In the last 30 years, there’s been close to 30 Zelda games released on many consoles, home to portable, from the NES to today. The first portable iteration was called The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, which was released on the original Game Boy in 1993. It is considered by many gamers as one of the greatest games in this franchise. When a full remake for the Nintendo Switch was announced, there was a lot of excitement. New visual style, updated music, the full package was teased. Did it live to my expectations? Mostly.
A Cast Away story
The story starts with Link navigating through a storm. At one point, his ship crashes, then he gets washed ashore on an island called Koholint. Following this event, a girl called Marin finds him and takes care of him. When he wakes up, he realizes what happened, and get embarked on an adventure where he needs to collect the 8 instruments of the Siren. Doing so will allow him to wake up the legendary Wind Fish, which is the key to go back home.
The story has many elements typical to a Zelda game: mysteries to unfold, many regions to explore, NPCs to talk to, mysteries/legends/stories that the inhabitants of the world believe in, etc. Everything is clearly explained to you, and the key elements can always be revised in a menu option called Memories. You can also find (in many locations in the map) a house with a phone on its roof, where you can be in contact with a character that will give you hints of where to go next if you’re lost. It is a nice touch.
Control scheme adaptation
Back when the controls had to deal with the limitation of having only 2 input buttons, every special action made by Link at to be manually configured to use either the A or B button. (From attacking with the sword, placing a bomb or jumping with the feather, you had to assign the item to the button, then use the item in question). Now having 4 buttons and 2 triggers, many actions are now always available: attack (with the sword), defend (with the shield), running fast (with the Pegasus Boots), and throwing objects (with the power bracelet). It makes the experience a lot more enjoyable, with a lot less of back-and-forth in the menus to just swap items around. The flow is a lot more fluid, which makes for a more pleasant experience.
Gameplay irks for adventurers
The Legend of Zelda franchise has always been more recognized for its action/adventure roots. This game is not in the same category.
There is a strong reliance on puzzles in the dungeons, especially in the later dungeons. Usually, the action pretty much continues on, with the occasional “you need to get a key to open the locked door”. There is a much stronger reliance on switches that need to be found. Also, destroy some aspects of the environment or bombing those secret wall openings are even more omnipresent. It is not a lesser alternative, but it is something that you need to think about regarding the mood that you’re in and the type of game you want to play.
Back-tracking and Metroidvania-style exploration in the world map is definitely real. There are sections of the map that will be available only when you have access to certain items/powers. The result is that it makes is a game fairly linear, compared to games like A Link to the Past. To block those sections, the map is designed to make you take long detours to go to certain locations. When you just want to go to specific locations, it makes traveling a chore. At one point, you unlock a certain fast travel system, but it is far in the campaign. Back in the Game Boy days, it made the game last longer, but in 2019, it is an aspect that is just annoying.
Lastly, the implementation of a particular (important) side-quest really irritated me. When talking to a series of NPC, they mention particular objects that they miss: a broom, honey, bananas, fish hook, etc. (An example can be seen just above.) After finding some of those objects, you realize that there is a chain of object exchanges that need to be done, to get a reward at the end. The bad thing is that opposing everything else in terms of mission content, there are absolutely no indicators whatsoever about those NPCs on the map. There’s also no way to get a map indicating them after you found them, or anything like that (compared to the pieces of heart or the seashells). This is bad. Even more frustrating is the fact that the ultimate reward for doing it is not just a nice add-on, it is something essential to finish the last dungeon. If something is that important, it should be more framed and monitored, like everything else in this game.
Plenty of content
There is a lot of things to do in the game. You have 8 dungeons (+1, the final where you need to wake up the legendary Wind Fish). There is a line of additional quests: the trades sequence. There are also 2 lines of collectibles that can be hunted in the world: seashells (which can be traded in a particular location for rewards) and pieces of heart (to allow you to have even more health). Finally, the additional dungeon (Color Dungeon), which was included in the Game Boy Color remake, is included in this package. If someone wants to 100% the game, it will take many hours. Even without finding all of the heart pieces and seashells (I did everything else), I played more than 10 hours.
There is an additional piece of content, exclusive to this version. After each dungeon, there is a special location that allows you to create your custom dungeon, based on rooms from the ones you already completed. You can mix and match them in any way you want, like a simplified level maker. Some outlets thought it was an amazing addition, some others, not really. Replaying already finished dungeon in different ways is not something that will be appealing for everyone. It is not something that was attracting to me, so I didn’t really bother to play extensively.
Superb artistic overhaul
The visual appeal of this remake is remarkable. There was already a step up from the Gameboy version (lower left of the image above) to the Game Boy Color (top left). The upgrade to the Switch version (right column) is just phenomenal. The world is so colorful, everything looks like toys that are now alive. The orchestral music accompanying this overhaul is also amazing, which of course comprises some classic songs. The console has some frame drops sometimes though, especially when you enter or exit a house/cavern/etc., but it lasts only a second, and it is not really upsetting. The art in this game really complements the story and what it tries to do and tell. The charm is undeniable.
Pleasant nostalgic trip
With its artistic vision and classic gameplay, this game is quite a pleasant voyage down memory lane, if your expectations are properly aligned. Some could argue that a remake with so little additional content is not worth the full triple-A price, but that I will leave this to you, and is dependant on many things (like interests in the franchise, your income, etc.). I don’t regret spending this amount on the game and experience it. Will I keep in my collection and replay it later? No, I haven’t loved it this much. I respect the amount of work that was put to actualize the game, but I realize it is not the type of gameplay that I love to go back to anymore.