The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening starts off with Link in a really bad spot. He's on a raft in the middle of the ocean, trying to battle his way through a storm. Unfortunately, the storm ends up winning, and Link gets thrown out into the rough waters. A few seconds later, we see Link wash up on the shores of the unfamiliar Koholint Island, which is topped by a giant egg. Right from the title screen of Link's Awakening, you're already asking questions as to what in the world is going on. This air of mystery runs throughout the entirety of Link's Awakening, and is absolutely crucial to the experience. It helps create a Legend of Zelda adventure that in some ways feels unlike any other, and it more than holds up 26 years later.
To tell the truth, Koholint Island in and of itself isn't all that strange. Outside of the giant egg sitting atop, Koholint provides all the regular trappings you'd expect from a Zelda game. There's an overworld that features multiple towns, caverns, a desert, a spooky forest, and so on. There are multiple dungeons that you'll have to puzzle your way through as well. If the locations feel tried and true, then what is it that provides the unique vibe? That comes from the cast of characters, which are some of the most oddball ones seen in the series to this day.
The characters of Link's Awakening are what create the atmosphere of Koholint. While there are a couple characters who are fairly normal, there's many more who seem pretty batty. There's the old man who's too shy to talk in person, so you have to call him on the phone. There's a woman who keeps Chain Chomps as pets. There's an alligator who fancies himself an artist, and he's out to paint his muse, which happens to be a hippo. Each character you stumble upon is stranger than the last, yet they manage to come across as endearing. With just a few simple lines of dialog from each character, the world of Koholint comes to life.
While the characters of Link's Awakening feel odd, that is right in line with the adventure itself. Even from the game's first moments, you get the idea that something big is going on behind the scenes. You aren't quite sure what it is, but you know there's more to the island than the game initially lets on. As your adventure progresses, a strange story unravels piece by piece. You get insight into why some characters act the way they do. You learn about dark secrets Koholint might be hiding. The game pretty much spells out what one likely scenario is for its ending, but the thing is, there's still enough mystery to leave you wondering if what you've learned will really play out in the end.
This grand story takes you on a very classic Legend of Zelda gameplay-wise. It's standard by today's measure, but back in the day, Link's Awakening was still a pretty huge deal in the gameplay department. The previous entry in the franchise was A Link to the Past, which was considered a true revolution for the franchise. Link's Awakening was the follow-up title to that, and it did what many thought was impossible. It managed to take everything A Link to the Past did and cram it down into a portable. What might seem quaint and straightforward today was mind-blowing 26 years ago.
Going back to something like Link's Awakening today might be a bit shocking for newer Zelda fans. There have been so many adventures since this Game Boy outing, and the series has seen evolution after evolution. Even classic-style Zelda games like A Link Between Worlds still show tons of tweaks and changes when compared to the outings on NES, SNES, Game Boy, and so on. That said, there's a reason why the Link to the Past template was used for so long. It provides a ridiculously engaging gameplay loop, and the hours just melt away while you're playing. Having a chance to revisit the early days with this remake on Switch shows us not just where the series came from, but how entertaining the formula still is today.
As with previous installments in the series, your goal is to find dungeons that hide away treasures you need to unlock the end of your journey. Of course, getting to the dungeons is never as simple as just walking to them. There will be all kinds of roadblocks thrown in your way, from keys scattered through the map, to dungeons blocked off by water, chasms, and so on. In order to venture inside these dungeons, you'll have to take on a healthy amount of exploration to find the tools you need. Rocks in your way require a special bracelet in order to clear the path. A dungeon sitting in a lake can only be accessed when you've hunted down a pair of flippers. Finding some of these required items will happen as you're stumbling about, and others will have you taking on a number of very specific steps to unearth them. As long as you're talking to the characters you happen upon, and keeping a keen eye on your surroundings, you should be able to manage quite well.
The overworld is very much standard for a Zelda adventure, but the dungeons in Link's Awakening remain quite impressive. It's surprising to see just how well the dungeon design has stood the test of time. The first couple of dungeons keep things extremely simple in order to let the player come to grips with the mechanics. From there on out, you'll get to check out some interesting dungeon layouts that only get better as you go on. The puzzles inside a number of dungeons will really have you scratching your head, especially if you're a first-time player. As a matter of fact, some dungeons in Link's Awakening use puzzle ideas that were never seen in the franchise again! There's some particularly clever stuff once you get to the last three dungeons, but its better to experience those designs for yourself, rather than for me to spoil them here.
While Link's Awakening on Switch might be a rebirth of a classic Zelda title, that doesn't mean everything is as it was 26 years ago. Nintendo has gone in to tinker with a few things in order to make the experience feel a bit more modern. Games nowadays aim to welcome players of all ages and skill levels, and Nintendo has been at the forefront of that movement for some time now. It's not surprising to see them once again dive in and provide some new tweaks in Link's Awakening that should make the adventure much more manageable for any and all players out there.
One of the major welcome changes includes the new map feature, which lets you drop down stamps in order to remember where things are. You can use these stamps both inside dungeons and on the overworld map, which can be invaluable when you want to pick up a treasure later on. Sometimes you'll find a goody you want to pick up, but you don't have the tools to do it. Just drop a stamp on the map to help you circle back once you have the necessary abilities.
Another great addition comes in the form of a memories page in your menu. Scrolling to this option will let you revisit important tidbits of convo that popped up during gameplay, Sometimes you'll need a quick refresher on what a character said, or a direction or two on where you're supposed to be going next. In the original Link's Awakening, if you forgot what you were doing, you were pretty much out of luck. With this remake, you can click over to a list instantly and find exactly what you were told in order to continue on the adventure.
Link's Awakening on Switch also provides a much more streamlined experience with its controls. Back on the Game Boy, players had to deal with just two buttons for Link's adventure. That meant you had to constantly dip in and out of the options screen in order to equip/unequip items. Thankfully Link's Awakening on Switch changes things up by mapping some items permanently to select buttons. Your sword now has a dedicated button, as does your shield, and the dash ability you unlock later. Furthermore, some items have been changed to always-on. In the original Link's Awakening, the power bracelet was an item you constantly had to take on/off in order to pick up boulders. In this remake, once you gain the bracelet, Link has its power all the time. You'll still have to visit the options menu regularly during gameplay for other items like the boomerang and fire rod, but the overall control scheme is not anywhere near as cumbersome as the original.
Sadly, one area where Nintendo didn't improve things for this remake is the text box pop-ups. In recent years, Nintendo has finally moved away from informing players on what a rupee was every single time they picked one up. For a long, long time, every key grab and heart container was met with a freeze in gameplay and a dialog box. That's how it was in Link's Awakening on the Game Boy, and that's how it is on Switch as well. This is especially aggravating with the defense/offense power-ups that enemies drop randomly. These will boost Link's abilities for a limited time, but eventually you'll start skipping them altogether due to the constant dialog pop up.
It's not all quality of life changes for Link's Awakening either. Much more obvious are the changes to both visuals and audio. Link's Awakening has thrown aside the Game Boy visuals for a toy-like approach on the Switch, making things look like a collection of miniatures brought to life. This whimsical approach to graphics really fits in with the theme and vibe of Link's Awakening, and helps to add to the surreal feel overall. It also doesn't hurt that it looks gorgeous as well. The only hiccup in these visuals comes with dropped frames, which are pretty frequent. The game never comes anywhere close to slowing to a crawl, and for me, gameplay wasn't impacted in the slightest. That said, you can definitely notice when the game lowers in framerate for a bit, which might get on the nerves of some players.
On the audio side of things, the package couldn't be better. In all honesty, the music of Link's Awakening might be my favorite aspect of the Switch remake. Nintendo has paid painstaking detail to the original game's soundtrack, and has breathed new life into it in some amazing ways. The overworld tunes remain pretty much the same arrangement-wise, but with a much better selection of instruments. It helps to add a new layer of excitement and enjoyment to the adventure. That said, the dungeon music is really where the soundtrack shines. Nintendo has added in new layers to almost every dungeon tune, and the end result is even better than the original. These songs now have new flourishes and some new melodies as well, but they play in tandem with the original composition. Sometimes the songs even use chiptune sounds straight from the original game! The music of Link's Awakening was so important to setting the mood for the adventure, and the rework for Link's Awakening on Switch makes things better in every possible way.
Better in every way possible is actually a good way to describe Link's Awakening on Switch in general. There really isn't any area where the Switch version is sub-par when compared to the Game Boy original. The visuals are spruced up, the audio is top-notch, the charm of the story is intact, the gameplay has been improved with a handful of tweaks, and the experience still holds up overall. This is a Zelda game that many haven't had the chance to play, and it more than deserves a second (or third, or fourth) chance in the spotlight. If you've never played Link's Awakening before, there's absolutely no reason not to dive in on this remake right away. For those who own every release and re-release of Link's Awakening, this Switch version is still worth your attention. Just seeing the experience brought to life with a fresh coat of paint, and hearing the new tunes is worth it alone.
Link's Awakening is a very important moment in the Legend of Zelda franchise, and it's fantastic to see Nintendo recognize that. They've taken everything that was great about Link's Awakening and revamped it for a new generation to enjoy. Don't consider this a stop-gap title as we wait for more info on Breath of the Wild 2. Link's Awakening is more than worth your time, and remains one of the best Zelda titles ever made. The gameplay is as addictive as ever, and the story is the most enchanting the series has seen. When all's said and done, Link's Awakening is a magical adventure you'll not soon forget.