Nintendo recently released the beautiful Link’s Awakening remake, but is it worth getting if you’re new or a returning fan?
Zelda-mania seems to be at an all time high lately, with new games in the lands of Hyrule leaving fans with plenty of amazing choices, from the wandering majesty of Breath of the Wild to the arcade action of Hyrule Warriors. As if replicating it’s original oddball release, the remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is here to confuse the matter a bit, dropping players into a graphically updated version of the 1993 classic. But how does the game itself hold up aside from the beautiful new coat of paint and colors? Link’s Awakening is a fairly “old” LoZ game, coming briefly after the release of A Link to the Past, and before many of the later Game Boy outings that would be far more experimental with their gameplay, and as a game that doesn’t take place in Hyrule, the oddball Link’s Awakening has always held something of a cult-classic spot in many older gamers hearts.
For our review, I decided to approach the title from two angles: How is this game for returning players, and how is it for gamers who have never tried an older LoZ game, or frankly any LoZ game at all? Does Link’s Awakening stand on its own, or does it fade into memory for not being as revolutionary as some of its cousins?
In Link’s Awakening, players take on the role of ubiquitous series hero Link, adventuring at sea sometime after the events of Link to the Past. After a nasty storm at sea, Link finds himself washed ashore of a small island called Koholint, saved by a girl named Marin and brought back to her house to recover. The charming town of Koholint holds the real secret to Link’s Awakening’s enduring charm: it isn’t set in Hyrule, and is instead set in a town populated by odd, interesting characters who all need Link’s help to accomplish something. For much the same reason Majora’s Mask earned its reputation as a weird and wonderful LoZ spin-off, Link’s Awakening is perhaps the first game in the series to have introduced a “side” adventure for Link, one that doesn’t involve Ganon and the Triforce, and instead takes familiar gameplay ideas and expectations and places them into unfamiliar settings or contexts.
For new players, this can be something of a boon: You aren’t required to know any of the Zelda lore, or where the game falls in the grand timeline, or even who “Link” even is: you just need to know that you’re on a quest, and these people need your help. There is also a fair amount of unexpected freedom in how Link’s Awakening plays out compared to other LoZ games, as many of the quests are optional from the main quest, meaning players are welcome to do as much or as little as they choose while figuring out the mysteries of Koholint.
Let’s get something out of the way: This game is beautiful. The newly updated graphics and the unique style Nintendo aimed for in this game really hits the mark. The characters all burst to life in their new iterations, and the world pops with color and quirk. The almost toy like nature of Link and the world surrounding Koholint village really do feel vastly different from any other version of LoZ so far, and reminded us a bit of the way Wind Waker experimented with cell shaded graphics, helping to set the game apart visually. That said, I have to arrive at one of the biggest negatives out of the gate: the framerate of this game suffers very badly. It isn’t constant, but when it happens, it is distracting, and mars the otherwise beautiful world Nintedo’s created; the issue is also a bit baffling, because while the game looks great, it isn’t particularly challenging or technical, so why it has such constant framerate issues is something I can’t really understand.
I really do want to get this out of the way first because I have only a few other reservations about the game, but the framerate issues are far and away the biggest bummer in the entire package. For people interested in more technical discussions, the fine folks at Eurogamer did a great deep dive into what might be the root of the problem, but I'll leave the technical talk for experts and simply state that if you are expecting a smooth gameplay experience, you may be in for a bit of a surprise, and not a good one. The issues never really impeded us from actually completing the game or really getting in the way of enjoying the game, but they were constant and consistent enough that it was fairly impossible to ignore them as a hiccup or other random issue; these were consistent, repeatable issues that marred the visual beauty and flow of the game.
Framerate issues aside, the gameplay in Link's Awakening is simple and clean. Being a far older game than newer LoZ games, there are a lot less moving parts, and what is here has been refined and updated from what the original Game Boy was capable of in order to make the newer experience feel far smoother and enjoyable in comparison. Otherwise, there aren’t really any new or exciting changes to the gameplay here, with the exception that you are far less burdened by a 2 button control scheme, allowing you to equip multiple items and not have to constantly swap things to do actions.
This change really does help, because while it may make the game seem “easier”, it really just makes the game far more streamlined and accessible; this is a big help with the consideration that Link’s Awakening has a lot of back and forth questing for townsfolk and searching for collectible items to hit 100% completion. Ironically, this may be the biggest draw to the game for most players: the dungeons in Link’s Awakening are certainly fine, but they are nowhere near as memorable as some of the dungeons in Link to the Past or other LoZ games, and the main gameplay hook is helping out the people of Koholint with their odd requests and storylines to help break up the dungeon diving. That is, with one new exception: Chamber Dungeons.
Chamber Dungeons are the new addition to Link’s Awakening, and... well, they’re bad. Evidently an idea built around giving players the chance to create their own dungeons, these Chamber Dungeons end up feeling very dull and repetitive. One of the charms of LoZ dungeons is their theme and approach to puzzle solving; here, you’re generally asked or challenged to build a dungeon following some specific parameters, and then complete it. Sadly, these never end up feeling as good as the originals, and they also don’t offer anything new or interesting to discover when doing so.
While these are also totally optional, players looking to get 100% in the game will be stuck going through the Chamber Dungeons like I did, which really slowed down our overall completion of the game due to just not wanting to do it. Still, this is a fairly minor gripe, and thankfully they don’t end up taking too much space in the game, but overall it is another small flaw on an otherwise nearly flawless package. This is especially frustrating considering the charm of Koholint’s inhabitants: many of their quests are fun and interesting, but the Chamber Dungeons don’t really possess any of that.
So, the real question is: Who is this game for? Does it make for a good entry to the LoZ series for new players, or is it worth it for LoZ fans who perhaps missed the original release over 20 years ago? For new players, or perhaps gamers whose only exposure to LoZ so far has been Breath of the Wild, I feel that it’s a resounding “yes”. While the game has a few flaws, this is a fantastic, tight package of LoZ goodness that delivers a unique take on the series that also requires none of the prior knowledge or lore. In all honesty, one could argue that this is the perfect style of LoZ game: a self contained adventure where Link travels around a new world and encounters people who need his help, rather than part of a grand narrative. Link’s Awakening is simple and fun, and doesn’t ask too much of the player. You’ll face challenges and puzzles, but the game runs a tight ship that rewards hard work, and won’t leave newer gamers or inexperienced LoZ fans scratching their heads.
The graphics are also an amazing entryway into the series, with bright and inviting colors that are unlike many of the other offerings on the market. The quirky nature of the people of Koholint is also a bonus. Director Takashi Tezuka cites David Lynch’s immensley popular Twin Peaks as a bit of an inspiration for the game, and that enduring legacy has helped make Link’s Awakening retain its oddball character. As the holidays are approaching, if you’re thinking of getting that new gamer friend of yours something, or are looking for a way to spread the LoZ love, I think Link’s Awakening will make a fantastic choice, especially if you pair it with the adorable Link amiibo that accompanied the game.
But what about returning LoZ fans, or even gamers who played the original back in the 90's? Is there enough here to really invest in a remake? Well… Yes, I think so. Look, the game isn’t perfect, but I only remember some bits and pieces of playing the original game on our Game Boy over 20 years ago. Playing through for this review was like reliving some parts of our earlier childhood as a player, and the weird world of Link’s Awakening burst back to life on the Switch.
A lot of LoZ games lately have focused on the grand, mythic narrative that Nintendo has heavily invested in following Wind Waker, but frankly my favorite LoZ games were the handheld ones like Link’s Awakening, Minish Cap, and Story of Seasons (Majora’s Mask also rates really high, but that doesn’t really count in that list!). Being able to play Link’s Awakening on the go on my Switch rekindled a lot of that joy, and brought out the magic of the game I experienced all those years ago. If you’re a big LoZ fan that somehow didn’t get to play Link’s Awakening, you really do owe it to yourself to play through one of the most odd versions of the Zelda franchise; I assure you, no other LoZ game lets you have a pet Chain Chomp or fight “Anti-Kirby”. And yes, that’s exactly what that sounds like.
Link’s Awakening feels like what a remake should be: a colorful and loving update to an original that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or change what made the original so successful in the first place. That said, this isn’t a perfect game, and between the framerate issues and the Chamber Dungeons, I’ll say that there are things this game certainly could have tried to avoid or remove to have really been perfect. In the end, I still feel very strongly about how charming, fun, and memorable Link’s Awakening really is; whether you’re a brand new gamer, new to LoZ, or a returning fan, there is a lot to love about this game and plenty to explore and discover. So put on your tunic, get your boots, and prepare to journey to the magical town of Koholint: I promise you won’t forget it!
+ Graphical update and change is gorgeous and brings the game to life in a new way.
+ Updated controls help the game flow far better than before.
+ The “Twin Peaks” of Legend of Zelda retains its weird charms and stays one of the most unique games in the series, let alone in general.
+/- Dungeons aren’t quite as inspired as other Legend of Zelda games.
- Chamber Dungeons are an absolute drag, especially if going for 100%.
- The framerate issues really do bring the game down as an experience overall.
Are you a first time Legend of Zelda player, or know someone that you’d recommend this game to? Or are you a returning veteran? Let us know what you think of the game in the comments!
Nicole is a features writer and editor for Crunchyroll. Known for punching dudes in Yakuza games on her Twitch channel while professing her love for Majima. She also has a blog, Figuratively Speaking. Follow her on Twitter: @ellyberries
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