The Legend of Zelda series has been going for a long time. As such, lots of people haven't had the chance to play the earlier titles. On top of that, they might be too dated to be appealing. Link's Awakening is a game that has always gotten praised but hasn't seen the re-release frequency of The Legend of Zelda or Zelda II. Originally in black and white on the Game Boy, trying to play it can be difficult if you're not nostalgic for the product. This new edition of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening seeks to recreate an excellent title in the 21st century.
We open on a beautifully animated scene of Link caught on stormy seas. After a wave overwhelms the Hero of Time, he wakes up in the house of Marin and Tarin, residents of Koholint Island. After explaining that Marin found Link washed up on the beach, Link sets out to locate his sword. Link learns about a horde of evil monsters on the island, all because the legendary Wind Fish is sleeping. The key to waking him lies in collecting each of the Instruments of the Sirens. This sets events in motion for Link to begin his newest (old) adventure.
Explore Koholint Island in Link's Awakening
At its surface Link's Awakening is very much the Legend of Zelda story that we know. You travel between locations using items gained along the way to forge further into dungeons and explore the overworld. Due to the island's small cast of characters, each gets their own time to shine. You learn of Tarin's tendency to explore, and her penchant to get lost. Marin dreams of exploring the world and knowing what's beyond the horizon, though she doesn't expect to ever get there. Most importantly, you get to learn about the Wind Fish and its dream. Both the player and Link explore this world like a fish out of water. This setup helps players walk in Link's shoes but also makes each discovery a shared experience.
The map itself doesn't take long to fully traverse, but you'll bump into all kinds of important features on the walk. Exploring the world it will surprise you how something that you walked by countless times becomes so important near the end of the game. Obtaining the third Ocarina Song before heading into the 7th dungeon of the game there is an area sharing a border with the first dungeon of the game. This compact world will force the players to retrace steps. This allows for players to not only get an idea of what is to come but when you've given hints about where to head next you'll already have an idea of where to go. This was of setting up the island lends itself to the "show don't tell" style of game design that promoted player discovery.
How Link's Awakening has changed
Bringing this game forward two generations has brought about many improvements. Instead of using the A and B item for every weapon, the Switch has additional face buttons. Items and abilities like your Shield and Boots map to your shoulder buttons. The compass has recieves an upgrade. Normally this item shows treasure chests on a dungeon map. In Link's Awakening, it will now chime when you enter a treasure room. When a room has an obscure puzzle getting the compass notification that there's something to look for can keep you from walking right by it.
The majority of Link's Awakening remains faithful to the original game, but there are additions. One of the most notable is a dungeon builder. Early into the game, you'll come across Dampe's house where you can start creating. It's Dampe's passion to learn about and build dungeons and he's able to build them based upon the rooms you've visited. Creating your own dungeon works like putting together a puzzle. You have a list of familiar rooms sorted by special elements and how many entrances or exits it has. You can place these in any configuration you want as long as a room exit always leads to another room.
Create your own challenges in Link's Awakening
What is basically a Super Zelda Maker will also handle all the required logic for the dungeon leaving the player to place tiles for fun. If a dungeon piece has a staircase then a second staircase will need to get placed. Chests populate with rupees or small keys and a small key will never appear behind a locked door. Dampe even has a series of challenges that force the player to build a dungeon of certain parameters.
The two downsides of the dungeon maker are how shallow it is, and that there's no ability to share your creations online. When comparing it to something like Super Mario Maker it's difficult to not think how much could get done if players had free rein over creating. The only way for players to currently share their maps with one another is by storing it on an Amiibo. It's good that there is a way to share them but it feels as if Nintendo dipped their toes into the experience instead of diving in.
Revisit 26-year-old moments in Link's Awakening
Needless to say, games are very different after 26 years and that reflects in the graphical improvements of this Switch re-release. In this complete rebuild, the perspective changes from 2D to an isometric 3D view. We've seen this recently in other handheld Zelda titles. On top of that Link and the rest of the world is almost Chibi in their design balancing large heads on their small bodies. An excellent artistic choice for Link's Awakening is a slight blur effect around the edges of the screen, this creates a tilt-shift effect. For a game with small characters, on a small island, that used to be on a small console it gives the whole experience a quaint feel. Like watching a diorama even when it's on your TV.
From start to finish, Link's Awakening is an example of excellent design. From the moment Link awakens and you step out into the gorgeous Mebe Village, you experience tight gameplay, a fun story that draws the player into the Wind Fish mythos, and intricate world design that serves to make the world feel larger. There are a few setbacks in not taking the newly added dungeon maker mode far enough, but what is there is still plenty of fun. Even with that missed opportunity, this is a great way to revisit a classic or play it for the first time.
TechRaptor reviewed The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening on the Nintendo Switch with a code purchased by the reviewer
- Great Story
- Dungeon Creator...
- Brilliant World Building
- Looks Charming
- Slight Frame Hiccups
- ...Could Have Improvements