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Hands-On With The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

I was eight years old when I played The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the first time. Having been too young, the original release in 1993 came and went in my life and I had zero awareness of what I had missed. When the game re-released in 1998 on Gameboy Color, days before Christmas, my life would be forever changed. I remember popping the cartridge in and instantly falling in love with the world, characters, and assortment of enemies. I have vivid memories of etching puzzle solutions into a notepad and scouring GameFAQs for tips. The Legend of Zelda quickly became one of my most cherished franchises because of this game.

Nintendo’s remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening brought me right back to the winter of 1998. During Fan Expo Canada, Nintendo offered the opportunity to get some hands-on time with the upcoming remake.

The demo opened up with the storm intro sequence. As Link is sailing in hopes of discovering new locations, he finds himself deep within a terrible storm and washes up on the shore of Koholint Island. It is here that he awakens in a bed inside a house belonging to Marin and Tarin. Although the demo had only been running for mere seconds, a wave of emotions hit as the soundtrack began playing. Taking my first steps outside and around Mabe Village, the attention to detail was astounding. Everything was exactly as I remembered it. The positioning of houses, enemy locations, even where destructible bushes were located. As I travelled towards my lost sword, which was planted in the sands of Toronbo Shores, the musical queue of picking up an item was equally exciting and nostalgic.

Despite what Nintendo has shown during trailers, the message never truly hit home until I had the controller in my hand––Nintendo cares. This game has an incredible legacy for many players. Sure, a younger audience may not have the same level of affinity as myself or others who grew up playing the game, but I’d be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts they’ve heard the acclaim behind it. It became clear that Nintendo had no desire of changing too much, but improve the game both mechanically and visually.

The amount of charm and quirkiness that the remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening holds is enough to keep a smile on your face. Everything is bright and rich. The colour pallet of each location ensures that every inch of the map feels distinct. The art style, top to bottom, is adorable and unique. It’s part chibi and part elementary school diorama. Whereas The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild went big and bold, Link’s Awakening is scaled back and put a lot of its eggs in the basket of having a unique design. The sound engineering has been improved as well but leaves those earworm tunes untouched. The moment the Overworld theme begins playing, it stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

For the sake of time, Nintendo had staff on the show floor, directing players towards the next objective. One of which was finding the Witch and using her Magic Powder on the Racoon in the Mysterious Forest. As appreciative as I was for the helping hand, muscle-memory kicked in, drowning out any direction given. I found myself retracing the steps of my eight-year-old self. Playing the original, I had the combat against those early enemies down to a science and it all came back to me.

Having been over 20 years since the original released, it was only natural that the control scheme evolved along with the visuals. Now, you’re able to equip more items, meaning there will be less time navigating menus and inventory management. The aforementioned Magic Powder could be placed on either X or Y, while the swing of your sword was placed on B while your shield is easily accessible on the right shoulder button. This is by no means a revelation, but it’s this certain quality of life change that helps rejuvenate an older title for modern standards of gameplay. It also opens the door for new strategies.

 

The demo lasted long enough to get a small taste of the Tail Cave––the game’s first dungeon. While I was able to track down the Compass and check out the first few puzzles, I was unable to get really delve into the heart of the cave. That means I was unfortunately unable to get a taste of any sort of boss battle. Link’s Awakening holds some of the most memorable bosses in the franchise, especially towards the final stretch. The remake also brings in cameos from the Mario series ie: Chain Chomp and Wart. The other big addition is the introduction of Chamber Dungeons. This new pseudo-Zelda Maker feature looks to be a step in the right direction of scratching the itch of building your own Zelda level. These qualities are what I really look forward to exploring when the game releases in a few short weeks

Overall, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is shaping up to be one of the highlight games this summer. For many, the original holds so many cherished memories. My biggest hope for this game is that someone out there ends up looking at the remake the same way I look at the original.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening will be available on September 20th for Nintendo Switch.

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Steve is based in Toronto, Ontario. His enthusiasm and adoration of the video game industry go back to the days of SNES. Find him on Twitter and join in on the escapades.

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