The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening wouldn’t have been my first choice to receive a Switch remake. It’s not that I’m not nostalgic for it. I played through it several times in my youth, first with the monochrome original and later with the Link’s Awakening DX remaster for the Game Boy Color. Regardless of how fondly I remembered my time playing the game, I had forgotten just how charming it is until I played the remake on Switch.
I enjoyed my journey through a remade Koholint Island, and I fell in love with Link’s Awakening all over again. That doesn’t mean there aren’t issues with the game. However, the veneer of nostalgia makes it easy to overlook that this is a flawed remake that hardly adds anything new under the fresh coat of paint.
Zelda: Link’s Awakening Remake Review | I sleep.
For every one of its releases, Link’s Awakening has been at a disadvantage. The original came out directly after A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening DX released just after Ocarina of Time, and now the remake falls in the shadow of Breath of the Wild. Each Link’s Awakening release’s contemporary is a fan favorite, and each pushed the series in a new, exciting direction.
Somehow, in the past, Link’s Awakening pushed itself into the limelight to become lauded as another wonderful entry in the franchise. Its most significant advantage previously was that it came out for the Game Boy and later the Game Boy Color. It pushed what we thought was possible on those platforms and offered a full-fledged Zelda experience in a time when handheld consoles were bereft of solid RPGs.
The biggest thing working against Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake is that it released on the Switch, a platform that launched alongside Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Breath of the Wild is one of the highest-rated games of all time, by both critics and fans. As such, the Link’s Awakening remake feels like a step back in several ways.
I’m not knocking classic 2D Zelda games, but the fact that this is such a shallow remake works against it. Its only salvation is that the source material was already a fantastic game to start with.
Zelda: Link’s Awakening Remake Review | I wake.
The Link’s Awakening remake is almost entirely skin deep. It’s not quite a 1:1 replica, as some areas have been expanded physically for better flow. However, all the important stuff, like dungeons, villages, and item placement are almost precisely the same as the Game Boy original. The objective too remains the same. Gather the eight magical instruments to wake the Wind Fish so that Link can leave the island.
This is one of Link’s smaller adventures as it was made to fit on the Game Boy, and it remains so in its Switch incarnation. You can make your way through the game in about 10 action-packed hours or so. It takes a bit longer if you want to 100% the game. However, besides the Secret Seashells (there’s 50 of them now instead of 26) and added figurines of Nintendo characters you can collect, there’s not much in the way of side quests.
I was disappointed to see just how closely the remake followed the original’s structure. When Nintendo showed the Link’s Awakening remake off for the first time, I thought it might roughly follow the original’s story, but offer up things like new and bigger dungeons and new world locations. Nope, every dungeon here is the same, to the point where 26-year-old walkthroughs are just as applicable now as they were when it came out on the Game Boy. I used the Nintendo Power Player’s Guide during my playthrough to see how much had changed. Besides some small additions, it followed the remake perfectly.
I wouldn’t have a problem with such a faithful remake if Link’s Awakening remake were a $30-40 title, but it’s not. Nintendo is charging the same $60 as it does for Breath of the Wild, and Link’s Awakening just can’t provide that kind of value. For $60, I can buy a Game Boy Color, Link’s Awakening DX, and probably have enough left over to buy The Witcher 3 on sale.
Zelda: Link’s Awakening Remake Review | Trippin’, stumblin’.
The weak value of Link’s Awakening could be excused if it didn’t run like butt. Compared to Breath of the Wild, there’s just no excuse for a game with an objectively lower impact on the Switch hardware to run as roughly as Link’s Awakening does. I played the pre-release version of Breath of the Wild for review and noticed a bit of slowdown, but nothing compared to what I experience in this game.
Link’s Awakening targets 60fps, but there were numerous times that the game hit 20fps or below for 10 seconds or more at a time. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it either. I had sections full of enemies run butter smooth, and areas with just Link and some bushes start chugging and stuttering. The diorama graphics that render everything as looking like a cute little clay model are pretty, and there’s some cool depth of field and lighting effects, but this game comes nowhere close to the complexity of Breath of the Wild, so I’m not sure what’s going on.
The graphics themselves are also inconsistent. While the overworld looks fantastic, with bright colors and adorable models, the dungeons are a different story. The darkness of the game’s dungeons doesn’t lend itself towards highlighting the game’s graphical prowess well. So, when you’re outside, and everything’s sunny, Link’s Awakening is gorgeous. However, in caves and other indoor locations, things look much more subdued, and this takes away from one of the game’s greatest strengths.
Zelda: Link’s Awakening Remake Review | It’s not all bad.
There are some notable changes for the positive in Link’s Awakening. I liked the fact that the sword, shield, Pegasus Boots, and Power Bracelet all have a dedicated button. You get two buttons to equip the remainder of the items to, and the new set up prevents you from having to continually bring up the item screen over and over again throughout the game. Just this simple update to the control scheme made the game immensely more enjoyable over the Game Boy versions.
The core gameplay is still engaging, even 26 years after the original release of the game. It’s classic Zelda gameplay, and it’s still fantastic. However, I do wish they’d have given this treatment to a larger 2D Zelda like A Link to the Past, or one of the more obscure ones like Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages. I won’t say this remake is a waste at all, but Link’s Awakening, as good as it is, would not have been my first choice to port to Switch.
The one totally new addition, the Chamber Dungeons, is unfortunately not what I was hoping for either. Instead of being a Zelda-themed spin on Super Mario Maker, you just get to stitch together rooms from the dungeons from the main game to craft a new dungeon. These aren’t really that fun because you’ve already cleared these rooms in the story mode, and they don’t offer more challenge here. You’re very limited in what you can do with Chamber Dungeons. But, I do hope it inspires Nintendo to make a full-fledged Zelda Maker because that has the potential to be amazing.
Zelda: Link’s Awakening Remake Review | Bad value.
My biggest peeve with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Switch remake is that it just isn’t a good value. It’s an almost 1:1 copy of a game I played for the first time when I was fresh out of diapers, and cute, diorama-like graphics don’t suddenly transform it into a $60 game. Hell, it was only $29.99 when the original released in 1993 (I know because I checked the 1993 JC Penney Christmas catalog). Adjusting for inflation, that’s $52.77, but the price of goods doesn’t directly correspond to CPI over time, so let’s say that now it’d be $40-45. That’s about what I think it’s worth, and at that price point, I’d have gone a lot easier on it.
At $60, you can get this great 26-year-old game with some updated graphics, or you could get Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Hell, depending on the time of year, you could get The Witcher 3 for you and five of your friends and loved ones. With so much competition, the Nintendo tax isn’t worth paying for this one, especially with such a packed release calendar over the next six months. Unless you find this one on sale, do yourself a favor and grab Link’s Awakening DX instead. You’ll have the same game, minus the Chamber Dungeon, and updated graphics and still have plenty left over to get some other excellent titles.