Link’s Awakening (2019)

Remakes are always tough to review, considering that they can be approached in many different manners. Some remakes are a complete reimagining of the original, others try to fix glaring issues, and some are just a modernization. Link’s Awakening fits into the final category. A few quality of life changes, an updated art style, and a couple new features bring the 1991 Gameboy game into the modern era. The question is: did they do enough? There are some aspects of the game that are too faithful to a nearly 30-year old handheld title that was heavily limited by its hardware.

The remake of this classic title may be a tad too faithful to its origins. To be fair there were some much needed improvements, but I’d say the game is a slightly modernized clone of the original. The biggest, and most important change, was an update to how the inventory works. In the original game, Link could only equip two items at a time, including his sword and shield. Since you virtually always needed your sword equipped, you constantly had to swap around the second slot depending on which item you needed. This was a giant inconvenience that has been mostly eliminated in this remake.

In the new Link’s Awakening the sword, shield, Power Bracelet, and Pegasus Boots are all permanently equipped once you obtain them. There is much less swapping around items and fiddling around in menus. Still, there could have been more “default” items mapped to buttons. Roc’s Feather for instance was one of my most used items, meaning it had to take up an item slot of most of the game. While the new permanently equipped items are an improvement, it could’ve been taken a step further.

Other than the way items are handled, the only other major change to the game was its visuals. The new art style is a bit odd, and I’m not a huge fan of it. While it does look alright, it makes everything look like a doll or a toy. To me, The Legend of Zelda games embody adventure, and playing as a shiny plastic toy just does not match the vibe of an epic quest. One other thing that was added to the new version of the game was Dampe’s shack. This feature lets the player build their own dungeons using pre-built rooms. It’s not really worth even talking about this feature, as it’s so restrictive and useless that it may as well not exist.

As far as The Legend of Zelda games go, Link’s Awakening is one of the more bizarre entries. There are classic Super Mario enemies like Goombas, there are rarely seen The Legend of Zelda items like Roc’s Feather, and there are plenty of self-aware jokes. It is somewhat jarring to have a The Legend of Zelda game make jokes that reference the fact that is a game. There is an explanation for these strange occurrences, but Link’s Awakening has a distinctly surreal vibe. Link’s Awakening is filled with meta humor, which definitely makes it one of the more unique The Legend of Zelda games.

The most appealing aspect of Link’s Awakening to me was how dense the world is. The map itself is actually pretty tiny, it only takes a couple of minutes to traverse from one end to the other. Despite this, it was designed in such a way that the world has plenty of distinct zones and areas that are jam packed with things to discover. Whenever I acquired a new item, the first thing I would do is search around the map for where I might be able to utilize it to uncover any secrets. Every screen has something hiding in it, and Link’s Awakening does a great job at encouraging the player to keep exploring.

The reason why the game does such a great job at prompting exploration is because it lacksany semblance of handholding. There is a helpful owl who may give the player the idea of where they need to go, but figuring out how to get there is a whole other beast. It really is up to the player to scour the map for any sign of how to progress. For the most part, I enjoyed being left to discover things for myself. That being said, there can be cryptic sections of the game that seem like a relic of the past. The infamous trading quest to acquire the boomerang is one of the best examples of this. You repeatedly trade one item for another in a lengthy sequence, not knowing who wants your current item. It amounts to having to wander around and talk to a bunch of NPCs, praying that they will trade for whatever item you currently have.

Plenty of enemies are designed in a similar manner, in that they require a specific method to defeat them and you must keep guessing until you figure that method out. The worst example of this was the Armos Knight boss. I spent a good chunk of time hitting this boss with all my different items and attacks to figure out how to damage it. As it turns out, you need to hit the boss at a very specific time, in a very specific spot, with a very specific attack. I usually try not to complain about isolated incidents, but this example it felt like something was very wrong. There was really no indication at all of the required timing, weak point, and required weapon.  

An important aspect of almost any The Legend of Zelda game are its dungeons. The dungeon design of Link’s Awakening is pretty basic, which was disappointing to me. None of them were particularly bad or frustrating, just boring. The only dungeon that stood out was the Eagle’s Tower, as that had an interesting theme and central puzzle idea. Every other dungeon just reused the same basic formula of hitting switches and gathering keys. Moreover, the boss design was fairly forgettable as well. This is potentially because the bosses were tremendously easy to defeat.

Overall, I think Link’s Awakening suffers from being a nearly 30-year old Gameboy game. A shocking revelation, I know. But I am somewhat disappointed that the developers did not really take the opportunity to modernize Link’s Awakening. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fun game, but you can definitely tell that is a relic from a bygone era. It is for these reasons that I give Link’s Awakening a 7/10. A respectable piece of The Legend of Zelda history, but it’s not going to impress anybody in the modern day.   

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