The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was one of the most exciting games from my childhood and every moment spent on Koholint Island was full of wonder. Of course, nearly three decades later and Nintendo revealed a remake of Link’s Awakening and I couldn’t be more excited to return and wake up the Wind Fish once more.
Originally releasing in 1993 on the Gameboy, Link’s Awakening saw a rerelease in 1998 as Link’s Awakening DX on the Gameboy Color with a new dungeon included. I would have been happy having left it at that, but Nintendo clearly had other plans, and for that, I’m thankful. Being the first handheld game in the series, the fact a full-fledge Zelda title was even capable back then is amazing and set the bar for several titles that followed.
Mabe, I’ll See You Later
In 1993, I was six years old and was lucky enough to have parents who bought this game for me and a neighbour who got introduced me to the series on NES. I’m amazed I completed the game with minimal assistance, but that feat helped cement Link’s Awakening as a wholly personal experience that I have fond memories of to this day. From the opening moments where Link is stuck in a nasty storm at sea, lighting crashing around him and water levels rising, the goosebumps and memories flooded back like it was the 1990s all over. Hearing the familiar music roll out of my speakers as Link wakes up to Marin over him, in the small village of Mabe.
While this is a 1:1 remake, Grezzo included some quality of life changes that I am extremely happy about. The first being item management being reworked from the original since the Gameboy only had two buttons back in 1993. Previously, only two items were able to be equipped at any time, due to the limitations of the handheld. In 2019, that isn’t the case, with X and Y still having one item in each slot but L being mapped to your Pegasus Boots and R mapped to your shield, and lastly, B mapped to your sword and A mapping the Power Bracelet. This is a godsend when you’re dealing with a wave of enemies and need access to your items, whereas previously you’d need to navigate menus in order to quickly swap your required gear.
Dungeons offer their own challenge. As you explore the eight dungeons spread throughout Koholint Island, you’ll uncover eight Instruments of the Siren; when played together, the combined power is strong enough to wake the Wind Fish. Link’s got his work cut out for him in each dungeon as there is a wealth of challenges and secrets waiting for him. As with traditional Zelda experiences, the gameplay loop of finding a new dungeon, gaining a key item and then backtracking throughout the island in search of hidden secrets is hard to resist. Thankfully, there’s a ton of that to be found here with the added quality of life improvement of adding pins to the map to track places of interest.
A few other differences that I’ve noticed include doubling the number of Secret Seashells hidden around the island, going from 30 to around 50 total. Various chests now include larger sums of rupees and the minigames have been beefed up and improved. Fishing has been expanded and offers more incentive to catch fish, you’ll find a heart piece, an empty bottle and more, Same goes with Trendy Game, a crane game you might remember for having a Yoshi doll among the prizes, and Rapid Ride is as fun as I remember it years ago.
Into the Unknown
Navigation is also easier this time with no screen transitions occurring like on the Gameboy. This was due in part to the limitations of the handheld at the time but Grezzo removed them for the remake which makes the world feel more connected and easier to navigate. But this is where my one gripe with the remake lies and what you’ll notice most people are not happy about – framerate issues.
When moving from one area to the next a noticeable drop in frames occurs for a few seconds. This is where the game loads the new area from and drops from 60 frames per second to 30, and while it is noticeable it never affected the gameplay in any critical way. While this may bother some gamers, it wasn’t enough to deter me from enjoying the game in any way. Hopefully in the future, a patch is released to address the unfortunate situation but for the time being, it is present and unavoidable. With no indication of a patch coming to alleviate the issue, if you are sensitive to the drops, you might want to hold off.
One of the biggest additions to The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening are the Chamber Dungeons. An entirely optional component of the game, once you meet Dampé the Gravedigger, he’ll begin unlocking any completed dungeons for you to use when creating your own dungeons. This is nothing like Super Mario Maker 2, which I was hoping for, but offers something if you’re the type who enjoys building things. To start, each dungeon requires an entrance and boss room, leaving how to get from A to B open to your imagination. By mixing and matching preassembled rooms you’ve already unlocked, there are challenges assigned to you with their own requirements from Dampé.
Each theme has its own grid and for each dungeon, you need to match the rules of that dungeon. Every open doorway, for example, connects to another room, stairs must be used in pairs when assembling and any locked doors need to be equal to the number of treasure chests within your creation. Oh, and treasure chest contents are randomized, and the final chest must be the Nightmare Key. Other requirements you’ll find include completing a dungeon with only three hearts. You can’t share your creations online but can save them to Amiibo figures. I didn’t dive into this mode as much as I’d have liked but not because I didn’t try, it’s just not fun at all.
As for the visuals, the remake beautifully recreates the entirety of Koholint Island. While the original was pixelated and seemingly simple in nature, the shift to a much more colourful, diorama-like style is welcome. I can’t praise the visuals enough, which fit the story more than I’d ever imagined, with so much attention to detail found in the remake, and it shows when you’re moving around the island in search of the next Instrument of the Sirens in word to wake the Wind Fish from its slumber. Then we get to the new full orchestrated score that fills your speakers with a sense of adventure, asking you to trust yourself to where the music wants to take you.
Bushes and tall grass sway in the wind, enemies react to Link when they catch sight of him, and the dungeons and Nightmares are all wonderfully recreated and updated to modern times. If Nintendo decided that going forward a remake of A Link to the Past, would resemble Link’s Awakening, I’d be more than okay with it.
The first thing you notice is how much detail the world features. If you asked me whether the original was beautiful, I’d say only after a few drinks, but with the remake on Nintendo Switch, it is quite the opposite. The world flourishes with detail, and each house is full of minute details of the inhabitants with pictures, pottery, and food adding a personal touch to the island. An interesting thing about Link’s Awakening is how the original developers at the time decided to include iconic Nintendo characters as enemies throughout Koholint Island. You’ll see Chain Chomp in Mabe Village, a weird version of Kirby in dungeons, and Thwomps and Goombas, too.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a smaller adventure that isn’t connected to the overall mythos and offers a bite-sized adventure worth exploring. After Breath of the Wild changing the formula and expanding how 3D Zelda games play, it’s nice to return to classic 2D Zelda. Playing Link’s Awakening after 27 years is breath of fresh air, and evokes a ton of nostalgia and smiles, bringing with it a wave of emotion from when I was a child. There is nothing new to be seen here if you’ve played the original but it’s easily a must-play just like Majora’s Mask is. With all the established lore out tossed out of the window, the developers created a weird and mysterious island full of secrets waiting to be discovered.