Link’s Awakening on the Game Boy holds a special nostalgic place in my heart. I have fond and vivid memories of playing through the game on a single summer holiday, playing it in the car, by the side of the pool or at my parents’ caravan. It took me the entire month to beat too, as this was in a time without the internet or even having game guides readily available. Let’s put the remake to the test and check if a new lick of paint is enough for it to stand up to the test of time!
After being shipwrecked, Link Awakes (see what they did there?) on the mysterious island of Kolohint. Towering above the island is a colossal egg in which the Windfish is rumoured to sleep. Link will have to defeat eight nightmares (bosses) in order to gather the eight instruments needed to wake him. There’s even a small romantic element in this title, with Marin & Link getting closer as the story progresses.
Guiding you throughout your quest is an owl, dropping hints of where to go next or which power-up you need to reach the next dungeon. Along with the phone calls to old man Ulrira, these helpful clues are essential to beating the game. No, really, you’d be totally lost without them.
I recalled Link’s Awakening to be a relatively open world, but it seems my memory was mistaken and that was just because I spent hours walking across the world map, looking where to go next. This time around, I paid closer attention and I was surprised to learn that even the trading quest isn’t optional at all and just another task to fulfil in your linear quest.
You’ll be happy to hear they went with the DX edition for the Game Boy color by the way: bringing with it the optional dungeon that lets you pick a blue or red tunic at the end, which either increases your defence or offence respectively.
Visuals & Audio
The single biggest change in this remake is without a doubt the gorgeous and charming new visual style. I’m 100% in love with it and I wouldn’t mind Nintendo giving other pixel-age Zelda titles the same kind of make-over. The use of shadows, reflections and blur at the edges of the screen gives it all this faux-toy look that you sometimes see in doctored photographs. It’s like your in control of a diaroma at a museum. I really can’t stress enough how this style needs to be praised.
As for the music in the game, it’s amazing how the composers keep changing up the main Zelda theme to still sound different and unique each time, yet never fail to give us the dose of nostalgia we’re all craving for.
— ScaryGoodReviews 💀 (@Bloodyspasm) September 26, 2019
Every town on Kolohint had its own theme in the Game Boy version. In the Switch remake, they stay true to the source but still manage to update them enough for the modern gaming audience to still appreciate it. When it comes to the looks and sounds of Link’s Awakening, I can’t find a single thing to fault.
I’ve only played through the original version last summer and it’s incredible just how much better the game gets from adding a few extra buttons. You get two additional face buttons in X & Y and the shoulder buttons can be used as well. How much better of a play experience this provides is equivalent to the 3DS version of Ocarina Of time letting you easily equip the Iron Boots via the touch screen. It’s… game-changing!
It even allows for some nifty combinations like using the Bomb & Bow together to have a DIY bazooka of sorts.
— ScaryGoodReviews 💀 (@Bloodyspasm) October 3, 2019
The core gameplay of Link’s Awakening is the same as any Top-Down Zelda game, you can block incoming attacks with your shield, perform basic or charged up attacks with your sword and you can use an entire assortment of items to combat enemies as well. Though these items are mostly important to open up new paths. I just wish they didn’t hide some of these as well as they did. Some staircases or bomb-able walls are truly hard to spot, yet essential for progressing the game. I’m ashamed to admit I had to resort to using a guide again, because I had forgotten about these (or perhaps because they became more difficult to see thanks to the new artstyle)
It’s perhaps the single biggest strike I have against Link’s Awaking: it comes from a time where there was little to no handholding, oftentimes to artificially lengthen the time it took to beat a game. The dungeon design also requires you to have a great memory and follow the exact path the developers intend you to follow. The combat in the game is rather forgiving (though there is a mode that will increase the challenge by limiting the amount of hearts you have) but the linear progression can be brutal to the unknowing.
Something I could really appreciate are the various elements that change up the gameplay every now and then. Some dungeons will have a 2D side-scrolling level with minor platforming elements. You’ll see some familiar enemies making an appearance here from the Mario franchise. The presence of which have always made Link’s Awakening a bit of the odd one out in the Zelda series, but I welcome them with open arms. Getting to take chain-chomp/Bow-Wow for a walk remains one the of highlights for me.
From the very start of the game, you’ll also get to participate in a few semi-optional activities like fishing and the crane game (I say semi-optional because you need to get the Yoshi doll in the Crane game to start the trading sequence). It’s not like you’ll spend a ton of time with them, but they all help to offer up some varied gameplay.
You’ll also get to do some white water rafting, mostly useful to farm for items & rupees and to pick up some of the hidden sea-shells: Across the world there are 50 of them to discover and finding 40 of them will get you a nifty power-up, letting you shoot out waves from your basic sword attack if you’re at full health. Collecting these and the various hidden heart fragments is as addictive as ever!
There’s really only one entirely new addition to this remake and that is the option to bring chamber stones to Dampé. You can earn them in a few varying ways or you can just use any of the rooms you’ve already beaten in the previous dungeons.
You’ll get a few layouts to beat, with your starting and ending position locked in place. It’s up to you to add chambers with the correct amount of doors and make sure there are enough treasure chests with keys so you can unlock them. Any additional chests turn into rupees, making this one of the better ways to farm for gold.
You can share dungeons only via transferring info through Amiibo’s, pretty much limiting you to local sharing only. It’s weird that Nintendo didn’t go full-on Super Mario Maker with this, but perhaps they are keeping that for a separate game. I would have appreciated the option to share my creations online though.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is an almost perfect remake of a classic title. The new visual style breathes some fresh air into the franchise and there are more than enough improvements to make this the best ever version of the game. I would have appreciated some additional brand new content and most of all a less linear & convoluted way to progress through the story, but it still stands the test of time. This is a game that no self-respecting Nintendo Switch owner should miss out on!