Originally released way back in 1993 for the good old Game Boy, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening has always been a little bit of a curio in the history of the long-running Zelda franchise. Originally planned as a straight-up port of the Super Nintendo’s monstrously successful A Link To The Past, this very first portable Zelda experience soon morphed into entirely its own thing. With its side-scrolling dungeon sections, ability to jump and host of bizarre cameos from other Nintendo franchises, it struck a new, slightly off-kilter tone. It also boldly transferred the action from Hyrule to an all-new setting, jettisoning franchise staples such as Princess Zelda herself, Ganon and the Triforce to focus on a completely new and refreshingly philosophical narrative for our tiny adventurer. Now, it's getting a new chance to shine thanks to a Switch remake.
After a majestically revamped opening cutscene which sees a ferocious storm tear our hero’s ship to pieces, we join Link as he’s washed ashore on the mysterious island of Koholint. Coming to, he finds himself in the care of a young girl, Marin, and her bumbling goofball dad, Tarin. Quickly setting off to retrieve his trusty sword, he’s informed by a wise Owl that the only way to leave Koholint is to collect and play the Eight Instruments of The Sirens, hidden in dungeons across the island, in order to rouse the great Wind Fish from its slumber inside a huge egg perched atop Mount Tamaranch. And so begins our adventure.
Where the Switch’s other Zelda title, 2017's Breath of the Wild, revels in the wide-open nature of its enormous world – casting off the trademark gated progress of older entries in the franchise in favour of a more modern approach, unshackling players and giving them access to everything from the outset – Link’s Awakening absolutely thrives in its more traditional ways. This is a game all about slowly unlocking the means to your progression, amassing the tools required to do the job and the early hours are, in classic Zelda fashion, spent figuring out how to remove the various objects that impede your traversal of Koholint before getting down and dirty with its bigger bad guys. The puzzles, secrets and dungeons are amongst the very best in the entire series, and, if you’re one of those people who felt like Breath of the Wild gave you a little too much freedom at the cost of feeling a little less Zelda-like, you’ll be right at home snuggling back into this more classic mould.
What was once a monochromatic wonder when it originally released on Game Boy has, 26 years later, been transformed into one of the Switch’s most unique and beautiful looking games; a thoroughly modern reimagining which transforms the island of Koholint and its all of its weird and wonderful inhabitants into a beautiful little tilt-shifted toy-box absolutely dripping in tiny new details and atmosphere, ready for you to rediscover or – if you’re really lucky – experience for the very first time.
Fans of the original game who’ve played it to death in its previous guises on Game Boy or the Game Boy Color will, for the most part, know exactly what to expect as they set out on their journey through this remastered version. The map is identical, NPCs mill about in the same locations as before, conversations are almost word-for-word the same and – if you were a master of the game back in the day – you’ll still be able to speed-run your way through this version. However, as with any remaster, this is all about breathing new life into something that we all know and love and, in this regard, it’s hard to see how Nintendo and Grezzo could have done a better job.
This is a supreme overhaul, not just in terms of the stunning new graphics and art-style, but in the reworked score that accompanies them, with the old plinky-plonk Game Boy instruments – which were quite something for their time – replaced by the majesty of an almost fully orchestrated re-recording of familiar old tunes. It’s often surprisingly emotional stuff, revisiting these magical places you’d long forgotten, rediscovering some hidden passage or other; latent memories suddenly reawaken in your mind as this music, so familiar but also now so new and grandiose, takes flight in the background.
Indeed, making your way across this brand new Koholint, all the way from the now sparkling white sands of Toronbo Shores – the sun reflecting off the transparent water that laps against its beaches – to the Mysterious Forest, enshrouded here in beautifully atmospheric fog effects and onwards to Goponga Swamp, Ukuku Prairie and the Yarna Desert, you’ll constantly be wowed by just how much more alive everything feels.
Enemies have seen a host of revisions to how they look, and in some places behave, with minuscule details adding enormously to their personalities, giving them a physicality that imbues the moment-to-moment combat and dungeon traversal with a whole new level of satisfying weightiness. Buzz Blobs wobble around delightfully, a sort of semi-translucent jelly with eyes wrapped in electric shockwaves, beautifully animated spiders scurry out of their holes to attack you whilst heavily armoured Moblins and Darknuts will often now require that you parry their attacks in order to open them up to counters, adding a nice little tactical layer to the combat.
Speaking of combat, the revamped boss battles look incredible, some of them also playing out in slightly different ways than you might be expecting if you’re an old-hand at the game, and the dungeons that you take on in your quest to recover those all-important instruments benefit no end from the new level of detail and fidelity, in how they’re lit and in the highly detailed textures from which they’re now built, each one now a much more atmospheric and absorbing affair.
Of course, it’s not all aesthetic changes in this new version of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. One of the most oft-criticised aspects of the original game was the need to constantly switch out gear and equipment due to the lack of buttons on the Game Boy. The Switch does away with this by having your sword and shield assigned permanently to their own buttons, whilst gear such as bombs, arrows and the Roc’s Feather can be allocated to either X or Y buttons as you see fit. Your Pegasus Boots, once you unlock them, can be activated by holding down the left shoulder button, while the Power Bracelet activates automatically, and it all makes for a much less stop-start, more streamlined affair.
Another nice little quality of life addition is the ability to add pins to your map, in much the same way as you did in Breath of the Wild, making it easy to remember where an item of interest or place you wish to revisit is located. There are empty bottles to find that you can store fairies in for use when you need them most, and the compass now has a handy on-screen indicator which flashes up when you’re near a treasure chest, making it that little bit easier to notice when you’re too busy being distracted by a puzzle or battered by an enemy. There are also more hidden collectables than featured in the original version of the game, with more heart fragments and secret seashells to discover – as well as a handful of new warp points.
Moving from area to area also no longer requires any sort of transition, as was the case on the humble Game Boy. Instead, the island is rendered in one big beautiful, seamless whole, and as a result, moving around the various locations feels like an altogether more modern affair. Koholint's map, which still reveals itself bit by bit as you stumble across new areas, seems so small in comparison to most adventure games today but it has depth; it's a cleverly designed place stuffed full of surprises and secrets. Traversing from one side of this game's world to the other may only take a matter of minutes, but there are countless hours of fun to be had for the completionist here.
The new additions continue when you visit Dampe the Gravedigger at his shack. As you make your way through the various dungeons in the game you’ll unlock dungeon templates and, upon visiting Dampe, he’ll feed these templates into his "Chamber Dungeon Creator", tasking you with making your way through a bunch of tutorial-style challenges before allowing you to freely put together your own dungeons, which you’ll then have to successfully make your way through to earn rewards. It’s not exactly Mario Maker: Zelda Edition, but, as long as you’re not expecting to create your own enormous, bespoke Zelda dungeons from the ground up, it’s a fun enough distraction which we’re sure some people will get a lot of extra value from.
Dampe's shack also serves as the location from which you can make use of any of your Legend of Zelda series amiibo. Tapping your amiibo here enables you to unlock some special dungeon templates to use in Dampe's dungeon creator – you can also then save your creations to the amiibo you're using. The Link's Awakening amiibo will also allow you to summon Shadow Link into your dungeons, the malevolent figure hunting you down until you take him out for a sweet rupee reward.
In terms of the performance of this remaster, everything looks absolutely glorious in both docked and handheld modes, but it does, unfortunately, suffer from a little slowdown in certain areas. We first noticed it around Toronbo Shores where there are quite a few Octoroks and Sea Urchins on your screen at the same time and it does seem to be a problem that rears its head for the most part in heavily-populated locations. It’s far from being any sort of a deal-breaker, but it’s a shame as you can feel it in combat from time to time as the game goes from buttery smooth to struggling ever so slightly to keep up.
However, small technical hitch aside, this is a phenomenal remake of one of the best entries in the entire Zelda series. The new aesthetic adds a whole new layer of life to characters and locations that we know and love, whilst also absolutely fitting in with the narrative at play, and the little quality of life improvements and changes here and there make the whole thing feel thoroughly modern. The puzzles, dungeons, side-quests and boss battles all feel as good as they did back in the day and remain amongst the strongest in the franchise.
Whether you’re getting re-acquainted with Koholint and its wonderfully kooky cast of characters or are a newcomer embarking on your awakening for the first time, there’s a ton to look forward to here. Battling through one of the awesome dungeons, grabbing a plush Yoshi from the Trendy Game, chomping through Moblins with your pet Chain Chomp, hitting up Granpa Ulrira for some tips when you’re totally stumped or just playing some Ocarina with Marin before taking in the view down at the beach, this is a game still every bit as magical as it ever was. Oh, and yes, you can still get yourself zapped by the shopkeeper if you're that way inclined. THIEF!
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was a technical marvel when it first arrived on the scene back in 1993. Easily one of the great Game Boy releases, it was a first bash at a handheld Zelda that took the formula as perfected by A Link to the Past, jammed it all onto a tiny portable console and, somehow, managed to make it all work while adding a host of new features and concepts to the mix. This beautiful Switch remake rebuilds all of this from the ground up in fine style. It adds modern conveniences, a dungeon creator, amiibo support and lots of little quality of life improvements whilst infusing every single square inch of Koholint – every secret passage, Piranha, Pokey and Pig Warrior – with a level of detail and depth that totally reinvigorates both its timeless story and classic Zelda gameplay for a whole new generation of gamers.