Every Nintendo fan has an opinion on which Legend of Zelda is the best. It could be the defining A Link to the Past, the revolutionary Ocarina of Time, the modern classic Breath of the Wild, or any game in between. For many, though, their favourite isn’t one of the home console adventures, but Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy… and now for Nintendo Switch.
Link’s Awakening is by far and away the most playful game in the long-running series. It throws in references to and enemies from the Super Mario games for one, many of the characters you meet are wonderfully off the wall, and this game really helped to establish the series’ predilection for mini-games. There’s also the central mystery of Koholint Island and the waking Wind Fish, which is seeded throughout the world in a wonderful way, many of the bosses taunting you about the looming doom of the island.
Though the Game Boy version still feels pleasantly playable today, the remake reworks and improves so many of the central game mechanics for a modern system. Where the two button limit of the Game Boy forced you to constantly dive into the menus to swap out the items you had equipped, now you have B dedicated to the sword and right trigger for the shield, X and Y are your items, dash boots live on the left shoulder button, interacting is on A, and things like the power bracelet just work whenever you need them. You now have Link actually face diagonally when moving diagonally, thanks to proper eight directional movement. The only control scheme flaw I can really think of is that you can’t move using a D-pad, with the D-pad having no other purpose in the game.
That increased player flexibility naturally goes hand in hand with a more engaging feeling world and enemies which act more aggressively toward you, even if they are typically still beholden to four directional movement. In particular those with sword and shield are now staggered when their sword strikes Link’s, giving you an opening instead of having to rely on charged spin attacks. That said, a lot of the enemies do still feel just cobbled together, half-formed ideas of the enemies that come later in the series.
Of course, the biggest change by far comes from the wonderful new graphical style, which sits somewhere between claymation and smoothly animated dolls or puppets. It’s lush and vibrantly colourful – there’s great irony when you find the book that extolls the virtues of the Color Dungeon from the DX release – and with a nice tilt shift effect blurring the top and bottom of the screen. The world feels more spacious in general, especially when in dungeons and battling against certain bosses and enemies. It’s accompanied by some wonderful new recordings of the classic themes within the game, even if the main Legend of Zelda theme soon gets to be quite repetitive when running around the world.
So it’s a shame just how ropey the frame rate can feel at times. The game actually spends the vast majority of its time at 60fps, but as you cross into a different part of the map or meander through Mabe and Animal Village, the streaming in of new data and number of NPCs on screen sends the frame rate tumbling down to 30fps at times with an unsightly juddering feel. It’s a real disappointment that this hasn’t been remedied since we first encountered it at E3 and it spoils the otherwise wonderful art work.
As well as being an utterly delightful recreation of the original game, they’ve have also taken the opportunity to repurpose the old Photo Shop from Link’s Awakening DX. Obviously, with no camera on the Switch, it would serve no purpose without the change. It’s now Dampé’s Shack, playing home to a dungeon creator and design challenges themed around it.
It’s a nice little addition to dip into occasionally, but nowhere near as flexible as Mario Maker is for platforming as you simply bolt together dungeon rooms on a grid, matching up their doors and properties. Without being able to tweak enemies or reconfigure rooms in any way, playing dungeons back to back can become repetitive, but it’s a nice little mode for occasional play at least.