Wouldn’t it be cool if you could play a Zelda game on the go?
Okay, okay, we know what you're thinking. Today, you could fill up a whole stadium with portable Zelda games alone. But in 1993? How would anyone ever get a Zelda game to fit onto a Game Boy cartridge? Impossible.
Well, they obviously figured it out in the form of Link’s Awakening, a technological marvel so memorable that Nintendo has once again revisited that feeling of holding a tiny toy in your hand. Not only is Link back to being portable on the Switch, but, well... he looks like a toy!
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the Nintendo Switch gives us this adventure in glorious HD for the first time, but it is not an "HD remaster" in the traditional sense. And as Nintendo insisted to us during our E3 meeting, neither is the game a remake, as the company prefers to use the term “reimagining”. Reimagined or not, in the demo the game played out beat-for-beat identically to the Game Boy and Game Boy Color versions of the title.
Link awakens in a bed, rescued from a terrible shipwreck. Your saviours hand you a familiar shield, drop an unsuitable amount of information for an almost-drowned sailor, and send you off in search of both your sword and puzzles to solve.
Gone is the smooth, 360-degree analogue control, and instead, Link walks around on a grid, similar to the original game
Have you played Link Between Worlds for the Nintendo 3DS? Well, this doesn’t feel like that. Gone is the smooth, 360-degree analogue control, and instead, Link walks around on a grid, similar to the original game – albeit much more quickly. Once you get used to that, everything begins to flow. The animations look absolutely incredible. The depth of field when you walk produces a sort of slight blur for objects in the distance, which you’d think might be limiting, but artistically makes the environment look like little, real-life models of houses and things. And the music? If you’re a fan of the original soundtrack, look forward to listening to these modernized arrangements. Just the small portion we sampled from the opening segment of the game was spot-on and made us smile over and over.
In our time with the game, we were allowed to goof around in the town and play remade versions of the original claw and fishing mini-games, or we could hustle towards the first dungeon objective. We did both. Inside the town, it’s actually pretty impressive how well Nintendo captured the feel of every tiny character in the game, given how little detail was present in the original. The couple with the children look uncanny. The fisherman is a fitting homage too, but looking better than ever. Even the claw game played just as hard as we remembered it, though we still snagged ourselves a plush, digital Yoshi.
As far as going north into the woods, that tugged at our nostalgia, but it was just a little bit different – in a great way. The enemy Moblins do much more than stick a few pixels out with the hope of impeding your progress; fully animated swoops, shielding, and dodges make defeating even common enemies more complex than in the Game Boy versions, but in a way that makes fighting fun and rewarding. Shielding really matters, and you can’t just be swinging wildly – you’ve gotta put a tiny bit of thought into it if Link is to survive.
The enemy Moblins do much more than stick a few pixels out with the hope of impeding your progress
To arrive at the first dungeon with the key, you might recall a series of events involving a mushroom, a raccoon, and a witch. All of it is here, and fans of the old game who’ve played it recently (or have incredible memories) will probably judge this to be much more “remake” than reimagining when it comes to stuff like main plot points. But nevertheless, it’s just plain fun to re-encounter old favourites, like the wandering Stalfos skeletons that Link scatters with his sword. And if it’s your first time playing this game, everything looks so dang good you’ll probably get a lot of mileage out of the experience just the same.
Because the demo was so open-ended, our time with the game ended before we managed to slay the final boss from the first dungeon. We know, we’re disappointed too. But we won’t have to wait terribly long until we once again ascend to the wind fish – Zelda: Link’s Awakening is set to release September 20th, 2019.