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−

Retro Review: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

The first Gameboy Legend of Zelda game is an impressive package for its system. The visual style of A Link to the Past translates pretty well to the small screen, though in many ways the game is a throwback to the original Zelda, particulary in its screen-by-screen nature.

Link’s Awakening departs in several key ways from its SNES predecessor, as a result of the system it’s on. For instance, for the first time in the series, your sword is treated just like any other item, and you can assign one item each to the two face buttons. In addition to giving you a general bit of flexibility, this allows for a few interesting combinations of items (such as firing bomb arrows) and makes it easy to use another weapon as your primary arm. Your shield is treated similarly, meaning that you can’t rely on it to block anything unless it’s actively in use. However, your shield is quite useful, moreso than in previous games, to make up for this.

The strength of Link’s Awakening also tends to be its weakness. The game features eight sprawling dungeons filled with traps and puzzles. A few of the solutions can be a bit obtuse, but the dungeon design is very solid overall. However, the overworld is laid out somewhat similarly to the dungeons, and the screen-by-screen nature of the game makes it very easy to lose your way. The world is not open like in Zelda 1 or even Link to the Past, instead being gated by various dungeon items. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not a problem, but getting to that point can be frustrating.

The game also has a tendency to occasionally throw things at you with no hints or prompts. Several times during the game, it’s unclear where you’re supposed to go next, or even in what direction you should travel. And several secrets are completely unfair, requiring you to bomb unmarked walls in some of the dozens of small caves in the game.

On the whole, Link’s Awakening is an impressive outing for the Gameboy, but the┬álack of hints and guidance can sometimes cause problems. Once you’ve figured it all out, the game really comes together. With several great Zelda dungeons, Link’s Awakening is highly recommended to fans of the series, particularly fans of the other portable games that are heavily inspired by this entry.

Review Score: B