The Legend of Zelda Link’s Awakening review: Nintendo at its very best
The original Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was something of an offshoot for the much-loved franchise when it came out in 1993. Created specifically for the Game Boy rather than the Super NES, it nevertheless garnered plenty of critical acclaim. Nintendo’s decision to remake it for the Switch proves to be very canny indeed.
Visually, it inevitably has an old-school vibe: Nintendo has more or less preserved the original game’s angled-down perspective, and it includes several side-scrolling sequences. But its graphics have been remade in 3D, without the merest hint of blockiness, and it is nicely textured and blessed with a vibrant colour-palette that the monochrome original sorely lacked. Somehow, it manages not to look dated.
Unimpeachable classic story
Story-wise, Link’s Awakening is unimpeachable. Link is sailing his boat when a storm hits, and he washes up on the shore of what turns out to be Koholint Island – it’s one of the few Zelda games not to be set in Hyrule. He wakes up in a village called Mabe, retrieves his sword (which is on the beach) and embarks on a classic Zelda adventure.
It involves tackling no fewer than eight dungeons, each of which contains a musical instrument that Link must collect before climbing Koholint’s volcano, on whose peak stands a giant egg containing the Wind Fish, who must be woken up so Link can head back to Hyrule. An owl directs you – sometimes a tad cryptically – from dungeon to dungeon, and before you can access each dungeon, you must perform a key-finding mini-quest.
More importantly than the musical instruments, however, the dungeons (and various side-missions) contain a full gamut of classic Zelda objects like the hookshot, Roc’s feather (which allows him to jump), the bow, magic powder, an ocarina (which performs multiple functions including letting you fast-travel to warp points around the map), flippers, Pegasus boots, power bracelets, a magic rod and lots more. Plus, at various times, Link avails himself of companions like a Bowser on a lead which eats fish and a rooster which lets him fly short distances.
Naturally, there are countless puzzles to figure out – in dungeons and elsewhere – which often involve interesting contraptions and are, without exception, as brilliant as you would expect from a Zelda game. There’s an incredible amount to do in Link’s Awakening – so much so that it feels like a fully realised console-grade Zelda release, rather than something that was once squeezed into a Game Boy cartridge.
Collecting hidden seashells, for example, rewards you with useful objects, and there are some top-notch mini-games including a ridiculously addictive fishing game (that yields a bottle in which you can keep a health-restoring fairy). And there’s a trading ladder in which you find objects that characters on Koholint Island seek, and they give you objects that others seek in exchange. After countless trades, you finally get the boomerang which turns out to be the most useful of all the weapons in this game.
One significant addition to the original’s blueprint is the chance to assemble your own dungeons from all the individual dungeon rooms you have encountered – a process which proves surprisingly moreish, rewards you with loads of loot and adds plenty of replay value.
Link’s Awakening even feels like it’s remixing itself: the final dungeon, for example, reintroduces a host of mini-bosses you encountered earlier. The main boss encounters are mostly epic, although once you know how to defeat them, they don’t necessarily get harder as you progress.
Still sounding super
The music, as ever, burrows into your eardrums and lodges in your brain, and all those classic Zelda aural clues that raise the hairs on the back of your neck (such as the motif when you near a key-containing chest in a dungeon) are present and correct.
Just about every element of Link’s Awakening impresses (its structure is incredible considering it was designed in 1993), but none more so than the clever way in which the world map opens up as you acquire Link’s objects. Often it pays to revisit old caves and sequences which you could see contained heart pieces and chests, but couldn’t work out how to get to them.
The original Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening may be over a quarter of a century old and designed to operate on a monochrome handheld with a tiny screen, but the Switch remake has been so judiciously crafted that it almost makes you question that history. And it even feels like a history lesson at times: you can certainly detect elements in it which influenced even recent major Zelda releases on various consoles.
If you’re desperate for a Zelda fix while you wait for Breath of the Wild 2, you’ll find that Link’s Awakening is way more than a mere gap-filler. It offers a thoroughly enchanting, often challenging and simply irresistible chunk of proper, classic Zelda action. You’d have to be some sort of monster not to want to experience that.