Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch) Review

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, for the Nintendo Switch, is an incredibly faithful remake of a decades-old game, with all the charm of the original, plus gorgeous art and sound, and a variety of quality of life improvements.

I confess I came to this game highly biased. Link’s Awakening, the old black and white Game Boy version, was my first Zelda game. Going into the remake a full 20 years after playing the original, I had a lot of nostalgia and was curious whether the game would still be good even after so much time. After all, there are other games I enjoyed as a kid that I know I wouldn’t enjoy now. Fortunately, Link’s Awakening stands the test of time.

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In Link’s Awakening, the eponymous hero finds himself shipwrecked on the mysterious Koholint Island. This being a Zelda game, Link soon learns that he’ll need to collect the eight Instruments of the Sirens in order to leave. There isn’t too much more to the story than that. However, Link’s droll interactions with the island’s inhabitants lend warmth to what could otherwise have been a boring, solitary fetch-quest (cf. the original NES Legend of Zelda).

The aforementioned instruments are found in eight dungeons scattered across the island (The game also includes the optional Color Dungeon from the GameBoy Color remake of Link’s Awakening). In traditional Zelda fashion, Link must explore the world, overcome the dungeons, and collect new items that facilitate further exploration. The dungeons are, for the most part, just mazes. Explore until you find the dungeon’s item, visit places you couldn’t reach without said item, and beat the boss. It’s fun, but don’t expect the pinnacle of Zelda dungeon design here; some of the later entries in the series have rather more clever puzzles.

Koholint Island is a joy to explore. Amid bright sunlight and glimmering water, the remake adopts a toy-like, plastic-y visual style that solidly compliments the whimsical tone of the game. And this is definitely one of the more whimsical entries in the Legend of Zelda series. There are rotary telephones scattered across the island. There’s an alligator who trades bananas for dog food. There are brief sidescrolling segments with goombas and piranha plants. While not without some somber beats, this is generally quite a lighthearted game, in keeping with its aesthetic.

Along with the pretty visuals, I must commend the sound. Just noticing how the SFX change depending on what surface Link is walking on is fun. The music retains the lovely melodies of the original soundtrack, but now they are played with real instruments instead of 8-bit chiptunes. The theme for the Tal Tal Mountains region is among the most epic of any Zelda game I’ve played. The “Ballad of the Wind Fish,” a critical tune Link learns to play, also sounds especially lovely.

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For the most part, aside from the updated graphics and sound, this remake sticks quite closely to the original. Items, bosses, dungeons, dialogue—it’s all there just as I remembered it.  However, the game isn’t so bogged down in nostalgia that it couldn’t find subtle ways to improve. There are more warp points than the original had. Since the Switch has more buttons than the Game Boy, Link can keep his sword and shield equipped at all times, instead of having to switch them out every time he wants to use an item. The Pegasus Boots and Power Bracelet are also always equipped once you obtain them, again reducing the need to constantly swap out items. These and other changes are all fairly small adjustments, but they add up to making one’s experience more pleasant.

Link’s Awakening is a relatively easy game, but I will note that a few times I found myself driven to online guides. One enemy can only be hit from behind, but there’s no visual clue the help the player realize that fact. A few of the bosses or mini-bosses also have odd, unintuitive weaknesses that I might never have discovered on my own. Still, compared to something like the next most recent Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, this isn’t an especially difficult entry, and in some ways it’s perhaps even easier than the original. The talking owl who dispenses advice to Link shows up more often than in the original, directing the player where to head next.

I had a blast playing through Link’s Awakening. The remake keeps everything that made the original good, and adds lovely visuals and music plus various small changes that make the game smoother. If you own a Switch, I heartily recommend that you take this adventure.

Rating: 4.5/5



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