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Game review: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the Switch

24 Sep 2019

25 years after its original Game Boy release, Nintendo’s classic The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, has been reimagined for the Switch.

First released way back in 1993 on Nintendo Game Boy, the game was reissued in 1999 for the Game Boy Color. With fresh graphics, yet again, Nintendo are bringing one of their classics to a new audience.

Having played videogames for forty years, I’ve a lot of nostalgic memories of great games from yesteryear. Having revisited many of the games that defined my youth via emulation and reissues, I’ve realised that my memory has a funny habit of upgrading video game graphics.

Link’s Awakening on Nintendo’s Switch is as if the developers had taken my rose-tinted memory of the original Game Boy game and put it in my Switch. This is exactly what Link’s Awakening and a thousand over copycat RPGs (especially you, Alundra) would have looked like if the tech was available back in the early 90s.

Anyone familiar with retro RPGs will be right at home with Link’s Awakening. Apart from the fresh visuals, the game retains all of the charm that made these games a staple of the videogame industry back in the day. The game starts with Link washed up on the beach of Koholint Island. On exploring the Mabe village, Link comes across an owl who tells him that he needs to wake the Wind Fish in order to get home. And to do this Link will need to find eight instruments hidden away in eight dungeons.

Link’s Awakening sits a little outside of the main Zelda series in that it doesn’t take itself quite as seriously. Players expecting more of Link’s adventures à la Breath of the Wild may be disappointed (until they settle in to play it, that is).

The story comes about via the interaction with the locals and the tasks that they set Link. By Western standards it’s a little odd, but typical JRPG-fayre. There’s always something going on that Link needs to sort out. Players are never really left hanging.

Link starts with nothing, not even the ability to jump. The island is set out full of obstacles blocking Link’s path.  As the game progress Link’s equipment and abilities begin to slowly enable players to get to new areas and unlock new paths. Early in the game obtaining Link’s sword enables him to get through vegetation blocking his path and hiding Rupees (the island’s currency), heart and power-ups.

Trading with the island’s citizens will also allow Link to gain useful items. Listening to everybody you talk to will reveal what they need. There’s also a trader (which you can actually steal stuff from) and a weird shop with one of those prize grabbers that you can try your luck on for a small fee.

The island is littered with infinitely spawning enemies which need to be avoided or dealt with. Link’s sword and shield and later on arrows, and even a boomerang, do the job of keeping the nasties at bay.

Each dungeon is full of puzzles that are fun and not too hard. I found the bosses to be a pain, but I’m not much of a fan of these in any game and, unfortunately, in the 90s, when Link’s Awakening was conceived, they were all the rage (and still are in most Japanese games). 

As with the original there were times when I was a bit flummoxed as to what I’m supposed to do next. Back in ’93 I had no internet, thankfully we no longer have to be stuck for days, be calling premium tip lines or waiting for magazine walkthroughs. Be prepared for a little frustration.

As old as it may be, Link’s Awakening doesn’t pull its punches. If you really get stuck, you can always use one of the phones in the gave and get a crafty tip from them. If it all gets too much, you can always chill out and do some fishing.

Whether you play the game on your TV or via the Switch’s screen, the game looks incredible. The developers have used a light tilt-shift-style blurring to the top and bottom of the screen to make the environment look like a little model. It looks great and super-cute.

If I didn’t know better, it’s as if The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was made for the Switch. This remaster is a perfect partner for Nintendo’s portable console. It looks beautiful and is just so much fun to play.