At long last, my life spent playing Nintendo games has come full circle. I can’t remember what age I was when my parents had let me run into GAME with youthful enthusiasm to buy a Game Boy, but it wasn’t long before I left the store happily swinging a carrier bag with the Donkey Kong Land bundle and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening safely inside.
I was understandably excited. It was the first system that I had ever owned – my time up until that point otherwise spent failing to beat Big Nose the Caveman on my Dad’s Amiga 500. I certainly found more success in setting out to recover Donkey Kong’s bananas from King K. Rool and his Kremlings, but it was washing ashore on the uncharted Koholint Island that made a lasting – perhaps even lifelong – impression on me.
That impact was immediate. From the menacing music to the crackle of the lightning that strikes Link’s ship, the green-clad Hylian hero is soon found exhausted on the beach before the opening cutscene pans upward to center on an enormous bespeckled egg resting atop a mountain. I’d never felt more intently curious about discovering what was going to happen next, and, many hours later with a few calls to a tips hotline as neither my parents or brother could work out how to help me, I reached its grand conclusion.
It is now time to relive that adventure, or, for many others, to experience it for the very first time on Nintendo Switch. Nintendo has called upon Grezzo to recreate this 8-bit classic for the portable home console – a name that most will know for their work on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, and new IP Ever Oasis. The result is a faithful recreation that has meticulously rebuilt Koholint Island with an adorable, diorama-like art style.
After recovering your sword from the beach, a wise owl explains that you cannot leave Koholint Island until you wake the Wind Fish. That will require that you recover the eight Instruments of the Sirens, and so, your quest to find them begins. From warily heading into the Mysterious Forest to retrieve the Tail Key to Madame Meowmeow pleading that you rescue BowWow from the Moblins, your adventure is a captivating one that’s packed with quirky characters that are scattered across what still remains to be a fascinating island to explore.
Whether it be playing the Trendy Game to grab the Yoshi Doll, letting BowWow chomp his way through Goponga Swamp, handing over 300 Rupees to Wart to hear him perform The Frog’s Song of Soul with his band, or calling Old Man Ulrira for advice on where to go next, every interaction and activity that you can participate in even more memorable than it was before. The main difference coming from the technological advancement from the monochrome Game Boy to the modern-day Nintendo Switch which has allowed the developer to breathe more life into each character and the world that surrounds them.
Aside from the visual overhaul and wondrous reorchestrated soundtrack – which is performed live by a small orchestral ensemble to lend it renewed energy – the most significant improvement that has been made to The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is convenience. No longer confined to the Game Boy’s two buttons, there’s no longer a need to keep opening your inventory to reassign items as often. Your sword (B Button) and Shield (R or ZR Button) are on hand at all times, as are the Pegasus Boots (L or ZL Button) and Power Bracelet (A Button) as items that are more regularly used. That still means that you will need to assign other items such as Roc’s Feather, the Ocarina, or Magic Rod to the X and Y Buttons, but this streamlining has done wonders for the whole experience.
The Map has been updated to let you place custom pins as reminders, whereas Memories will let you re-read important conversations that will help guide you on your quest. The main addition comes in Dampé’s Shack, in which the fan-favorite graveyard keeper makes small Chambers based on the dungeons that you have conquered. Placed into a slab in his shack, these can be used to create a real Chamber Dungeon – even if Dampé doesn’t understand how exactly that happens. This is something that is best left until late in the game as you will have unlocked more Chambers and Nightmare’s Lairs to place, as well as the chance to use amiibo to unlock five more.
Chamber Dungeon creation is as simple as arranging the Chambers so that everything is connected, and Dampé’s Dungeon Arranging 101 helps to familiarise you with the basics. Take a Chamber from the menu and slot it in place. Simple. You shouldn’t expect it to be The Legend of Zelda Maker, but it was an aspect that I enjoyed playing around with even though it has its limitations. That being that the Chambers are based on existing dungeon rooms, lacking any option to change them from what you have already encountered. At least it’s an easy method of gaining more Rupees.
This The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake isn’t free from criticism, though. The framerate can become inconsistent to the point that it distracts from the experience, which, I hope, can be improved with a future update. And while Hero Mode is unlocked right from the start for those on a return trip to Koholint Island, even then it still remains to be a less challenging experience than many will expect and want.
What’s far more important is that The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is just as magical as it ever was, and, in being remade, has lost none of the charm that made the original so special in the first place. Grezzo must take the credit for that, delivering an exceptional remake that’s both a perfect entry point for those new to the series and a worthwhile nostalgic trip for those that have set out on this adventure before.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo