We’re all well aware that Nintendo is a nostalgia hound, capitalizing on its rich history to keep today’s gamers on board with its sometimes derivative but always lovingly crafted offerings. Link’s Awakening is no exception, and this remake of the under-played Game Boy title is a great opportunity to revisit a classic and get your Zelda fix while waiting for the sequel to Breath of the Wild. But it must be said that the price tag is a bit steep.
The Link’s Awakening remake was announced earlier this year, and we got a chance to play through a bit of it then. I’ve now gotten through a good deal of it and can say that, barring a few technical issues, this is a praiseworthy thing Nintendo has done, and I hope they do it with more of their classic library.
The game is pretty much block-for-block the original, with the same screen layouts, enemies, and dungeons. It’s a strict remake in that sense, so if you’ve played the Game Boy version and are hoping for new items and monsters, temper your expectations.
On the other hand, the fluidity of the gameplay has been brought up to modern standards and several quality-of-life improvements added. The multiplicity of inputs on the Switch allows the sword, shield, and dash to have their own buttons, while two items can be assigned freely to the others. There’s also a detailed map that you can put stamps on a la Breath of the Wild, for caves to revisit, strong enemies, and so on. No doubt the game has been tweaked otherwise here and there to accommodate modern conveniences, but those are the big ones.
The colorful graphics are, obviously, a big improvement over the 1993 Game Boy title, and rather than exposing it as dated instead make the original level design shine. Koholint Island is like a miniature Hyrule and the tilt-shift effect reinforces that feeling. Monsters and NPCs are rendered in a slightly toylike fashion that reminds me of N64 RPGs, but there’s a level of detail lavished on them that makes it clear this is a modern title.
The music too has been upgraded and is lovely. The orchestrated overworld theme sounds both new and familiar, and different regions and characters have their own themes — I’m particularly partial to the Animal Town one, though I think it will be divisive.
Unfortunately the graphics also lead to some performance issues, rather unexpected for a first-party title. I found that especially on the overworld, the game chugs along for a few seconds whenever loading a new area, reducing the framerate considerably and affecting the controls. Loading is rare on the island (hence the issue mentioned) but frequent, albeit brief, in dungeons.
Speaking of dungeons, there you’ll find the big addition to Link’s Awakening: the Chamber Dungeon creator. But don’t expect a full-blown Zelda Maker to match Mario Maker. By speaking to Dampe the gravekeeper past a certain point in the story, you unlock the ability to make new dungeons out of tiles with various configurations — a three-exit room with a treasure chest and a solid wall on the left, for instance.
You fit these tiles together to form a complete dungeon (there’s a little tutorial) and then you go through it to earn… well, more tiles. And some rupees. But these haphazard, thematically mixed dungeons (you might have to put a dark, overgrown room next to a desert one) pale in comparison to the normal ones, which are of course in Zelda fashion carefully tuned and rewarding experiences.
There’s no way to share your dungeon with others, either, which further reduces the draw. Perhaps after completing a certain amount you get a heart piece or the like, but so far I haven’t found much reason to continue doing it.
That said the game itself is excellent, and for those like me who never finished it (or never played it at all) this remake is a real treat. A genuine time capsule of concentrated classic Zelda fun in a new style and with a few quality of life changes that make it absolutely worth playing even (and perhaps especially) if you finished the original.
The price, however, is rather unrealistic. Nintendo is charging $60 for Link’s Awakening, which is of course what it went for 25 years ago, and what a brand new AAA game costs now. While I don’t want to downplay the amount of work and love that obviously went into this remake, it is just that: a remake. I’d happily recommend it at $30, but $40 would be pushing it and $60… well.
Here’s hoping Nintendo brings this level of love to more of its classics, but here’s also hoping they don’t charge an arm and a leg for them. As soon as this is on sale, snatch it up.