Breath of the Wild brought many new people to the Zelda franchise. Now Nintendo is bringing classic Zelda to the younger generation. Link’s Awakening is a fine choice to show people the intricacies of classic Zelda gameplay, in a package that's easily accessible for newer players whilst also being a trip down memory lane for long time fans.
Detailed, immersive world
Challenging retro puzzles
Chamber Arranging isn’t great
Frame rate problems
No usual Zelda lore
Why you can trust TechRadar
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Time played: 21 hours
For those who never played the original, Link’s Awakening begins with our valiant hero Link being washed up on the shore of Koholint Island. Not knowing where he is or how he got there, it’s your job to guide Link to his escape.
As you go through the isle's various dungeons, you find out the key to getting off the island involves waking up the Wind Fish. On your adventure you will come across mini-games and extra features dotted around the island which provide a break from the usual gameplay.
To bridge the gap between Breath of the Wild and Link’s Awakening there are a few features that more recent fans will find familiar. The autosave feature returns, along with menus bearing a striking resemblance to those of Breath of the Wild’s and the ability to eat apples off trees to gain hearts back. These are just a few we managed to spot.
If you joined the series with the previous instalment, you’ll be glad to know that Nintendo has made this easy to pick up without changing anything too important from the original Link’s Awakening formula.
Nintendo does a fantastic job at keeping to the original Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy, with most items, characters and dungeons remaining the same. Using the original game as a blueprint, Nintendo really went all out in making sure every other detail was pristine, clean and polished. This makes the artstyle really steal the show.
- Check out our hands on: Nintendo Switch Lite review
Now with moving parts
When it comes to Link’s Awakening on Switch, Nintendo went for a ‘toy-like’ aesthetic in its artstyle. Hearing the plastic-y sounding footsteps and the tap of hitting an enemy made us feel like we were Andy from Toy Story, playing with all his old friends.
Love it or hate it, the toy-like artstyle makes this an easy transition from the original 8-bit game to a current generation title. We struggle to think of any other way to get all the details of a small Gameboy screen onto current TVs.
Link is so expressive in his animation and vocals, we had him take damage, drown, jump off cliffs and even get electrocuted just because the animation was so adorable. Sorry, Link. Characters constantly break the fourth wall to explain controls only for them to explain it is something they heard once and have no idea what it means, lending well to the atmosphere the creators are provoking.
The music is, of course, an orchestrated update to the bleeps and bloops of the Gameboy original. What we didn't expect was hearing said bleeps and bloops scattered around the many different levels in its soundtrack - reminding players of the game’s origins - with Animal Village being a stand out tune for us. This game is clearly more on the silly side than the likes of Twilight Princess.
With the nature of this game being so light-hearted and nonchalant, it makes dropping in and out of gameplay fairly easy. Telephone Booths are dotted around the island and provide clues to where your path should take you next, along with Memories, which is a feature to replay important text from the Owl that aids you throughout the game.
This doesn’t mean to say that the puzzles within dungeons are a walk in the park. Older games can often be much less forgiving in general and Link’s Awakening has that great balance of intricate puzzles along with its easy ‘pick up and play’ nature. No in-depth Hyrulian lore, no outbreak of war over thousands of years: just Link on an island trying to escape. This makes the game perfect to come back to, on those rainy days or if you ever find yourself washed up on a beach.
Don't tri-force it
Link’s Awakening really does make you feel immersed in Koholint but sometimes the island is just a little too overpopulated and the Switch struggles to perform well. The frame rate then drops and reminds you as much as the artstyle is archaic and toy-like, so are the internals of a Switch.
A new addition to the game (since Link’s Awakening DX) is Chamber Arranging. Think of it as the Mario Maker for Zelda dungeons, but not as good. Nintendo teases us with the possibility of freely creating dungeons, sharing them online and experiencing other player creations, however this is not the case. You can only slot chambers together that you have already played. So you increase your roster of available rooms by playing through dungeons in the story.
To then share your dungeons with friends you must save them onto amiibo and then tap onto other Switches. It’s a flawed, backwards way of doing something that could have intrigued fans, but it does suggest there could be a fully fledged Mario Maker style Zelda in the future.
Da da da daaaaa!
Similar to the movie The Sixth Sense, there is a big twist at the end of Link’s Awakening. We went in knowing this already and there are nods to said secret which makes playing the game all the more interesting and personal.
Link’s Awakening originally came out 26 years ago, so you’ve done well to avoid this spoiler until now - if you have. Don’t worry, we don’t plan on spoiling it for you now. However the game does heavily hint at the truth so eagle-eyed players may be expecting it.
Link’s Awakening’s story is not typical of a Zelda game. As we mentioned earlier, this time there is no Hyrule, no Ganondorf, and ironically no Zelda. It truly is Link’s Awakening, and this makes exploring the whole island with all its inhabitants much more personal. With this entry in the Zelda series, Nintendo seem to be putting emphasis on the happy-go-lucky, cheerful nature of Koholint island and this makes the few cutscenes and deep moments in the game all that more thought-provoking and melancholy.
If you’re doubting the credibility of a top-down Zelda title, or how hard a 2D dungeon can be, then you’re in for a shock. Although the dungeons don’t feel too distinctive from eachother in design and structure, they stay unique in their puzzles and enemy types.
Puzzles usually require you to figure out which of your many weapons to use and keeps you on your toes and constantly thinking of ways to surpass each and every room. Enemies make you stop and think about the correct way to tackle each encounter and make for some hectic situations. As you come to learn enemy patterns, you will speed through hordes of erratic foes which really make you feel accomplished and like a cute little toy bad-ass. Combine the two and it makes for a varied and tense experience.
The few flaws Link’s Awakening suffers from are so miniature (pun intended) that they aren’t enough to take away from the impact the game had on us.
The core gameplay of a Zelda title is all here. This, combined with a new coat of paint and charming demeanor, tips it over the edge and makes this not just a remake but a re-imagining. It took us to another world and then ripped us right out of it just as quick, and left us thinking about it much after the sun set on Koholint Island.
- Best Nintendo Switch games 2019: the most essential Switch games right now