October 8, 2019
Roughly twenty years ago, I was introduced to the world of Zelda by a little game called Link’s Awakening. My very first article here for TGPZ detailed how the series shaped me as a gamer as well as a person, and how without it I would be drastically different. Now being remade on Nintendo Switch, the game is not only bringing up my old memories and taking me back to my childhood, but I am able to watch my kids grow as gamers playing the same title as their first Zelda game. Taking both of these factors into account, I would like to analyze whether the remake justifies itself, and how it improves upon (or detracts from) the original.
This will be a little different formula than my usual Lens of Truth reviews, since I have already reviewed the game, and the remake is nearly identical besides a few quality-of-life fixes and a dungeon maker. Rather than rating the game on various categories, I believe the best way to showcase the differences is to spotlight the largest changes and explain how it affects the game in a positive or negative way, and then rate how much is different, and whether or not it is worth your time to pick up. Of course these are just my opinions, but I feel qualified as a nerd to make valid ones. Come along and see if you agree!
Graphics & Sound
In the reveal trailer for this remake, I was enthralled by the anime-style cutscene at the beginning, but shocked by the sudden shift to the ingame art style. After rewatching a few times, it grew on me, and though it was initially a turn-off, it dawned on me that this style is surprisingly similar to how the original appeared in character proportions specifically. It isn’t something I think most gamers would think of, but when making a one-to-one remake, the height and proportions of every character must be taken into account to retain the feel of the source material.
As has been said by a multitude of reviewers and fans by this point, the game appears almost as though the characters are toys moving through a diorama. While originally I thought this too cutesy for the game, I quickly grew accustomed to the animations and how fluid the game feels, and it is oddly fitting for the setting. Every new enemy and boss I discover reinforces how clever a choice this direction was, and makes me love the art style ever more.
The soundtrack of the original was good enough that I gave it a perfect ten score in my initial review, and that was using naught but eight-bit hardware. The orchestrations for this title are beautifully arranged, and bring to life memories of the original. Every chord is infused with a kind of nostalgia I cannot even describe. Many tunes also have a quality about them that sounds highly akin to a music box, which combined with the toylike animation style, invokes a feeling of playing with toys, a feeling which I have not experienced in a video game before, even when playing video board games like Pokemon Duel or Words With Friends. It’s a little touch that goes a long way.
The only negative points in this category are Link’s voice, which is slightly annoying, and framerate issues, which personally I haven’t noticed, but I’m not going to deny them with how widespread a problem it seems to be. Link’s voice comes up very little, and the voice work is fine even if I cringe every time I fall in a hole. The framerate issues are something that doesn’t bug me since I can’t tell the difference between thirty and sixty frames per second anyway. Perhaps if the two were side by side for comparison, I could tell, but while immersed in a game, as long as it’s above thirty, everything looks fluid to me. I’m just not sensitive to it. Still, it should be noted that the issues exist, as I know many gamers care a great deal about this.
In the original game, we all remember swapping items in the menu a hundred times per dungeon. Well no more! Having two buttons to equip items to is not so bad when your sword, shield, pegasus boots, and power bracelet are permanently mapped to various other buttons on the controller. I found myself leaving Roc’s Feather equipped for most of the game as well, so it feels like I only had one button to equip items, but even so, most dungeons hardly require more than one item in addition to those mentioned. I had hoped for more mappable buttons, as I said in an earlier prediction article, but the simplification of the interface as it happened made a system just as viable as that would have been. It adds just enough versatility to streamline gameplay without harming the core simplicity from the old two-button days.
Among the frustrations brought on by the limited power of the GameBoy, was the screen-by-screen navigation. This would not have been a major issue had many of the screens looked so similar, with many of the same tree, rock, and bush models blending together making it hard to remember which screen leads where. Segmenting the map like this was a necessary evil to make such a game run on the limited tech, but modern consoles today can handle beefier loads. Removing the segmentation creates a more fluid experience traversing the overworld, and reduces confusion to similarly designed areas. When you can see more around yourself than a single screen, it is easier to find landmarks and remember how to navigate back to a particular area. This change was handled in the best way possible.
One thing that was not changed, oddly feels like a change in some regards. Omnidirectional movement has been a gaming standard since the advent of the analog control stick back in the days of the original Playstation and Nintendo 64. Going back to an octodirectional movement scheme is technically true to the original, yet it feels like a step back. Even the latest 2D adventure in the Zelda series, A Link Between Worlds, utilizes 360 degrees of control. Only being able to move eight directions does replicate the feel of the original to an extent, but I feel that if they swapped it up to the modern standard, it would be a nice quality-of-life improvement, as most of the changes are. I will say I quickly adjusted to the outdated control scheme and it did invoke a little nostalgia, but in this case I still think it would have been a little better to go modern instead of retro.
Since the release of Super Mario Maker on Wii U, a large portion of the Zelda community has been begging for the same sort of game inspired by their favorite series. This seems to be a small step towards that potential, and to that end, I support it. It is of course lacking quite as much potential as Super Mario Maker, but it has its own merits. Slotting together your pieces in such a way as to create a functioning dungeon is a puzzle within itself, and just the simple challenge behind that is something I could see myself spending quite a while on. Some of the rewards are worth investing at least a little time in as well, such as pieces of heart and secret seashells. I think this is a fun addition that will spark a little replayability to anybody who enjoys this sort of puzzle.
The only downside of this addition is that it replaces a feature from the original game that I enjoyed quite a bit. Where Dampe’s Shack sits now was once the home of Koholint’s local photographer. He would travel around the island, finding Link and taking his picture in all sorts of silly and spectacular situations. These photos added much characterization to the cast, especially Link. The original idea behind the photos was that you could connect with the short-lived Game Boy Printer accessory to print a small archive of your adventures. While of course this would not be replicated exactly on Nintendo Switch, I believe that the feature could have been fun to share on social media, modernizing it for a new audience. While I do enjoy Chamber dungeons, I do not feel it justifies the exclusion of this feature, and I also do not see why they could not have existed side-by-side.
Breaking Generational Barriers
My five-year-old, Logan, has briefly tinkered with the original Legend of Zelda via Nintendo Switch Online, but old games have a hard time immersing him due to the lack of instruction and polish of modern games. I considered many times handing him my old Gameboy copy of Link’s Awakening, but I knew the same issues would be had, possibly to an even worse extent due to the inventory management aspect of the game. When I was a kid, these things were normal, but now it is hard for kids who grew up with highly polished adventures like Super Mario Odyssey or Yoshi’s Crafted World to return to the roots.
By some sort of sorcery, the game feels nearly unchanged to me, a veteran of the series, while remaining accessible to a younger gamer who has difficulty dealing with outdated mechanics. I don’t fully comprehend how, but Nintendo and Grezzo have somehow combined old and new in a way I have only seen before from Square Enix’s Octopath Traveller. The difference here is that rather than feeding off older ideas to make something new, Link’s Awakening is manufactures a new experience that replicates an old one with surgical precision, to the point that the graphic style is the only discernible difference through large chunks of the game AND presents itself in such a way that new gamers don’t recognize that it’s old. I enjoy this game because it is familiar. My son enjoys this game because it is new and modern. For creating such a delicate combination of these two elements, all I can say to Grezzo is “BURN THE WITCH!”
My score would remain at the max forty out of forty, no big shock there. I don’t like the soundtrack quite as well, though that’s largely nostalgia talking, and I sorely miss the photo booth, but this game still lacks any objective flaws, just as it did a quarter-century ago. If you have not played this game before, I would highly recommend this version, as it is the most accessible, and highly refined version of the game. If you have any nostalgia for the original, I should say you likely already own this remake, but if not, it is absolutely worth your time to investigate. It will bring back so many memories as you play, and with each dungeon, each cutscene, and each death, bring you back to the first time you played it again and again.
As I said before, though, these are just my opinions! If you’ve played the game, do you agree with me? If you haven’t gotten the game yet, why not? Is there something that turns you off about it, or are you just afraid you’ll fall in love all over again? Please feel free to start the discussion in the comments below, or reach out to me on Twitter or many other Zelda fans on the TGPZ Discord server! We welcome the conversation and I’d be happy to argue or agree with you for hours on end!