Review: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Nintendo Switch)

The original Link’s Awakening was released for the Game Boy in 1993. It was the first portable Zelda adventure and, to this day, is one of the most unique experiences the series has to offer. It’s recently been remastered from the ground up on Nintendo Switch, boasting a fresh new visual style and the addition of Chamber Dungeons. There’s one question that’s been on everybody’s mind: is the game really worth $60? The short answer is: it depends.

Story

Compared to other titles in the Legend of Zelda series, Link’s Awakening’s plot is certainly on the simpler side. During a nasty storm, Link’s ship is struck and destroyed by a powerful thunderbolt. He wakes up on the remote Koholint Island and learns that he cannot leave unless he gathers eight instruments to wake up the legendary Wind Fish. Along the same line as Majora’s Mask, neither Zelda nor Ganondorf make direct appearances, making this adventure stand out among other games in the series.

The rest of the story admittedly isn’t anything too special or surprising, but it doesn’t have to be! Link’s Awakening is centered around collecting items and exploring dungeons, and those two aspects are strong enough to stand on their own. The intro and end cutscenes are also beautifully animated, which helps create strong first and final impressions.

Visuals & Audio

The original Game Boy version of Link’s Awakening had solid visuals (for its time) and even better soundtrack. To that end, the Nintendo Switch version delivers: it boasts a unique diorama-esque aesthetic that actually makes sense lore-wise (you’ll figure out why if you play the game to its end). The soundtrack has been amped up, too, and it’s all simply wonderful. You may notice that the edges of the screen are automatically blurred; I barely noticed this during gameplay and do not consider it a legitimate problem with the visuals.

Unfortunately, Link’s Awakening does suffer from frame drops. The game tries to run at a consistent 60 FPS, but temporarily slows down to 30 FPS when loading new areas. It only slows down for a few seconds, but the drop is noticeable. Even so, as somebody who notices frame drops, I didn’t find these issues too distracting.

Gameplay

Just like the original version of Link’s Awakening, Link moves on a grid. He can move in one of eight directions, but is permitted free movement when charging a spin attack. The eight-direction limitation may seem like an odd decision, but it works out fine! Since the Nintendo Switch has more buttons than the Game Boy, certain controls and items have been remapped: for example, the Pegasus Boots are now triggered by the L button. Overall, there’s a lot less menu management than in the original, which makes life much easier. You’ll still have to pop into the menus every now and then to switch the items on your X and Y buttons, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was in the original game.

Koholint Island isn’t the largest overworld we’ve seen in a Zelda game; in fact, it’s nowhere close. But it’s wonderfully designed and chock-full of secrets and varied sub-areas. You’ll come to know the layout of the island very quickly, and there’s a handy map complete with markers that will help you navigate it. All in all, a full 100% playthrough of the game will probably take you 20 to 25 hours (if you know what you’re doing, it might take a few hours less).

The dungeons are cleverly designed and will keep you entertained for a long time. I enjoyed every dungeon in the game except for one. The dungeon in question includes horse head statues as one of the puzzles, and I found these absolutely reprehensible. You’re supposed to toss them around until they land straight up, and it took me upwards of twenty minutes to successfully toss each one. They use some measure of physics to determine their orientation when they land, but I found these physics really difficult to work with. That being said, this is just a minor personal gripe I had with the game; it’s possible (and essentially guaranteed now that I’ve written it down) that other players will have no trouble with them.

There’s also the addition of the Chamber Dungeons. Players can create their own dungeons… kind of. The catch is that you can only use pre-existing rooms from dungeons you’ve completed. There’s fun to be had here, but it left me wanting an actual Zelda maker game. Hopefully we can look forward to one of those in the not-too-distant future.

Link’s Awakening also includes amiibo support, but it only applies to Chamber Dungeons. The Link’s Awakening Link amiibo is just about useless, as all it adds is a Shadow Link enemy to use in custom dungeons. You can also save dungeons to an amiibo – the idea here is that you’d go to a friend’s house, tap it in, and have them complete it – but let’s be real; this scenario isn’t going to happen very often. If you do pick up the Link’s Awakening Link amiibo, the good news is that you can train it in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Closing Thoughts

Link’s Awakening is a surprisingly fresh take on an old classic. Its visuals and soundtrack are stellar, and its gameplay feels intuitive and relevant to this very day. This brings up an important question, though: why does a remake of a decades-old Game Boy game cost as much as Breath of the Wild? Though both titles are great, most players get a hundred hours or more out of Breath of the Wild. I personally feel that Link’s Awakening is closer to a $40 game; I understand it was made from the ground up, but it still seems strange that it’s priced the same as a game that reinvented the entire series. Overall, I definitely recommend Link’s Awakening to Zelda enthusiasts. If you’re kind of interested but don’t want to shell out $60, it might be a good idea to wait until it goes on sale. Either way, it’s more than worth your time and serves as an excellent representation of how far a new coat of paint can go.

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One thought on “Review: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Nintendo Switch)”

  1. Id like to say im throughly enjoy links awakening, would have thought it might have retailed for a little less but hay ho it’s still great. I only play games sporadically so these kind of games appeal to me most. My only issue is the amiibo compatibility bit pants right? To be fair though im not sure what I was expecting from it, maybe some compatibility for zelda botw too? Ah well I still love the little guy so he can chill on my amiibo shelve with the rest of them! :)

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