Link’s Awakening is proof classic Zelda is still a pot-smashing good time

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    You usually know what to expect with a remake: The same (hopefully great) game with updated visuals and maybe a few new features. Sometimes remakes go above and beyond, like the 2016 re-imagining of Ratchet & Clank. What about 1:1 remakes, though? How do they manage to stand out as more than just a re-skin? The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for Nintendo Switch aptly answers that question.

    Over the past few days, I’ve played through the first three dungeons in the updated Link’s Awakening. I’m delighted to say that it re-captures the magic of the original and adds to it in subtle but meaningful ways.

    It’s undoubtedly a 1:1 remake. Mabe Village is still sandwiched between Toronbo Shores and the Mysterious Forest, and the dungeon layout and puzzles are the same in Tail Cave, Bottle Grotto, and Key Cavern. The majority of the townsfolk and animals you run into are the original residents, speaking identical lines of dialogue. Yet, as someone who has played through Link’s Awakening on Game Boy multiple times, it’s baffling how fresh this classic handheld remake feels on the Switch.

    Koholint Island reborn

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    A sizable portion of that feeling comes from the new graphics. The isometric camera perspective brilliantly shows off the lush, colorful environments and 3D enemy designs. No longer limited by Game Boy technology, the overworld and dungeons have far fewer “screens” that segment the world.

    There’s a wonderful feeling of openness for the first time on Koholint Island. It isn’t open in the Breath of the Wild sense, but it does add a contemporary spin to a classic experience. Link’s Awakening begs to be played in handheld mode. Its more open environments and stylish graphics are a joy to experience on a bigger screen as well. For a game that was originally ushered into the world as a Game Boy game, Link’s Awakening manages to stay true to its roots while feeling right at home on the Nintendo Switch. It reinforces my belief that Nintendo can both innovate on its most famous franchises as we saw in Breath of the Wild and return to the tried-and-true stylings of the often peculiar and endearing handheld entries.

    For those who haven’t played Link’s Awakening, the clever room puzzles in the opening three dungeons hold up well and include some of the best boss designs in series history. The ability to drop pins on the map is particularly useful here, as you can mark points of interest like locked doors and areas you can’t get to yet without a specific item. It’s an excellent quality of life addition that makes backtracking much easier in Link’s Awakening.

    Link’s Awakening for Switch is the cutest Zelda game ever made.

    While Link has been adorable in other Zelda games, he looks like a porcelain doll here. I cannot stress this enough: Link’s Awakening for Switch is the cutest Zelda game ever made. It’s almost impossible not to smile while playing, especially as the iconic overworld theme soothes your ears.

    Link’s Awakening has always been one of the quirkier Zelda games, filled with colorful characters, cameos from other Nintendo franchises, and silly dialogue. The updated graphics in the remake, however, do more than just cast it in an idyllic new light. Now when you visit Sale, the talking alligator banana salesman on Toronbo Shores, his exuberant demeanor is given more room to shine thanks to subtle animations. And when Tarin transforms back from a raccoon, his bumbling personality is represented visually as well.

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    What you see on screen matches the dialogue. It may sound like a small thing, but the cohesion allows Link’s Awakening to harp on its eccentric style. Everything I’ve seen on Koholint Island so far has both brought me back to my childhood and compelled me to view this adventure from a new perspective.

    Rescuing BowWow, Madam MeowMeow’s good boy, from Moblins was one of my favorite parts of Link’s Awakening. Watching the misunderstood puppy from the Mario franchise gobble up Moblins in the mysterious forest again is now a sight to behold.

    So far, it’s radiantly clear that Link’s Awakening was the perfect choice for a remake. The original had a ton of personality that was partially refined by the color visuals of Link’s Awakening DX. Now Link’s Awakening‘s distinct personality is in its fullest form. Even the pitter-patter of Link’s feet and the way his hair moves back and forth and hat wiggles when slashing his sword adds new charm to one of the greatest Zelda games of all time.

    Comfort gaming

    There’s also something to be said about returning to the classic Zelda formula after spending hundreds of hours with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Though Breath of the Wild is undoubtedly my favorite game in the series, there’s a welcome comfort in revisiting the traditional dungeon formula. Link’s Awakening is ostensibly the same game that appeared on Game Boy in 1993 and Game Boy Color in 1998, but the 2019 iteration makes tradition feel new again. Along with the updated map system, the shield no longer takes up one of two inventory slots, which is both helpful and freeing when it comes to items. And of course there’s the Chamber Dungeons, which bring new challenges and a dungeon builder that I’ve had fun tinkering with so far (more on this in my full review).

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    Old ideas can be cast in a new light over time, and that’s what I’m seeing on display in Link’s Awakening. In one corner you have Breath of the Wild, featuring a sprawling open-world Hyrule with systems upon systems and more fine-tuned combat — a game decidedly made with TVs in mind. And in the other corner, you have Link’s Awakening, a throwback Zelda adventure made for handheld play that’s charming and interesting for more than just nostalgia. And both coexist in harmony on the Switch.

    The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening launches September 20 on Nintendo Switch, and our full review is coming soon.

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