Calling The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening 2019 Switch release a complete remake isn’t exactly accurate as it follows the same gameplay formula, narrative, and overall structure only with an entirely new coat of paint a few new quality of life enhancements. Perhaps calling it an overhaul, or an enhancement, is a little more fitting as the new diorama visual style is completely new in comparison to the black and white pixel world of the 1993 Gameboy original. However, not messing with the original’s formula is a clear reflection on how well this game has stood the test of time.
I received the original Gameboy release of Link’s Awakening in 1993 as a present for my 10th birthday and I remember being blown away. Even though the Gameboy hardware is rather limited, this adventure was anything but. The success of the original even lead Nintendo to re-release this classic game as the DX version on Gameboy Color a few years later, remastering it with full color support and adding a new exclusive dungeon. Everything that made the original game special returns here in this Switch version and still stands as a great Zelda title in the 2019 gaming landscape.
There are many general housekeeping enhancements that make this version easily playable today, mainly designed around the controller and its extra buttons. Since the original Gameboy hardware only had two face buttons, the player constantly had to navigate the menu screen to swap items, including the sword. Now, the player always has access to the shield, sword, dash attack, the ability to pick up rocks and other items thanks to the button layout of the Switch controller. Unfortunately, both shoulder buttons are designated with the same action and cannot be further customized. For example, it would have been great to assign the shield to the right shoulder button and the right trigger for the bow and arrows. While infinitely more playable than the original Gameboy interface, there is no reason why it couldn’t have been taken even further here on Switch.
As replacement for the Gameboy printer/picture mode of the DX original, Gezzo included a dungeon chamber designer optional side quest for dedicated Zelda fans. Here, players can place pre-made dungeon rooms together to create new dungeons via Dampe near the graveyard. Unfortunately, this dungeon creator is the weakest feature of the game, often causing more frustration than fun. To be clear, Super Mario Maker for Zelda this is not. Instead, players place rooms from dungeons they have already completed in a tile-based system, in hopes they link together in a cohesive way. Dampe then assigns the player tasks, which feels just as exciting as homework, to create new dungeons. However, the game determines which staircase links to which staircase, and the contents of each treasure chest with the last one always containing the boss key. Making matter worse, the player might be assigned to make a dungeon they cannot complete yet, forcing the player to solve a problem that isn’t yet solvable until more in-game dungeons are completed. There is also no way to share dungeons with fellow players outside of saving data to the Link’s Awakening amiibo. The game also rewards the player by unlocking new dungeon tiles throughout the game, like winning one from the crane game or purchasing really expensive tiles from the shop. Since the player has already seen these dungeon tiles through normal gameplay, it isn’t fun to be forced to replay them just in a new order. It is also possible to have the game totally screw the player with flaws in the red/blue switch mechanic and allowing me to place a tile that requires the sword dash technique when that dungeon’s criteria removes Link’s sword, leaving me trapped with my own creation. My advice is, if you want to tinker with this optional dungeon mode, wait until you completed most of the main game first to have most tiles unlocked otherwise you can easily screw yourself. Players that stick with it will eventually be rewarded with a bottle and full heart container.
There is also a fully animated cutscene when the game opens and during the final credits. Both are well done and actually wished there were more of these sprinkled throughout the campaign. The auto-save feature comes in handy given the portability of the Switch hardware, automatically saving whenever something significant happens like collecting a key or finishing a dungeon. The color dungeon also returns from the enhanced DX version, rewarding players with additional offensive/defensive capabilities when completed. Although this dungeon stands as the weakest dungeon in the game, it provides that optional incentive that fans will appreciate. The toy-like diorama visuals are also adorable and fit the atmosphere perfectly. The new visual style also comes with added benefits such as most of the environment is now one larger interconnected piece of land versus the screen-by-screen transitions of the original. The memorable soundtrack has also been re-recorded to better fit the Switch hardware that fans will note.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on Switch is still a great game to play today. While not as long or deep as recent Zelda titles, it easily stands the test of time, fans will appreciate the nostalgia, and new comers should enjoy the extraordinary quest. For many fans, Link’s Awakening is their favorite Zelda title and for good reason. Even though Zelda, Gannon, and the Tri-Force are nowhere to be found, the hauntingly dark overtone is a little unsettling but always memorable. Even though the new, optional dungeon creator mode is a hot mess, this is one dream fans should whole heartedly enjoy.
Also Try: downloading the original on the 3DS eShop
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Wish For It: a complete remake of the GBC Oracle games