Unfortunately, I never got to play the original Link’s Awakening on Gameboy. Mostly because in 1993, I was a baby and my idiot baby hands would not have been able to move Link around in any coherent fashion. Even with the 1998 re-release of Link’s Awakening DX, I still wouldn’t have been able to play it with my idiot toddler hands getting increasingly mad at the fact I wouldn’t have been able to do anything properly or get past the first screen. So, thank goodness for the 2019 remake because my idiot adult hands are perfectly capable of playing and enjoying this game.
A Link To The Past
Link’s Awakening contains elements of both the original and the 1998 re-release, and presents it in an absolutely adorable toy fashion, with Link looking like a cute little toy doll exploring a lively and vibrant world of dioramas, as well as gorgeous anime-style cutscenes reminiscent of the illustration-based custcenes of the original. It all works together to create an amazing visual style full of personality and life, and a world that invites exploration.
It’s also important to mention the story, however, as back in the day, this was one of the first first Zelda titles to have a heavy reliance on story. The director, Takashi Tezuka, even said the game had a similar feeling to Twin Peaks. It’s an important game as not only does it introduce the heavy story-based elements of later titles, but it also introduces the humor and surreal elements that would also become series staples. Essentially, it’s a super important part of Zelda history.
The story features Link on the open seas, and, depending on which timeline theory you ascribe to, he’s either returning from the Oracle series adventures, or heading off from A Link To The Past to those adventures. It’s complicated. Anyway, a huge storm arises and Link finds himself in trouble, helpless as his boat is destroyed and he’s knocked unconscious, only to wind up on a tiny, mysterious island called Koholint, full of colourful characters.
One such character, a mysterious owl, explains to him that the only way to leave the island is to collect eight magical musical instruments in order to wake the Wind Fish, the guardian of the island who sleeps inside a giant egg on top of a mountain. It makes more sense in context, I promise.
And so, Link sets off on an adventure across the island, through dungeons and towns full of an absolutely delightful cast of original characters (and also some Mario stuff?) to wake the Wind Fish and get back home.
Kill Monsters, Take Chain Chomps For Walkies
If you’ve played Link’s Awakening, then congratulations! The gameplay is pretty much the same but just much more polished and flows a lot better, as well as being more user friendly. If you haven’t, but you’re familiar with how Zelda games play, then you’re in for an absolutely delightful surprise.
First up, a lot of the exploration, as per the Zelda norm, is heavily reliant on items found in dungeons. Even being able to pick up and throw/smash pots. I know, it’s a shocker. The game is open world and top down (apart from some small side scrolling/platforming sections within dungeons), and initially only a very small portion is open to the player, with more of the island becoming accessible as the player finds the appropriate items, making exploration fairly linear.
Link has a sword, a shield, and good ol’ fashion gumption to get through the island, but he also has a few new tricks up his sleeve. One he finds them. In a series first, one item lets Link jump. You can jump over gaps! You can jump for joy! You can jump just because! So long as the item is equipped. In the Gameboy days, with limited buttons, this was a huge issue. Thankfully the Switch has a lot more buttons, with a dedicated sword button and shield button, and the rest allowing the player to set items.
There’s also other cool items to play with, with classics like the boomerang and bow, through to fun new things like the flippers, which allow Link to swim, and the shovel, which lets Link dig up hidden treasures. Speaking of which, while the game isn’t huge on sidequests, there’s still enough to keep players busy, such as the classic Zelda trading sidequest (much of which is actually mandatory to progress), a claw machine that’s slightly less rigged than real claw machines, as well as the hidden seashells scattered throughout the island which, when certain amounts are found, will give Link access to cool new items.
The biggest addition, however, is Dampe the gravedigger’s dungeon builder. which allows players to create and share their own custom dungeons. New pieces are unlocked through completing dungeons, as well as through the use of Amiibo. It’s a really unique little addition that can offer hours of fun, which is great, because the game itself isn’t super long.
Though, in saying that, its short length and simplicity compared to other classic Zelda titles makes it a perfect entry point for new fans, or for fans who have played modern titles but want to get a taste of what the classic titles were like. The pacing does great work introducing concepts to the player through fun puzzles and opening the world one piece at a time, with the smaller open world ensuring that players never feel lost or overwhelmed, while being just big enough to provide some challenge and require some thought when it comes to where to go next, and how to get there.
Also, as mentioned above, there’s a Chain Chomp, like from Mario, and you can take it for walkies.
Plays like a dream
All in all, Link’s Awakening plays incredibly smoothly, it’s overwhelmingly cute and sweet, and throws in new features to keep old players interested and new players busy. It’s an absolutely brilliant example of what a 1 for 1 remake should be, or, a 1 for 1 but also some extra stuff remake should be.
True to the original, fun new ideas, fixing up old flaws, and just being utterly charming in the process.