The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Review
Hello and welcome back to Galaxy of Geek for another Review from Cade’s Arcade, I’m Cade!
There isn’t enough time in the day for me to discuss how much I adore The Legend of Zelda series; currently, it’s my second favorite franchise of all time. This series has been with me ever since I was in diapers, so you could imagine just how much this franchise means to me as a long-time fan. In 2019, Zelda enthusiasts of all ages were treated to some exciting announcements related to the series.
Back in E3 of 2019, Nintendo officially revealed the sequel to Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Maker 2 added the Master Sword as a power-up that transforms players into the Hero of Time, and we also saw the release of two very distinct entries in the franchise. Cadence of Hyrule was the first of these two titles, of which I have reviewed previously where I go more in-depth with my thoughts on the game. In short, I felt the whole experience was pretty solid, I enjoyed it a great deal.
Where Cadence of Hyrule was a third party licensed indie title, the other release was a full-blown remake of an entry in the series that many people hold near and dear to their hearts. I am of course talking about the remake for The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the Nintendo Switch.
First released for the original Gameboy on June 6th, 1993, Link’s Awakening was an entry in the franchise unlike anything that had come before it. Link’s Awakening being released relatively close to A Link to the Past (November 21st, 1991), the team working on Link’s Awakening knew they had to step up their efforts to really make this title stand out.
With HD remasters and remakes being so commonplace in today’s era of gaming, it’s not difficult to see why gamers would barrel roll their eyes at the thought of another remake when all they want to see is something new. With this context in mind, the fact that many people were super excited about a remake of this Gameboy classic should indicate just how much people loved this game even back then.
At the same time, it’s incredibly easy for people to be blinded by their nostalgia goggles because people tend to put them on a little too tight. I personally didn’t grow up with this Zelda title back in 1993, so my nostalgia for this game is limited. For starters, 1993 was the year I was born so I wouldn’t get into video games until much later. Then there’s also the fact that I never owned a Nintendo hand held system until the 3DS.
It wouldn’t be until I bought Link’s Awakening DX on the 3DS’ virtual console that I would play this title for the first time. However, I never got around to finishing it back then, and it’s for this reason that today I aim to discover for myself whether or not if The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the Nintendo Switch has been able to stand the test of time.
There are many things that can make a game great, but there’s only one thing that truly matters to me… can I recommend The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake for the Nintendo Switch.
Before I get into the story, I feel I must address something real quick. Normally I would put up a spoiler warning at this point for people who are sensitive in that way. However… this is a remake of a game that’s over 27 years old, and tells the same exact story as the original. If you have not played it yet and are wanting to experience the story first hand, that’s understandable, I would simply recommend coming back to this review after you’ve done so. However, I am writing this review under the assumption that you have either played the game, or don’t mind seeing spoilers about it. The bottom line is 27 years should be plenty of time to play a relatively short Gameboy game. If you haven’t played it by now and complain about spoilers, then I’m sorry but you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
This concludes my TED Talk, now back to the review!
Our story begins when Link is caught in a terrible storm while he was out and about sailing on his raft. It doesn’t take long before Link loses control and crashes. Sometime after, Link washes up on the shores of a mysterious island where a local girl comes to his aid. When Link finally wakes up, he’s greeted to the sight of two individuals who introduce themselves as Marin and Tarin.
Marin informs Link of what just transpired and that he has found himself on the island of Koholint. Link then sets off in search of a way off the island. Link’s search leads him to discover that the Wind Fish is the key to leaving the island, but at a cost (I guess). As it turns out, Koholint Island is a figment of the Wind Fish’s dreams and waking him up will return Link back to the world he’s familiar with. Just to pause the story for a moment, if Koholint Island exists in the Wind Fish’s dream, that means Koholint is in the realm of sleep. So does that mean Link comes from a world that is woke?
Terrible joke aside, for Link to return home, he must collect 8 instruments in order to wake up the Wind Fish from his deep sleep. Once Link manages to collect all the instruments, he sets off to wake the Wind Fish where one final challenge awaits him. Once triumphant, Link meets with the Wind Fish. After a lengthy monologue about sleep or something, the Wind Fish wakes up, and the island gets taken by the snappening.
The Legend of Zelda series has never been known for telling deep narratives that diverge far from the traditional “good guy versus bad guy to save the princess” story arch, and Link’s Awakening is no different; put down your pitchforks, I’m aware of the deeper themes present in other Zelda entries such as Twilight Princess and Majora’s Mask.
Now do not misunderstand what I mean. Just because I say that Link’s Awakening has a simple story does not mean I think that’s a bad thing. By no means is the plot in Link’s Awakening awful; I personally feel the story is just a little by the numbers, even if there isn’t a princess to save exactly.
Now you might be wondering what I mean by Link’s Awakening telling a story that plays it safe when it is arguably one of the most unique entries in the franchise. You’re not wrong in thinking that; after all, it’s the first game in the series to be completely devoid of both Gannon in any form (kind of) and the titular character Zelda. It’s also the first game in the franchise to feature characters that are not from Zelda games.
All of these things are true, and while Link’s Awakening is certainly one of the more interesting titles in the franchise, the story itself is a relatively simple one both in structure and narrative themes. Again I’d like to restate that just because I say it has a simple story does not mean I am saying it is a bad story; it’s just… fine.
The over-all plot honestly reminds of old Saturday morning cartoons I use to watch as a kid, and who can really complain about that? It’s basically a quick story that aims to not waste your time. On top of that, it is a story made for a portable system originally, and I can’t think of any console that’s more fitting for a remake of the game today than the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo’s modern day portable offering.
Music & Sound Design
One of the elements in this game that absolutely shines is the soundtrack. Naturally, with Link’s Awakening being a 1 to 1 remake, every song in the original got the HD treatment. However, it’s the way those songs are played that I find particularly interesting. One aspect I don’t really hear people talk about so much is the subtle change that Nintendo actively made to the music to help establish the kind of adventure Link’s Awakening is.
Normally, as the Zelda games became bigger in scope, they also were accompanied by scores to match the epic scale of those adventures. That’s why I found it really interesting that Nintendo decided to go with a soundtrack that emphasizes the bite-sized nature of the experience as a way to pay homage the portable hand held nature of the original.
Just take a listen!
Instead of listening to epic scores boasting majestic french horns or booming percussions with long drawn out notes to emphasis the epicness of the journey, you’ll instead hear pan flutes and harpsichords playing short staccato notes to help establish audibly that Link’s Awakening is indeed a short, or bite-sized, adventure. The music is fun, playful, and inviting; it is essentially communicating to the audience that while Link’s Awakening is no Breath of the Wild, you’re still in for a great time.
Nintendo also didn’t skimp on the sound design. It’s easy to gloss over little details and focus completely on the game play as the only thing that matters when playing. While having solid mechanics is vital in making a fun game, I would argue that sound design is just as important in contributing to the overall game play experience.
For example, say that you are watching a YouTube tutorial and the video quality is great, but the first thing you hear is a child breathing heavily into a mic and their audio is completely distorted and muffled. More times than not, you would have clicked off of the video because of the poor quality. Whether you may have been aware or not at the time, you clicked off because the audio was a big part of perceiving the quality of the video. While this example is not video game related per-say, the same exact logic applies to the sound design in games. If the game doesn’t sound right, it just feels off.
So what do I mean by sound design? I am talking about anytime you hit an enemy, launch an arrow, or open a chest, everything besides the background music is all part of the sound design. Every time you kill an enemy, you get this nice and satisfying blow. Or whenever an evil minion bangs their sword on your shield, you get this weighted clanking noise that’s incredibly satisfying when you block at the right moment. I don’t have much more to add to this, I just really liked how everything was brought together audibly.
Gameplay & Design
Now onto the fun part and the reason most of us play games to begin with, the game play. If you’re familiar with the classic Zelda formula, then there isn’t anything new to learn in this department, especially if Link’s Awakening is a Zelda title that you grew up with.
But in case you’ve never played a Zelda game, let me break it down for you real quick. In a typical Zelda title, you’ll be collecting the game’s multiple McGuffin’s in order to access the final area. Along the way, you will pick up various objects that helps you beat the dungeon you find each respective item in, as well as occasionally use those tools out in the over world to solve various puzzles to find more collectibles. Also like most Zelda titles aside from a few entries in the franchise, the game is also linear with the order you visit each dungeon.
As far as Zelda games go, Link’s Awakening is pretty standard, or as I said previous about the story, by the numbers. However, Link’s Awakening does a few things different in the game play department that does help differentiate itself among the other titles.
For one thing, I loved the fact that you keep getting new animal companions that would help you access the next dungeon. I mean come on, in what other game can you play as Link when he’s walking a Chain-Chomp like a dog, all while the Chain-Chomp devours any living thing in it’s path? I am aware that the Oracle games do have a similar mechanic with their companions, but since I didn’t grow up owning any Gameboys, those were games I never played so this gimmick is still relatively fresh to me. I would like to play them at some point but that day is not today.
On a side note I love how if you run into trees with apples in them, you can pick them up an eat them Breath of the Wild style. It’s not a detail that makes the game better but it’s one that I did appreciate because to me it makes this world feel more alive.
As I mentioned before, this isn’t a big game. While there’s definitely stuff to do, the amount of things to collect and complete is befitting of a hand held game. That’s why I loved the fetch quest scavenger hunt that has you trading items all throughout the island; it reminded me a lot of the Goron Sword side quest in Ocarina of Time. Yes I am aware that Link’s Awakening came out before the Nintendo 64 sequel, I’m just pointing out the similarities.
Why I loved this side quest so much is because of it’s optional nature. This lengthy scavenger hunt has you trading items among the many inhabitants of the island, and after spending so much time talking to NPC’s and figuring out where to go next, you then get rewarded with the answer to navigate the final dungeon. Why this matters is because the final dungeon isn’t super long, but it functions similarly to the Lost Woods in Ocarina of Time where if you make 1 wrong turn, you’ll find yourself at the start of the maze.
I love the optional nature of this side quest because on repeat playthroughs, if you remember the pattern for the final dungeon, then that in of itself is a reward because it means you spend less time doing busy work and more time playing the actual game. It’s similar to how you can fight Ganon at the beginning of Breath of the Wild. If you’re playing it for the first time, you might want to do other things to get familiar with the game’s mechanics before attempting that challenge. Otherwise if you’re skilled enough to beat Ganon from the beginning with nothing but a stick in your underwear then go nuts.
As a side tangent to that last point, I also liked that you can use the capture button to save the pattern for the final dungeon. I don’t know if that was intended by the developers, but if you have a hard time remembering what the pattern is to the final dungeon, just take a quick screen cap of it. Once you’re at the dungeon, go to the home menu, enter your system’s photos, and get a quick refresher that way. Of course you could just as easily write it down, but it’s 2020, everything has to be done with computers!
Now I’m gonna just quickly talk about this next point just to get it out of the way because it’s already been beaten to death by everybody and their mother when it came out. Yes this game does suffer from some performance issues, with the frame rate dips being especially noticeable to me, at least at the time when I played it at launch. That being said, I think people made a much bigger deal out of this than they needed to. On one hand, I understand why people were so upset about it considering this is a first party Nintendo title, and it’s a remake of a freaking Gameboy game; on the other hand, who cares? Aside from some very minor visual annoyances, the game still runs just fine. It never crashed for me and it never came to a complete stop. My point is if you are someone that isn’t bother that much by the technical side of games, then I don’t think you’ll have any problems here.
Unfortunately it’s not all sun shine and daisies with this game because I did have some issues with Link’s Awakening that I feel are more of a problem than the performance of the game.
Let’s start with the way Link moves in this game, honestly I kind of hate it… ok maybe I should add a little more context. For the most part, Link’s movement is pretty solid from his quick and responsive sword swings to the adorably cute pitter patter of his running animations; seriously, his running is way more endearing than I would have expected and I love it.
But what I don’t love is the fact that Nintendo decided to make Link walk in 8 straight directions, there is no 360 degree control here; If you want to move in a direction then you have to commit to that direction. Now I know what some of you might be thinking: “But it’s a top-down Zelda game, why do you need 360 degree controls for a game that’s basically 2D style?”, and that’s a fair point; it’s not a 3D game so why do you need 3D controls? It’s because there were so many times I would try to hit an enemy with my sword, or shoot something with an arrow and it would miss, all because I couldn’t have the fine control of being able to move Link slightly to the left or right.
This is not an issue in A Link Between Worlds, which is the Zelda game made by the same team that made the Link’s Awakening remake; in case it wasn’t obvious already from the art direction. In A Link Between Worlds, they gave the player full 360 degree range of motion despite it being a top-down 2D style Zelda and it felt great! Having 360 degree control in a 2D Zelda was not something that I thought about being essential when playing a Zelda game until I played the Link’s Awakening remake.
But I give credit where credit is due and I understand why they chose to limit Link’s movement for this game. Nintendo decided to go with this style of movement to represent the style of movement present in the Gameboy original. While that is a cool little detail by itself, playing with it soured my experience more than it should have.
However, this is an annoyance I could easily ignore if Nintendo would let me play the game with a freaking d-pad. They went as far as limiting the players movement for the sake of making it play like the original to some extent, so why not go all the way? Why this bugs me so much is because the d-pad isn’t even used for anything in the gameplay beyond navigating the menu, which you can do with the analog stick anyways. In other words, the d-pad is completely pointless.
It’s not like Breath of the Wild where every single button on the controller has a function and purpose, so it just makes me wonder why they chose not to give the player the option of playing with the d-pad. The only thing I can think of is this being a design oversight. Having the option of using a d-pad would have alleviated my annoyance with the limited movement because I find d-pads way comfortable to us in a 2D game than an analog stick; especially when that game is limited to 2D movement. I honestly don’t understand how people can play 2D games like Super Mario Bros. with a stick; kudos to you if you can.
Nintendo not letting you play with a d-pad in the Link’s Awakening remake would have completely soured my over all enjoyment of the game if it wasn’t for my new favorite controller for the Nintendo Switch. 8bitdo is a company best known for their third party controller offerings, and for good reason; they are fantastic! Despite being after market options for controllers, the quality 8bitdo puts into their products can nearly rival the quality of officially Nintendo licensed products. A while ago I purchased 8bitdo’s SN30 Pro+ controller, and despite it having a name that most people won’t bother to remember, it is now the only controller I can stand to play the Link’s Awakening remake for one simple reason; 8bitdo put out an update that let’s you swap the d-pad with the left stick!
I know I’m kind of making a big deal about this more than I should but I’m sorry, Link’s movement in this game really bothered me and not being able to use the d-pad nearly ruined this game for me altogether. I can safely say that 8bitdo single-handed saved this remake for me forever.
Moving onto another part of the game I thought needed a little more time in the oven to fully bake was the dungeon building mini game. On paper, this is a novel concept, but in execution it falls flatter than a pan cake. Naturally after the success of Super Mario Maker, people have been begging Nintendo to give the Maker treatment to some of their other well established IP’s, with Zelda leading the charge.
Now I don’t hate this mode mainly because to me it communicates that Nintendo understands that there’s a market for people who just want to create things, which is something they’ve known for a long time but never really capitalized on it.
Like I said, it’s a novel concept, but the problem is you don’t get any real customization options that would compel a player to spend hours creating the next great Zelda dungeon. Also, the lack of online support for sharing your dungeon creations is a rather odd exclusion. You can share levels made in Super Mario Maker online, and the same can be said about the stage builder in Super Smash Bros. so why not the dungeon building mini game in Link’s Awakening?
I say this mode is half baked because there’s clearly some good ideas that when into this gimmick, but a lot of this feature really feels like a late inclusion when so much about this game is polished and seemingly thought out, except for the d-pad stuff. All I will say is I hope this leads to a Zelda Maker sometime down the road.
One other aspect to the game that I thought was just passable but nothing remarkable were the dungeons. That’s not to say there weren’t some stand out moments, like in one dungeon you have to carry a ball around with you to smash pillars in order to bring the building down which changes the layout of the dungeon when you’re done. Beyond maybe a small handful of moments, the dungeons were your basic run of the mill Zelda dungeons. It’s difficult to find them all that interesting when most of them follow the typical water, desert, fire dungeon model. If anything getting into the dungeons with the companion characters I mentioned earlier was more memorable than the actual dungeons themselves.
On a more positive note, I did enjoy the opening and closing animations. They’re stunning to look at, they bring me back to when I was a kid watching Toonami on Cartoon Network, and they’re a far cry better from what we got on the Gameboy, naturally. The only complaint I have there is the fact that we don’t have a full blown Zelda show in this style. Come on Nintendo, when you have the resources to make an animated show like this, why on earth are we stuck with… this.
As for the presentation, I think the toy-like diorama style of the environments were well done. For instance Link’s hair and clothes shine like they’re made of plastic, and the blur effect gives the world this depth of feel that really drives home the miniature style. While it’s all incredibly charming, the problem is… I just didn’t care for it.
Now calm down, I made a point to say it was well done for a reason. While I don’t particularly care for the style choice, I acknowledge that it’s still visually appealing to look at and that a lot of effort was put into achieving this look. Personally though, I would have preferred if the team stuck to the same art style they went with for A Link Between Worlds, just giving it more of the HD treatment.
That being said, I do think the unrealistic aesthetic combined with the blur effect I mentioned helps to sell the player on the idea that the whole game takes place in a dream.
All-in-all, the problems I had with the art style choices are just my personal preferences and is in no way a mark against the game itself; they’re just nitpicks that aren’t deal breakers, I just wish they were different. It should go without saying that I hope they don’t stick with this art style going forward though.
Overall, I thought Link’s Awakening was a fun Zelda title that will give you a few hours of entertainment, and the on-the-go nature of the Switch is perfect for a game like this. And if you were a fan of the original version growing up then I’d say this is the definitive way of playing this game.
Sure Link’s Awakening has some performance issues, and I wish the lack of a d-pad support didn’t require me to look to third party options to fix what should have been a feature in the game to begin with. However there isn’t a single complaint that I can honestly come up with that I feel should be a reason to not give it a try. If you’re genuinely interested in picking it up, then I highly recommend it, especially if you’re a Zelda fan who has never played the original version of Link’s Awakening before like myself.
On the other hand, if you’re not a die hard fan of these games but still want to give it a try, honestly I think $60 is a little high considering how much content is actually included in the experience. For you I’d personally recommend finding a physical copy on sale if you can.
The only other thing I can say about Link’s Awakening is that I hope it leads to Nintendo porting A Link Between Worlds to the Switch; I would die happy if that happens.
Play it, but maybe at a discount if you can find it
As always, reviews are opinions that should never be taken as your own. Keep it right here on Galaxy of Geek, and don’t forget to check out Cade’s Arcade for more reviews and videos on all things nerdy. Take care, and I will see you next time!
Console & Version: Switch version
Time upon completion: Roughly 15 hours
Why you should buy it: If you’re a fan of the original, or have strong nostalgic ties.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: If it’s $60, wait for it to go on sale or buy it used.
Who is this game for: Zelda fans wanting to get a Zelda fix while they wait for Breath of the Wild 2.