“The Legend of Zelda” is my favorite video game franchise. Each game has a unique setting, gameplay mechanic, story, music and so much more. When it was first released, “Link’s Awakening” was the fourth game in the “Zelda” series and was also the first to appear on a handheld. Given the limitations it was working with on the original Gameboy, it is amazing what the developers were able to pull off and not just that, but also creating a narrative that was atypical to what the franchise had been following mostly by that point (saving Zelda and defeating Ganon). “Link’s Awakening” was a special game, and this remake does the original complete justice through its design while showing just how good that core game has remained to this day. It is simply splendid.
Right from the startup of the game, we are treated to a faithful reimagining of the game’s original opening which finds Link on his small dinghy in the ocean, caught in a terrible storm. He washes ashore and is found by one of the island’s inhabitants, Marin. In order to leave the island, Link sets off on a journey to wake the Wind Fish, a mystical creature asleep in a giant egg atop the main mountain of Koholint Island. What really sets the tone of the game is its bizarre (not unlike every “Zelda” game) yet contained cast of characters. On your journey, you will come across odd people like a vengeful shopkeeper, an alligator artist and a penpal named Mr. Write (who bears a striking resemblance to Dr. Wright, an advisor from the “Sim City” games).
Part of the charm of the game is the journey to meet these characters and how they are incorporated into your main quest. The key relationship though is with Marin, the girl who rescues Link and periodically checks in throughout his journey. There are touching moments with her throughout, and I highly recommend checking out various spots of the island for when Marin accompanies you on your journey for a brief stint (such as the claw game shop).
The developers of the original game cited “Twin Peaks” -- a popular show around the time of its development -- as inspiration for this bizzaro “Zelda” title. Its influence is evident throughout, as you come across just plain weird occurrences on the island, especially from the existence of the trippy Windfish itself. The dialogue of the remake is pretty much untouched from the original, and if there were any changes, they went completely over my head. There was really no reason to, but I am happy Nintendo kept true to the roots of the strange narrative.
Coming out of “Breath of the Wild,” I was curious as to how I would see future releases of the series and how they would compare to the shift “BOTW” took. Would the staple top-down perspective of games like “Link’s Awakening” even be as fun or hold up quite as well? I can confidently say that yes, the gameplay is just as good as ever. The changes this remake makes to the actual gameplay only helps to improve the flow of the game and make things much more streamlined for this modern era. One example of this is Link being able to turn in all eight directions rather than the four basic ones from the original. This makes combat in particular even better (if only at the cost of being a bit easier).
The two biggest components of a “Zelda” game are its combat and its puzzles. All the enemies are just as you remember them as are the puzzles found within the game. Another thing that helps modernize the game is the auto-equipping of certain items (like the power bracelet or shield) which makes it much more convenient rather than having to constantly go back into the menu to equip a certain tool. Overall, all of the changes to the mechanics of the game are welcomed improvements and only serve to make the game that much better. Like the world map, the dungeons are pretty much just as you left them in the original, puzzles and all intact. The boss battles will also play out the same way, which means they are all still very unique and well-designed for the most part.
As for the difficulty of the game from a combat perspective, I don’t think it is all that difficult. I think the difficulty lies in finding the solution to beating certain enemies and bosses. With the updated visuals, I think figuring out the solution for these is a bit easier, which applies to the rest of the puzzles for the game itself. There are also some hint owls thrown in if you do get stuck at certain points, which can help get over some of the more abstract answers to certain puzzles. Even so, there were still two or three times where I had to look up a guide in order to figure one out. I do think that my knowledge of having played the game before certainly helps, so maybe for newcomers it will be just as obtuse as when I first played the original. I also noticed just how well-placed the dungeons are this time around in terms of their order. They ramp up the difficulty in a way that makes sense. It is worth noting that for those looking for an extra challenge, hero mode is unlocked from the start as the harder difficulty.
One aspect that is completely new to the game is Dampé’s dungeon chambers. At a certain spot on the map, which does replace something from the original DX game (more on that later), the odd gravekeeper Dampé has set up shop as a place to make your own dungeons. While not an entirely robust system, the mode pulls rooms from dungeons you have cleared to arrange them together to make your own. It is actually quite fun and has solid rewards to go through, but playing the same rooms over and over again can get a bit dull. I definitely see this as Nintendo testing the waters for interest in a “Zelda” maker, much like the already popular “Mario Maker.” This mode overall though is a welcome addition to prolong the gameplay experience.
Speaking of prolonging the gameplay, some may raise their eyebrows at Nintendo charging $60 for a remake of a Gameboy game. The original took around 15 hours to beat, and that stays the same for the most part. If you’re someone who equates money spent to how much time you get out of a game then “Link’s Awakening” may not be for you at full price. If you’re going for 100% by doing all the game has to offer like maxing out your hearts, finding all the secret seashells, collecting all the new statues from the claw game and doing all of Dampé’s challenges, then you’re probably looking at a solid 20 hours or more. The game’s new visuals, soundtrack, enhanced gameplay and everything else was enough to make this “Zelda” fan extremely pleased. If you equate the money spent with how satisfied you’ll be after completing the game, then I can confidently say this is the one for you.
Music is another component of “Zelda” that makes the series so great. The music now transitions from 8-bit to a full orchestra, all while keeping the songs just as you remembered them from the original. The songs found within “Link’s Awakening” are some of the series’ best, and the reimagined theme for the Face Shrine dungeon is superbly haunting. Another standout is one heard throughout the overworld, with the string instruments heard within matching the tone of the game oh so well. Of course, Marin’s own “Ballad of the Wind Fish” is fantastic, and hearing it with actual vocals is a treat. Without spoiling anything, the game’s end credits music is very, very good and pays homage to the original in a great way.
The new toy-like art style for the game is absolutely gorgeous, and as the trend goes, still remains incredibly faithful to the original’s sprite work. Seeing these characters and locales fully realized fits pretty closely with how I saw the original’s in my head. This game is weird, which is why you will find references to Nintendo’s multiple other franchises throughout, especially “Mario.” You will come across goombas, piranha plants and many other references that I won’t spoil here, all contributing to that mysterious vibe of Koholint Island. I can’t express how much I just love this game’s art style.
I’ve gushed about this game for a bit and now it’s time to air my grievances with the remake. First, we’ll go back to Dampé’s new dungeon mode, which completely replaces the camera shop from the DX version of the game. For the unaware, the DX version was a rerelease on the Gameboy that added full color to the game and some additions like the color dungeon and the camera shop. From this shop, a photographer mouse would periodically capture moments, usually humorous or cute, throughout Link’s journey. The pictures themselves were more detailed shots of what Link and the characters he was with looked like, which I suppose the game does now with the remake entirely. There are certain replacements for these shots added in, but I am still sad to see the shop go.
One other thing to look at is the game’s framerate. The game usually runs at a constant 60 frames-per-second (FPS), but in more graphically intense areas where it can’t be sustained, this drops to 30. This is kind of a bummer, and while it doesn’t affect gameplay that much, it is enough to be an annoyance. I am optimistic that Nintendo can perhaps improve this with further patches; this is just me being very nitpicky to find the few flaws this remake has. One other minor gripe of mine is the lack of a master quest unlock upon beating the game, a mode which changed the dungeons when it appeared in previous entries, providing further replayability. It would have been a nice inclusion, but again, it doesn’t break the experience for me at all and is probably me just being an ungrateful fanboy.
“Link’s Awakening” is a special game. While this remake features updated visuals, music, gameplay and some additions, the core of the original 1993 game is still there, fully intact. It speaks to just how good it has stood over the years and that it still leaves the emotional resonance it left on me then, if not more so now. Playing through this again, I also realized just how much it inspired the remainder of the series. From the moment I started the game to when I rolled credits on it and got the “the end” screen, I must have had a smile on my face for 90 percent of it. The game is just downright charming and gives off some of the funniest and most emotionally deep moments of the entire series. If “Breath of the Wild” was your entry ticket into the series, then I think “Link’s Awakening” is a great one to get started in the top-down style “Zelda” games. If you’re a returning player, then prepare for a trip that is both nostalgic and entirely new all at once.