just how small the world map is, but the charm in the transitions between areas and the generally stellar look make up for it. The graphical style of the game may look a bit boring and plasticky in still shots, but in motion the game looks great.

One major new feature has been added to the game in the form of a dungeon creator. This is most definitely not “Zelda Maker,” though we can hope it is a precursor to it. Dungeons are made up of rooms adapted from the in-game dungeons you’ve beaten, and any given room has a set number of chests, doors, stairs, and so on. The mini-game is divided into two parts. First you need to create the dungeon, and to unlock more options you’ll need to do so in the form of “challenges” where you need to fit your available pieces under specific conditions. Then you’ll actually play through the dungeon. The gameplay is necessarily simplistic (for instance, aside from locked doors there is no way to make a specific room impassable until some condition is met) but putting your Zelda skills to use can still be a lot of fun. This is an enjoyable mode, but one that can easily be brought down by high (or even middling) expectations.

Whether you like Link’s Awakening or just never played it, the Switch version is well worth a look. (If you dislike the original, you’re probably safe to skip this one.) It’s a beautiful and well-executed game with notably charming sound design and writing. The dungeons remain well-built and challenging. There are even more Pieces of Heart and Secret Seashells to collect, but the game tracks them and offers a Seashell Detector to make the process much smoother. This is a fine original game polished and enhanced into a must-play for Zelda fans.

Review Score: A−