A fresh take on a classic often held back by time...
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is the second game in the franchise to hit the Nintendo Switch (if you exclude the NES and SNES ports of older games). While Breath of the Wild wanted you to carve your own path in its vast wilderness, Link's Awakening, much like its 1993 original, keeps things small and mostly grounded. While I myself cannot speak to how the GameBoy and GameBoy Colour versions played out, as for the Nintendo Switch version... let's just say it'll both put both a smile and a frown on your face (mostly smiles).
As with almost any Zelda game, Link's Awakening tells its own unique story that allows newcomers to the franchise to grasp with. You are Link (or whatever you name your character... if I named him Charlie, would it actually be "Charlie's Awakening"?) and as you travel by boat towards a new adventure, you are caught in a dangerous storm which knocks you out cold. You are then washed up on a mysterious island with a giant egg on top of a tall mountain, and as you retrieve your sword and shield to help you on whatever journey you're about to be set upon, you are approached by a strange owl. It tasks you to find eight musical instruments in order to awaken the Wind Fish, and since there's no way off the island, what else are you going to do? It's always appreciative in a Zelda game that, although there is a timeline of sorts, it often does not matter what order you play the games in. By the games end, I was left with some questions, but they're quite minor to the point that the mystery behind my questions are where a story like this shines, even if it's relatively simple.
If you've ever played any of the previous iterations in the franchise, the aim is often to get stronger. At first you will just start out with three hearts and a sword and a shield, but as you progress you'll find items along the way that not only increase your health, but allow you to access areas you might have encountered beforehand, but could never get past. Such items include a feather that allows you to jump over small gaps or a bracelet that allows you to move heavy objects. There was always an excitement in me when I obtained a new item as I recalled back to an area I might have previously seen that I previously couldn't access, but now could. However my excitement would then often be met with bemusement, as I tried to recall the path I would need to take to get to said area. If you hate backtracking in video games, perhaps this isn't the game for you, as there will be a lot of it. Eventually you will unlock warp points, which allow you to quick travel to certain areas of the map. While these can often be a sigh of relief to find, they're not always in places you'd hope they be. Sometimes these warp points are right next to where you need to go, other times they're just half the journey.
If there's one thing I would get the utmost glee from it was finding either a seashell or a heart piece. These are hidden all across the world, where finding four heart pieces gets you a full heart of extra health and finding a seashell will... well at first do nothing. Seashells are one of the few sets of collectables, and upon finding a certain amount can snag you some helpful items, though you'll need to find the relevant building to do so first. Other collectables include some absolutely adorable figurines which you can earn from the... Trendy Game (please note, I shuddered as I wrote those two words). The Trendy Game is a claw machine that allows you to snag yourself not just said figurines, but some helpful prizes such as Rupee's, the game's currency, and refills of ammunition or magic powder. This game as had me in so many fits of rage if not for its utterly ridiculous physics. I've had prizes slip out of the claw machine for being too small, I've had prizes land on the belt it needed to land on, but ultimately not move towards me when it should have, and at one point, I even had a prize get stuck in the claw itself. Fortunately it's like the developers knew that would happen, where the owner of the Trendy Game even acknowledges when an item is stuck and grabs it for you. I cannot tell if the physics were intentional but, my god, earning almost anything from this became more of a chore than harmless fun.
As stated Rupee's are the games currency as like in any Zelda game. These allow you to head to the Town Tool Shop in Mabe Village where, again, you can refill on your ammo or buy new weapons to help you along the way. You may also find people along the way who allow you to put your Rupee's to other uses, such as a fishing mini-game or at the Raft Shop, another fun but finicky mini-game that allows you to try to either get a fast time or snag some items out of the air.
A large portion of the game however is in its dungeons. In order to obtain the instruments required to awaken the Wind Fish, you are required to progress through various chambers, solving puzzles, fighting tough enemies and finding keys to unlock doors to enter the next chamber. Some dungeons can take you around ten to twenty minutes to venture through on your first go while others might take up a good hour to complete; this entirely depends on how fast you figure out what you're supposed to do though. Certain puzzles were a welcome challenge, whilst others really left me in a bind. So much so I would often be forced to look up how to solve a puzzle or where to find a key. Some of the puzzles may require you to move a block in a certain place or defeat all the enemies in a room. Eventually you'll find yourself in the Nightmare room with the main boss of the dungeon, which you need to defeat in order to obtain your prize. Most of these bosses are relatively simple to beat, while others will most definitely leave you baffled as to how to beat them.
This game requires your utmost attention, as certain aspects of puzzles and bosses require items you probably have yet to use in your inventory or never would have even thought to use, or perhaps even an item you've run out of. The problem is that the game is never really clear on what it wants you to do, and whilst there are telephone booth's scattered around the world which give you hints as to where to go next, it's in between those moments you may find yourself completely lost. It's not just unclear on where you need to go, it's the rules it sets upon itself. For example, there are some square blocks you'll find in most dungeons. Some of them you can move, others you cannot, yet the ones you can and cannot move look EXACTLY the same. Were the blocks you could and couldn't move different colours, then fine, but they're not.
Around a third of the way into the game, you'll unlock a dungeon creator. This essentially allows you create your own dungeons out of some of the rooms you would have previously encountered. The main point of this is to create dungeons for yourself based upon certain challenges given to you. These could be to make a dungeon in the shape of a heart or build a dungeon and beat it in five minutes. You first of all have to make a dungeon that actually works: there needs to be an entrance, a nightmare room and enough chests to find keys to unlock doors. Making a dungeon is not as simple as you might think it be, as part of the challenge is actually making the dungeon fit around the rooms you place. This is because some of the rooms have certain exit points you need to think about, whether it be rooms with locked doors or stairs that need to connect. Some of the templates require you to have certain rooms already placed in your dungeon, which only adds to the challenge of creating them. Once you've created your dungeon though and the game tells you it can be completed successfully, it's time to play it. This isn't entirely perfect though, as one time I did find that I could actually lock myself out from progressing any further. Again the developers thought of this, and you're told to start the dungeon again and complete it the correct way. What's most intriguing about making dungeons however is that you cannot share them online. Your only way of sharing your dungeons with your friends is through the use of Amiibo. It somewhat makes sense as your creation isn't exactly going to make you a breakout dungeon master, especially since you're using pre-generated assets. However, there's definitely something here that one can only hope a Zelda Maker might one day be in the works.
One of the best aspects of the remake is how it looks. The game has moved on from pixel sprites, and is given a fresh coat of paint, with its almost clay like art-style. Almost every area of the game feels so alive, vibrant and outright charming to play through. If you're worried about how the game performs, don't be. While admittedly the game can dip in frame rate from time to time, the dips are minuscule and don't really harm your time playing. As the UI goes, its clean and quite simple to use, though I am a little confused as to why the D-Pad was left out of the games controls. Throughout the game, you're only able to use X and Y for your items. At times, especially in some boss fights, you're frantically having to switch between items in the games menu, which can become quite tedious to do.
One big question many will probably have: is the game worth its £40/$60 price tag? With remakes its difficult to say, especially when we've had the likes of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro remake trilogies selling for a little less than full price, yet they both contain three whole games. I myself am a completionist and across my playthrough it must have taken me well over fifteen hours to complete. Had I not tried to earn every shell, every heart and every figurine, I probably could have beaten Link's Awakening in a few hours less. There's plenty of game to go around, that much is certain, but its not quite worth full price in my eyes. However it's Nintendo, so don't expect the price to drop any time soon.
Link's Awakening is ambitious. With a brand new art style and a different engine to play with, it dares to not just keep things as they were in its original release, but change things up as well. It's utterly charming and holds you just enough to want you to keep going until the very end. The problem is that it seems stuck in the past, where it's almost like it's trying to be too faithful to how things were, with some odd design choices and frustrating physics. That said, if they can nail down the flaws, I can absolutely see other older Zelda games being remade in a similar style. God damn I hope so.
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening was paid for by GamerGhost and played on the Nintendo Switch.