Zelda: Link’s Awakening Nintendo Switch Review
The Original Game Boy version of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was released in 1993 and is a platformer favorite celebrated to this date, by those who either still own a Game Boy handheld “cartridge console” or through online emulators. Grezzo and Nintendo could not have done Zelda (and Link) fans more of a solid by remastering this classic for the Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Switch Lite consoles, allowing us to once again, relive some fond childhood (in my case) memories.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was announced via a trailer in February 2019, and was first showcased with a demo in June 2019 at the E3 Gaming Expo, just three short months before final release, sticking very close to Nintedo’s small “Announcement to Release” window, giving fans just enough information and content once presented, to keep them appeased before they can drop their cash on grabbing a copy of their own. A lot of time was spent on the development of this version of the game, with careful attention given to the art style and features to make sure that a game that was originally developed in single color and optimized for a 66 millimeter screen (Game Boy), could be played smoothly on the Nintendo Switch’ 160 millimeter screen without straying far from the fundamentals that made the square ratio predecessor so great.
Hitting Us Hard In The Feels
Blubbering and tears of nostalgic epicness aside, Zelda: Link’s Awakening starts off with a short animated intro video as an “establishing shot” of sorts, showing you Link on a raft, caught in a storm and then a soft pan up above the clouds, revealing the iconic mountain peak with the huge white and pink egg taking center stage.
If this is your first exposure to anything Zelda related, let me clear something up quickly. The character in the green outfit with the blonde hair, is not Zelda, his name is Link, and the Princess that he has a very complicated love story with, is the one that is called Zelda. You are now armed with one of the strongest pieces of trivia knowledge in the geek kingdom of pop culture references. You’re welcome.
Next, you find yourself waking up within a little hut in Mabe Village, home to most of the important inhabitants of Koholint Island, which is mentioned in many a Zelda game. You were rescued after washing ashore by a young lady named Marin, who plays a pivotal part in Zelda: Link’s Awakening. After a brief dialogue, you venture out and get introduced to the brutal realization that you can do absolutely nothing, except defend yourself with your shield that gets given to you by the old man after you wake up. Naturally, you want to get going and push outside the borders of the village, but with the lack of skills and your sword, you quickly realize that you can only “do something” on the beach where you first washed up, and this is where you encounter your first enemies as well.
Once you obtain your sword, you begin interacting with an Elder Owl that flies in, tells you that the only way you can “leave the island” (players of the original know why this is in parenthesis, because this is a spoiler free review after all) is by collecting musical instruments and playing them together atop the mountain to wake the Mystical Wind Fish within the egg from it’s slumber. The owl also flies in from time to time after you progress far enough and gives you directions and clues as to where your next area of focus on the map should be to carry on with your quest to escape Koholint.
Link Is Such A Heart Breaker
Collecting the Magical Instruments is exceptionally challenging, only in the form of sequence, mainly because you cannot collect them or enter their specific dungeon without possessing a specific skill or weapon, and all these elements get introduced to you slowly through the game mechanics, which also restricts your movement throughout the map if you do not have aforementioned skills or weapons. Drilled down; I am trying to say that you cannot collect them out of sequence or make a dash for the last zone on the map without being able to use the Hookshot Skill (obtained from the fifth dungeon).
For newcomers, this might sound frustrating and be a little “off putting”, however, you need to remember the roots of the game. Circa 1993, gaming was very different, and this is essentially a puzzle platformer, so it was all about playing with strategy, taking is slow, decryption and slow progression instead of today, loading up, grabbing all your buffs and finishing a game in a single seating because you either have OP (Over Powered) gear through purchasing the Collector’s Edition or unique items bought through Micro Transactions and a “Battle Pass”.
A large part of your progression is also two-fold dependent on your interactions with certain characters found in specific locations of the map, as well as the mini “Trading Game” sequence between Link and characters found all over the island. Breaking this down for you, firstly, you cannot get free Magic Dust without interacting with a Witch found between the Mysterious Forest and the Cemetery, or you cannot get clues to certain puzzles without calling Grandpa Ulrira (Old Man Ulrira) from the tree phones. Then there is the trading sequence which begins in Mabe Village’s “Trendy Game” where you’ll immediately notice a suspicious looking Plushie from the Super Mario franchise (which the game is flooded with). All of these factors need to be completed for you to be able to finish the game.
The only thing that is not a completion prevention to the game is the collection of all the Secret Seashells that are distributed all over Koholint, either hidden in plain sight, found inside dungeons or buried underground (Buy a Shovel). If you collect 40 shells, you will be rewarded with the Koholint Sword, which is the best sword in the game, as it deals twice the amount of damage that your starting sword does and also fires a beam when Link has full health (encouraging you to play it safe to do Maximum Damage). It is really easy to collect all the shells (or almost all the shells), because once you collect 15 shells, you receive a Seashell Sensor that pings and vibrates the controls when you are close to a Secret Seashell. Again, encouraging you to explore every tile of the game, but as stated, this step is not required to finish the game.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. Ain’t No Valley Low Enough.
Dungeons, Puzzles and Bosses themselves are not particularly difficult, but do require you to repeat a room sequence once in a blue moon, only because you gain the required skill or keys somewhere else in the dungeon. It is important to note that the enemies will respawn whenever you re-enter a dungeon room, so you will need to keep fighting your way through, and you will also learn that not all enemies can be defeated “head on” (that is a free clue for reading this far).
Something I noticed with dungeons and then did some research on was that a few parts in the dungeons do not fill your screen the same way that the rest of the game does. What I found out was that certain puzzles and boss fights were designed to work with the “Tile Count” of the game’s original Square Ratio on the Game Boy screen, and changing it just for the Nintendo Switch release would require a considerable amount of work and would change the puzzles and boss encounters completely, so as a fan service, it was left “as is” for us old faithfuls.
The most notable change and addition to Zelda: Link’s Awakening, is the addition of Dampé’s Shack, where you as the player get to customize your own “Chamber Dungeons”, through rearranging existing dungeon segments on a “board” and then once you are satisfied, you can enter and puzzle your way through your own dungeons! You earn usable dungeon segments by playing through the main game’s dungeons, and then also get new ones by completing challenges, like collecting a certain amount of Seashells or finding Strange Rocks on the island that you bring to Dampé’s Shack to trade for a new segment.
Lastly, there is a Fast Travel feature that allows you to navigate the vast island once you have discovered and explored a new region. Admittedly, this does save you a lot of time if you are pushing for a speed-run of the game (currently in progress by me), but in most cases you do end up walking from region to region to use your newly gained skills and weapons to unlock new places you could not explore before, and being in the right place at the right time is particularly important (another free tip, this time pertaining to the trading game). The game performs beautifully in all playable modes of the Nintendo Switch console, with zero noticeable tearing or lag in docked mode and the updated visuals and semi-but-similarly redone music and sounds effects is a true homage to the original.
Zelda: Link’s Awakening (2019) was officially and exclusively released for the Nintendo Switch Console System on 20 September 2019, and was developed by Grezzo and published by Nintendo. Zelda: Link’s Awakening is the fourth installment in the Legend of Zelda series, with the most recent being The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is available on both the Nintendo Switch and Wii U. At the time of this review, you could purchase a physical game cartridge from BT Games for R915.00 or the game can be bought from the Nintendo eStore for R929.00, earning you 45 Gold Points in My Nintendo. The download will be 6.3GB in size though, so be sure to have enough space available on your external SD Card if you do the digital purchase. As a fan of all things Zelda/Link related, personally I can justify the price based on sentimentality, but for a newcomer, the price is steep, especially when considering all the other games that have dropped (at the time of this review) for all the other platforms.