From the moment of its first reveal the Switch remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening captured Zelda fans’ attention with its eye-catching diorama aesthetic and reimagining of a classic. The Game Boy original transposed the top-down style of A Link to the Past on Super NES to a handheld in a way few thought possible given the Game Boy’s exceptionally modest specs. The project began as a port of the 16-bit game, but the end result was a dreamy, engrossing adventure that matched (and some might say surpassed) the ambitions of many of the home console games.
As befits such a storied series, several entries have been remastered over the years, although perhaps surprisingly, Link's Awakening on Switch is arguably the first totally ground-up remake we've ever seen - Nintendo seems reluctant to put out revisions of games without worthwhile and substantial additions. With that in mind we thought it was worth looking back at the revisions we have seen in the past and see what they streamlined, tidied up and added to the mix.
So, let’s start with something that has a very familiar flavour at the moment…
Link’s Awakening is not only the latest in the series to be revisited, but it was also the first Zelda game to receive a remaster. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX came out five years after the Game Boy original to accompany the launch of the Game Boy Color - there’s no prizes for guessing the main addition it brought. As well as up to 16 colours, an extra dungeon, a camera shop and Game Boy Printer compatibility were added along with some minor script tweaks.
The DX version is backwards compatible with the original monochrome Game Boy, which makes it tough to justify playing the original over this version under any circumstances – this really is the definitive version of the game! Well, it was until very recently.
You could argue that the GameCube port of Ocarina of Time available on promo disc was a sort of remaster as it upped the resolution of the original game and added new content in the form of the ‘Ura Zelda’ expansion originally planned (and canned) for the 64DD. That ‘Master Quest’ aside, it was the sterling 2011 version on 3DS which really earned the ‘remaster’ moniker. Developed by Grezzo, the same company behind the new Link’s Awakening remake, Ocarina of Time 3D used the handheld system’s touchscreen for inventory management which gave instant access to items like the Iron Boots which were a pain to equip (and unequip, and then re-equip) in the original. In truth, we’re not certain the Water Temple truly warrants the reputation it’s gained over the last two decades as a complete and utter nightmare, but minor tweaks made that dungeon a little more approachable this time around. Optional gyro aiming in first-person was added along with a hints system and a remixed version of the aforementioned Master Quest. Oh, and it runs at 30fps (over the original’s 20) and there’s stereoscopic 3D.
Possibly the game's greatest triumph, though, is the tightrope it walks between delivering visuals ‘as you remember them’ while giving almost everything a fresh lick of paint. It’s not until you return to the Nintendo 64 version that you realise quite what an overhaul this was. If we're super picky, the lack of rumble feedback could reasonably be considered a step back from the N64 original, and we’re not sure Grezzo quite recaptured the morning mist hanging over Lake Hylia before sunrise, but it’s very tough to argue that this isn’t the optimal way to play Ocarina of Time in 2019.
The Wind Waker HD took the timeless art style of the GameCube original and gave it a 16:9 canvas to shine on. As the title suggests, it added full HD and a host of minor gameplay and control changes to make for a smoother experience. The infamous and oft-maligned Triforce Quest towards the end of the game was streamlined in this update and a new, faster sail for your boat sped up navigation across the ocean, too. The Wii U GamePad displays a map and provides access to your inventory, and also functions as the main screen should you wish to play in Off-TV mode. Miiverse integration and the ability to snap selfies rounded out a very attractive repackaging of a classic.
In fact, aside from the new bloom-heavy lighting model which divided opinion and is a distinct departure from the original, the only step this remaster really put wrong was releasing on Nintendo’s least successful mainline console ever. We’re sure anyone desperate to play The Wind Waker has already done so, but in terms of Wii U ports yet to make the jump to Switch, this one’s an absolute open goal.
The success of the previous 3DS remaster made 2015’s Majora’s Mask 3D a no-brainer, although Nintendo held off for a long time before announcing it which resulted in fans instigating the Operation Moonfall campaign. As with its previous effort, Grezzo sanded off the rough edges of the N64 original while keeping its disturbing, surreal spirit intact. It includes all the control and touchscreen changes from the previous game and added a much-improved Bomber’s Notebook, fishing holes, a new side quest, boss battle tweaks, more save statues and various other tweaks to many areas and mechanics alongside the visual overhaul.
The pressure of the three-day time-loop that put some people off in the original was mitigated somewhat by the ability to travel to a specific future hour in the cycle and the combination of these myriad buffs makes the 3DS the best place for newcomers to play both of the Nintendo 64 Zeldas.
The other HD Wii U update of a GameCube original, Twilight Princess HD benefited from similar GamePad-based upgrades to The Wind Waker HD. Developed by Tantalus alongside Nintendo itself, it also got an exclusive dungeon called the Cave of Shadows and numerous tweaks across the board to freshen it up. Many players will have experienced this as a Wii launch title which ‘flipped’ the entire game and the geography of Hyrule in order to make Link right-handed. Considering the basic motion waggle of the Wii version (as opposed to the more precise system of Skyward Sword), it always seemed like a drastic solution to a very minor problem, but this remaster reverts to the GameCube map and puts landmarks back in their vaguely Ocarina of Time-based locations.
Add in a bunch of amiibo support and you’ve got another very strong Zelda remaster. Is it worth tracking down a Wii U for? Probably not, especially if you’ve got a GameCube or a Wii. If only there was another option…
That’s the lot, unless you want to start splitting hairs about the cross-platform editions of Twilight Princess and Breath of the Wild or arguing that the addition of the Hurricane Spin to the Game Boy Advance port of A Link to the Past constitutes a ‘remaster’.
So, what does the future hold in terms of remasters and remakes? Well, we know Breath of the Wild 2 is on the way, but realistically that’s a 2021 game – holiday 2020 at the earliest – which leaves a big Zelda-shaped gap in the Switch’s release schedule once we’ve all woken the Wind Fish. Inti Creates boss Takuya Aizu recently mentioned a dream to remake Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, a desire various people have echoed in the past. Of all the games, that one is certainly the standout in terms of entries which could do with an overhaul – it has moments of surreal magic and music to match the best in the series, but they’re buried in mechanics that have aged poorly.
Series boss Eiji Aonuma joked about a possible Skyward Sword port for Switch before a company statement walked back the possibility. The obvious way to go would be to throw the Wii U versions of Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD on Switch - that would surely go down very well with the millions of Switch owners who skipped the Wii U. Then again, now that Grezzo has the Link’s Awakening remake under its belt, why not remake the Oracle games or the GBA's The Minish Cap in the same style? Why not go back to the original NES game and use it as a template for a ‘Zelda Maker’ which could switch Game Styles between '8-bit', '16-bit', 'Toon' and 'Dreamy Diorama'?...
Whatever the future holds, Nintendo is busy beavering away on the brand new game and there are no doubt other projects bubbling away in the minds of Eiji Aonuma’s team. That said, we're sure somebody will be wielding the (re)Master Sword before too long and we’ll see more vintage Zelda adventures polished up and put out on Switch. And if they continue hitting the high bar set by the examples above, we’ll be more than happy to revisit each and every one.
Which of these remakes was most successful? Are there any where you’d prefer to play the original instead? Is The Legend of Zelda on NES really a remaster of the Famicom Disk System original? Feel free to get into the nitty gritty in the usual place and tell us what you'd like to see in the future...