Every longtime Nintendo fan remembers their first experience with Game Boy. For me, it was The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. The game was originally released back in 1993 — more than two decades ago. It also happened to be the first handheld installment of The Legend of Zelda, serving as a non-traditional sequel to a timeless classic, A Link to the Past. Fast forward to 2019, a full-blown remake is now in our midst.
Akin to all Zelda titles, you don’t need to play previous entries in order to enjoy Link’s Awakening, but series fans are bound to appreciate it more. The game is arguably the most different out of the bunch. There’s no Hyrule, Princess Zelda is MIA and the Triforce is nowhere to be found. Instead, the main setting is called Koholint Island. In an attempt to escape this mysterious place, it’s your task to find a total of eight different musical instruments to awaken the Wind Fish, which is said to have the answers you seek. That’s basically the gist of it; in typical Zelda fashion, the core focus is on gameplay by way of combat and puzzle solving.
Despite being a reimagining, Link’s Awakening is the first Zelda title that was built from the ground up for Nintendo Switch. In many ways, the art style and top-down view resembles A Link Between Worlds, but Link’s Awakening is leaps ahead in terms of visual prowess. It’s not a conventional 3D game like Majora’s Mask or Breath of the Wild, but everything looks so crisp, especially on a larger HD screen. Right when you start your adventure, you realize the amount of detail placed throughout the world. Homes look liveable; towns are bustling with locals; and varied environments look fluid.
Link’s Awakening is by no means the biggest Zelda game, but it doesn’t fall short of things to offer. There are several towns to visit, numerous collectibles to find, multiple secrets to unfold, fun minigames to tackle and various paths to take in order to cover all the bases. And, as the cherry on top, slicing through tall grass is more addictive than ever. You’ll fly through early dungeons and puzzles, but things get increasingly more difficult as you make progress. For those looking for a guaranteed challenge, you can select hard mode right off the bat. But don’t say we didn’t warn you; Game Over screens are imminent if you choose to go this route.
Link’s Awakening also serves as a fitting tribute to classic Nintendo via nods to iconic franchises like Super Mario and Kirby. You’ll come across recognizable faces along the way, friends and foes alike. NES and SNES fans will feel right at home, but if you didn’t grow up with either of those platforms (your poor childhood), you won’t feel out of place as all elements are designed to feel natural to the player.
There’s a brand-new feature called the Chamber Dungeon, which is helmed by the gravekeeper Dampé. You’ll eventually cross paths with him, and he’ll teach you how to compile your own dungeons. You’ll acquire dungeon rooms — also known as Chambers — as you clear actual dungeons throughout the main story. These Chambers can be arranged into custom layouts in the Chamber Dungeon, where you’ll be able to test them out for yourself.
However, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before — the Chambers are exact replicas of the rooms you already trekked through with the same enemies, chests and hazards. They tend to easily feel repetitive. You don’t essentially have to go through them, but completionists may feel pressured to in order to unlock everything. While the Chamber Dungeon gives you some editing and creative power, it pales in comparison to something more fleshed out like Super Mario Maker. Needless to say, don’t go into it expecting a “Zelda Maker” of some sort.
Link’s Awakening has always been a super-solid entry in the Zelda series, and it easily lives up to today’s standards. It’s also a love letter to some of Nintendo’s greatest in its purest form. To top it all off, it has an alluring soundtrack with familiar tunes — including Marin’s soothing voice — that instantly warm your heart.
A review copy of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on Nintendo Switch was provided by Nintendo UK.