October 2, 2019
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake for Nintendo Switch has received near universal praise since its release, currently sitting at a score of 88 on Metacritic. However, the game does suffer from some mysterious performance issues. The framerate drops in random places, which is surprising considering Nintendo’s normally high performance standards in first-party games. Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry group decided to investigate the performance issues, and the results were…interesting!
Digital Foundry found that Link’s Awakening toggles between frame-times of 16.7ms per frame and 33.3ms per frame when traveling around the overworld. This measures the amount of time it takes for a single frame to load. Digital Foundry used an overclocked Switch to throw more speed and more power at the game. This revealed that increasing the Switch’s GPU clocks did cause limited improvement, but increasing the CPU did not improve performance at all.
Digital Foundry did find one solution to Link’s Awakening’s performance issues: run the game in mobile mode (with lower resolution), but at docked CPU and GPU clocks (note: this requires some tinkering with the Switch which will void your warranty). This method seems to resolve nearly all performance issues with the game, indicating that the GPU is the limiting factor. Digital Foundry notes that this is even more confusing because the framerate issues almost always resolve themselves quickly even when the graphics output doesn’t change.
Digital Foundry concludes that the actual root cause of Link’s Awakening performance issues is still a bit of a mystery. There are all kinds of theories floating around on the internet as to the cause, but nothing conclusive. Regardless, the performance issues clearly haven’t hampered the critical and commercial success of the game, and I know I personally am still enjoying it immensely even with the minor framerate annoyances.