The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Review
The Legend of Zelda series is built on small changes made over multiple iterations. The road from The Legend of Zelda to Breath of the Wild is a winding one, a gradual ascent made of tiny steps. The space between these two games is just as important as the eventual destination. Perhaps that’s why it feels so weird to revisit a midpoint on this same journey. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is stuffed with all the essential building blocks of a Zelda title, while bereft of a few of the franchise’s more recent lessons in game philosophy and design. Sorry. This makes it sound like Link’s Awakening is somehow lacking, or deficient. Truly, wandering around Koholint solving puzzles is a breathtaking trip back through time. As someone who cut their teeth on the previous game in the series, Link’s Awakening has always felt familiar yet elusive. It’s almost everything I remember about classic Zelda games, with a few critical twists thrown in.
This game has repeatedly caught me off guard in several small but significant ways. If you’ve memorized the location of every secret seashell, Link’s awakening will render some of your knowledge obsolete. The same goes for the heart pieces and other collectibles. Think of this remake as a Special Edition, one replete with little extras and bonus footage. Most of the old secrets are intact. But not all of them! The game blends familiar joys with new spots of wonder just often enough to keep me curious.
Much Like You Remember
One thing that’s remained quite pristine is that special sense of frustration from my youth. Some of these dungeons used to drive me nuts, and they still do. Zelda games are blessed and cursed with this maddening gift, where the solutions seem attainable no matter their distance. It’s a testament to the game’s endearing design, that it can still fascinate and frustrate me in equal measure. Regardless of how piqued I became, that relentless drive to continue maintained its hold over me.
Every remake has a similar focal point, mainly the graphics. In this case, the developers at Nintendo have pushed this tiny machine to its limit. The outdoor sections, in particular, are crammed with tilt-shifting tricks and gorgeous lighting effects. Dungeons and caves still look lovely, but the overworld is on another level. Watching the details resolve in real-time as Link makes his way through a grassy field is a fabulous feat that never gets old. On that note: you’ll read a lot of think pieces and hot takes that bore down on this game’s performance. I need you to understand that I both A) noticed this issue immediately, and B) forgot about it three minutes later. Yes, the framerate drops slightly in the overworld at times, but I can’t stress enough how minor this is. As soon as I changed screens, got focused on my immediate goal, or moved inside, it was utterly out of my head. In fact, I only remembered it once again when it came time to write this review.
Beyond the graphical glow up, Link’s Awakening is also rocking a new control scheme. Gone are the old two-button limits. Now you no longer have to choose between sword, shield, and shovel. You can have it all! On a practical level, this meant I could worry less about what I had equipped, and spend more time exploring the world around me. The Game Boy version was marked by constant interaction with the menu, sometimes multiple times per screen, just to navigate the obstacles in place. With this new control scheme, none of that is an issue anymore. Unless you’re a straight-up purist, this one change will be a major boon.
This innocuous shift isn’t the only quality-of-life bump for anyone well-versed in the original game. We’ve also been gifted with more warp points, plus the trading sequence has a slightly better end. Last but not least, your rupee wallet feels much bigger. It’s a simple switch, but series devotees know well the pain of a maxed-out purse. Thankfully, the boomerang is still an absolute terror in Link’s tiny hands.
Pretty As A Painting
One change I was less impressed by was the addition of Chamber Dungeons. Essentially, you’re slicing a dungeon in screen-sized chunks, and re-arranging them to your liking. This ensures that nothing you build will ever exceed or even meet the quality of the original product. Maybe I’m being too hasty, and several more hours of dungeon shuffling will produce a magical experience. Thus far, however, it feels like a half-hearted stab at replicating that Mario Maker magic. Hell, it doesn’t even satisfy as a map editor. Your only impetus to complete this optional section is to see what rewards you’ll earn for finishing every challenge. Beyond that, the Chamber Dungeons feel like kind of a chore.
I wish the story was a tiny bit more fleshed out, even if it was done with optional flavor text. Link’s Awakening is one of the few departures from the usual canon among the entire franchise. While I appreciate not having to slog through endless dialogue, I’m left curious about Koholint and its denizens. The village members, the shopkeepers, and the various secret citizens all hint at a fascinating setting Nintendo’s never really re-visited to date.
Putting aside the gorgeous graphics, the obtuse level design, and the various modern touches, Link’s Awakening is still an exceptional Zelda game. I found myself sneaking in extra sessions instead of sleeping or working. I was frantically seeking out guides online, only to discover they were all obsolete. I put off challenging the final boss for hours, all to scoop up more shells, heart pieces, and collectibles. Whatever flaws I spotted, I had no desire to leave Koholint behind. I still don’t. However long it takes, I’ll keep plugging away until I’ve crafted a fully complete save file. If you’re on the fence about this game, either as a remake or a new experience, don’t be. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a great game, and a clear high point in the franchise’s history.
***A Nintendo Switch code was provided by the publisher***
- Beautiful graphics
- More modern control setup
- Small but significant content changes
- Occasional framerate dips
- Level design still summons the rage
- Small changes could be bigger