Release Date: September 20, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch
What's It All About?
I’ll admit it: I never played the original Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, so I don’t have nostalgia associated with that particular entry (although I love the franchise as a whole). From the first trailer, I fell in love with the art style and whimsy of the remake for Nintendo Switch, and I was eager to play it.
The set-up is pretty simple: Link is shipwrecked on the mysterious Koholint Island and is tasked with awakening the Wind Fish, the legendary guardian of the island. Along the way, you encounter familiar enemies from a wide array of Nintendo properties, delve into some puzzling dungeons, and even try out some side-scrolling fun!
There’s a lot, actually. The art design is a highlight. Link and the island inhabitants all feel like little action figures moving around inside a toy box. Most of the areas are bright and colorful, and the whole game is whimsical, good fun. If you get the Dreamer’s Edition of the game, then you also get a neat hardcover artbook, which showcases some of the spectacular designs. Seriously, I cannot stress enough how much I loved the art design of this game.
Another highlight is the soundtrack, which has both familiar themes and some more playful tunes that fit with the island’s whimsy. The fishing mini-game is pretty fun, too, even though I was fairly horrible at it. Then there’s the improved Trendy Game. It’s a standard claw game that gives you prizes from dolls inspired by enemies from the Super Mario series, Chamber Stones for the new dungeon-designing mini-game, or just Rupees and other common items. It costs 10 Rupees to play, which isn’t a bad price–especially later in the game when you’ll have more Rupees than you need.
Some people might complain about the short playtime, but I actually liked it. In a game like this, 12-14 hours felt like the perfect amount of time I wanted to spend exploring the island and getting through the story. I’m still not sure it’s worth the price tag, but I think a longer game would’ve dragged.
As expected from a Zelda game, the dungeons are generally fun, often puzzling, and sometimes downright frustrating. Overall, though, I had a great time exploring the many dungeons on Koholint Island.
There’s not a ton to complain about, really. While the last few dungeons were more frustrating than fun, the biggest issue I have with them is that the bosses aren’t terribly great. I have a lot of fond memories of bosses in Zelda games. In Link’s Awakening, however, they were all fairly forgettable and seemed to work on the same mechanic of just “beating it with an object until it dies.” There weren’t many times I had to figure out an interesting trick to defeat one, which is a shame for a series that has some truly memorable bosses.
I’m also not a fan of the blurring used at the top and bottom of the screens. I complained when they implemented a similar blur in Octopath Traveler, but at least that game let you toggle the blur. It’s purely for aesthetic purposes, and it gives me a headache. It’s a flaw in an otherwise amazing artistic design.
There’s one big part of the Link’s Awakening remake that we haven’t really discussed yet. I’m talking about the new Chamber Dungeons mini-game. It involves collecting Chamber Stones and bringing them to Dampe at his shack. You then lay out the pieces and design your own dungeons! On paper, it sounds great! And I was really excited to give it a try.
However, it’s the biggest disappointment in the game. Creating Chamber Dungeons actually offers very little customization. You can’t decide what to put in chests, the tile sets all feel fairly similar, and you can’t even share your dungeon with friends online! I know Nintendo doesn’t have the greatest track record with online content, but it’s still a shame. I would’ve loved to explore friend’s dungeons and gotten to share some of my own. Instead, you have to transfer dungeon designs between your friends by using amiibo. I guess the upside is that it inspires you to actually use the amiibo collecting dust on your shelves. Still, it feels like such a missed opportunity, and I’m eager to see if we get improved versions of this in future Zelda titles.
Overall, Link’s Awakening is a great remake. The game certainly has a few flaws, but it’s nothing to deter you from having a good time. Heck, you don’t even have to do anything with the Chamber Tiles at Dampe’s Shack unless you want to. I still wish the bosses and dungeons were a little more varied, but there was still enough fun to outweigh the frustration.