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.   

Good Week for Games

Writing about news or teasers and trailers is not really my forte, but it feels appropriate to share my excitement for some recent announcements. While I was fairly disappointed in a lot of what was shown at E3 and the subsequent Game Awards, I’ve been absolutely blown away by the number of announcements made this week. Seemingly out of the blue, 3 indie developers that I have been following for the past couple of the years just dropped some trailers for their upcoming games. Also, Nintendo dropped some huge bombs that I am also looking forward to. But I will start with the indie news from Team Cherry, The Game Bakers, and Red Hook Studios.

First and foremost, I absolutely have to talk about Hollow Knight: Silksong. The complete unexpected nature of this announcement blew everybody away. If you don’t know, Hollow Knight is an absolutely phenomenal metroidvania that received critical acclaim back in 2017. The 3-man-team known as Team Cherry funded Hollow Knight through Kickstarter and the game was released as a resounding success. It quickly became a hallmark of the metroidvania genre, and many people consider it to be one of the best metroidvanias ever created. As one of their Kickstarter reach goals, Team Cherry planned to release DLC for the game where the player could play as an alternate character: Hornet. What was completely unexpected was that Team Cherry decided to just make a whole new game for Hornet instead.

I am extremely excited for this as Hollow Knight is without a doubt one of my favorite games. You can read more of my opinion on Hollow Knight in my review of the game. The trailer for Hollow Knight: Silksong looks absolutely fantastic. It keeps the aesthetic and feel of Hollow Knight, but it looks like it will introduce plenty of new things to keep the game fresh. Hornet seems to be much more agile and have a wide array of attacks and trinkets to use to liven up combat. With 150+ new enemies, a new kingdom, and the introduction of Hornet, I hope that Hollow Knight: Silksong can live up to its predecessor while also being fresh and new. That being said, I have a lot of faith in Team Cherry. Additionally, Team Cherry announced that anybody who backed the original Hollow Knight for $10+ on Kickstarter will receive Hollow Knight: Silksong for free, which I think is pretty cool of them.

Watch the trailer here:

Aside from Hollow Knight, another indie game that I really loved was Furi. Furi is an adrenaline-pumping boss rush extravaganza that I played through entirely a couple times because it was just so damn satisfying. The music, aesthetic, action, and difficulty all felt spot on. You can read more about my opinion of Furi in my review. I have been keeping an eye on The Game Bakers to see what they have in store next.  Apparently, that thing is Haven. Not much was shown or described about Haven in its short teaser, but I am definitely interested. Haven is marketed as an RPG rather than an action game like Furi, so I am intrigued to see what new direction the developers are taking. Despite that, the art style and music are almost identical to Furi which I am happy about. I mean, Furi has one of the greatest video game OSTs (original soundtracks) of all time as far as I’m concerned. Hopefully many of the artists will return to work with Haven. All we really know about Haven at this point is that it is an RPG about two lovers who escape a planet together. I have a sneaking suspicion that Haven may be connected to Furi, but that’s just a guess. Either way it seems to be an entirely new experience and The Game Bakers have my attention for whatever news comes next.

Watch the teaser here:

For an indie game that I’m more skeptical about, Darkest Dungeon 2 was also just teased. I really do have a love-hate relationship with the original Darkest Dungeon. The combat, artwork, atmosphere, writing, and even the resource management aspects were incredibly entertaining to me. The overarching issue with Darkest Dungeon was its incessant grinding. The game was ridiculously long (60+ hours), but the player would have seen most of what the game had to offer in the first 15 hours. Also, endgame mechanics dragged on the game even longer for no apparent reason. You can read more of my opinion in my review here. All in all, I’m cautiously optimistic for Darkest Dungeon 2. The characters, Lovecraftian horror, combat, and even Wayne June’s narration make a return. Red Hook Studios have said that the game will differ from the original Darkest Dungeon in a few ways, so all I can hope is that the overbearing tedium is significantly cut down on. Darkest Dungeon 2 looks to be set in a similar setting to Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, so I will have to read that as well.

Watch the teaser here:

In non-indie games news, the recent Nintendo Direct also announced some big new titles. The remake of the 1993 classic The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is the most exciting news for me. I’m a huge fan of the series, but for some reason I never finished the original release of the game. I got about halfway through before I just kind of stopped playing because it did not really click with me. Hopefully this remake will modernize the experience, as I remember the original being incredibly vague and hard to follow. I am just happy that I get the opportunity to give this game another shot. I am not completely sold on the new art direction, it looks a little too cartoonish and cutesy to me. I think I would’ve preferred well-made 2D sprites, but oh well maybe it will grow on me. Still, it is cool to get a remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the Switch.

Watch the trailer here:

The final announcement that I want to talk about is Super Mario Maker 2. The original Super Mario Maker let players create their own levels and share them with the community. Usually games that try to add level creation features end up with a janky mess, but Super Mario Maker executed the concept incredibly well. The easy to use user interface and tons of different tools from the Super Mario series combined into an experience that lets the community run free with ideas. I personally did not play the original Super Mario Maker much, but now that Super Mario Maker 2 is coming to the Switch I will definitely pick it up and see what levels the community has created.

Watch the trailer here:

That’s about it for the big announcements. Other than the games mentioned we received some news on the upcoming indie game Baba is You and also some more info on Fire Emblem: Three Houses. All-in-all it was a pretty solid week for game reveals. More so because all of this was unexpected and came out of seemingly nowhere. I cannot wait for all of these games to be released and I am looking forward to playing them.