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

9

Amazing

The Legend of Zelda series has a storied history with a lot of games and for many, playing those older titles is just out of reach. Enter Link’s Awakening, a remake of the 1993 game for the Game Boy.

If you are here because of Breath of the Wild, you will find the same charm, but a lot less of the experimental ways to solve things and probably much easier combat. While Link’s Awakening does promote experimentation, it isn’t done in the same way as BOTW: here you are experimenting with every tool and trick you have to get through troubles and beyond challenges, instead of finding ways to circumvent or bypass them by say making fires and flying over obstacles before levitating a magnetic object that you are also standing on. Every room, every fight that has a challenge of some sort tends to be only solved with one specific tool and if you don’t have that item or don’t use it there, you might spend some time scratching your head about where to go or what to do next.

While saying that, some of the basic framework of Breath of the Wild’s learning rules to mess with them are here: platforms that block your path until you hit a switch can be jumped on before you trigger the switch with a tool of some sort, then you can walk on them while raised to reach an area that might have stayed out of limits otherwise. Some places require a jump around a corner and learning the limits of your moveset and tools is required to progress.

Remake me pretty, Link

Taking a 1993 game and keeping its spirit and tone while making something pleasant to look at is a pretty tall order, and the team has done a masterful job of staying faithful to the original vision where appropriate and making monsters, especially bosses, come to life. I had a kick seeing what used to be tiny sprites reimagined as big, rounded and dorkily cute 3D enemies. All of these bright, beautiful trees and enemies seem to come at a cost though, as Link’s Awakening suffers from a slight slowdown while you move around the world. It is in no way game-breaking or enough of a slowdown to cause you to miss a jump or fail in combat, but it happens so often that it is really noticeable and I have to ask why it is there and hasn’t been addressed.

Hello, this is Ulrira!

The game is aware that the path forward isn’t always obvious, and little telephone booths dot the island that let you call an old man in the starting village. He will give you a hint, sometimes cryptic, about what to do next if you get stuck, making sure you head in the general direction of the next temple or challenge. He won’t make it easy for you though: he will get you somewhere or tell you where to head, but if you are stumped by a particular dungeon, he isn’t going to help. Luckily the dungeons aren’t completely devoid of hints. Stone statues can be found inside and if you replace their missing beak, you will get a hint. Sometimes the hint comes far too late, but once or twice a cryptic clue gave me an idea of how to proceed. That didn’t stop me from sitting feeling really stupid in two of the temples until I realised I hadn’t done something new with an item I had in one and in another I completely missed the obviously cracked wall on one side of a room.

Part of me can’t believe how fun and clever a 1993 Game Boy title is so many years later.

A big part of the Legend of Zelda game experience is how clever the world and dungeon design is. You are effectively boxed into a small area that gets larger and larger the more tools you acquire, meaning you have very little chance of ending up in a place you are not meant to be. The dungeons follow the same formula and that process is used in games all over due to how effective it is: You go to a dungeon, fumble around and see places you can’t reach or obstacles in your way. At some point, you fight a mini-boss, which allows you to reach a new item/power/tool, which opens up many options in areas you previously explored. This allows you to explore further in the dungeon, find the key that unlocks the way to the boss and move on. This pattern continues throughout the entire game and creates some of the most cohesive dungeon designs ever… which is probably why this next bit is something of a letdown.

Build your own dungeon

Link’s Awakening features a new system called the Chamber Dungeon that wasn’t in the original version way back in 1993. Chamber Dungeons are little creations you can build yourself, using a collection of tiles that you unlock as you progress through the story. To beat the dungeon you need to collect every chest, as the very last chest will have the Nightmare Key inside. It is a cute idea, but it doesn’t offer the depth that I think any budding dungeon or level designer would want, as games like Mario Maker have shown, this is serious business. While you can build a perfectly serviceable dungeon using the various tiles, and the way the game has categorised the various pieces, the true magic of the ready-made designs just didn’t seem to be there. Maybe once you have done everything to get all the pieces there will be a way to make an elaborate dungeon that requires some back and forth as you collect pieces, but seeing as you can’t limit tools or have one drop after a mid-boss, I am not sure how they would achieve this. Maybe I am asking too much of an extra feature but it is hard to go from clever dungeons to absolutely inane ones.

Sometimes when playing an older game, it is a bleak realisation that the gaming world has moved on so much that the game is nearly unplayable thanks to the advances and quality of life adjustments. All this time later, Link’s Awakening is still a strong, fun game, where the only criticism is that you keep having to bounce which two items are bound to X and Y, and that the music needs some variety when out exploring. It is bright, beautiful, fun and the puzzles are challenging without being unfair or completely obtuse. Part of me can’t believe how fun and clever a 1993 Game Boy title is so many years later.

Good

  • Touching story
  • Hearing the Game Boy songs in all their glory
  • Elegant puzzle design

Bad

  • Graphic slowdown while exploring
  • Overworld music could use some more variation
  • Spotting cracked walls

Summary

Link's Awakening is proof that some games can stand the test of time thanks to clever designs and mechanics. It might not keep you busy for as long as Breath of the Wild, but this short Link will crawl in your heart and have you singing along as you brave fun dungeon puzzles.
9

Amazing

If it has the letters RPG in it, I am there. Still battling with balancing trying to play every single game that grabs my interest, getting 100% in a JRPG, and devoting time to my second home in Azeroth.

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