The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening releases for Nintendo Switch in just over a week, and expectations are high. Well, I’m here to tell you guys that — when it comes to all the preview footage Nintendo has shown of the game — what you see is what you get. Based off what I’ve played so far (just finished the sixth dungeon), Link’s Awakening is top to bottom a 99 percent faithful remake of the Game Boy classic. Whether or not that’s a good thing is subjective.
Link’s Awakening is outrageously beautiful
I’ve never really been a graphics junkie, and Nintendo Switch isn’t the console for pushing the limits of gaming hardware. That said, any human being with a soul should be taken aback at how outrageously beautiful Link’s Awakening is. It’s almost literally breathtaking at times. I don’t know how much trial and error went on with Nintendo EPD and Grezzo to achieve this not-quite-plastic, not-quite-claymation art style, but the final result has to be seen to be believed. The water effects in particular are nothing short of divine.
Fortunately, Link’s Awakening brings a soundtrack to match its visuals. The original Game Boy tunes were already catchy and pretty, but reimagined as orchestral arrangements, they totally pull you into the game world. This game gets a gigantic golden A+ for presentation.
I haven’t noticed any difference in performance between playing docked or handheld. On occasion, I’ve experienced a bit of slowdown docked, but it’s been brief. And honestly, if it weren’t my job to scrutinize the game on a granular level, I probably wouldn’t even have noticed the slowdown. I don’t usually dwell on frame rates.
If you played Link’s Awakening ’93, you’ve played this
The artistic enhancements are far and away the biggest change to Link’s Awakening 2019 because the rest of it has basically been left alone. Nearly everything that was in the Game Boy game has been directly translated to the Switch version, appearing in all the same spots too. The singular significant gameplay change is that, except for in dungeons, the screen no longer “scrolls” to transition from one place to another. Koholint Island is one giant connected world now.
As a result, defeated enemies, cut grass, and land that has been dug up will all regenerate now when you walk away. In fact, things regenerate fast enough as to be jarring sometimes, but it doesn’t really affect gameplay. It’s just a little quirk. A more substantial change with the open world is that Link can swing, shoot, and throw at 45-degree angles now, granting him a bit more mobility, but Link can still only move in eight directions. It all feels familiar though. And all in all, the gameplay is as tight as you would expect.
Chamber Dungeon is a promising novelty
In Link’s Awakening for Switch, Dampé and his Chamber Dungeon mode replace the Camera Shop from the Game Boy Color DX version. It’s a simple mode for designing your own dungeons from preassembled rooms that are acquired for use from progressing in the game. Playing this mode feels like connecting jigsaw pieces, except each piece is a dungeon room with enemies or treasure or locked doors or all three.
I still need to spend more time with this mode in order to grasp the nuance, but to help me along with that, Dampé challenges the player to make dungeons along certain specific guidelines. Successfully building and then completing those dungeons can unlock more content for Chamber Dungeon, and it sometimes rewards you good stuff like a Piece of Heart.
At the very least, I can tell there is a lot of clever design going on under the hood of Chamber Dungeon, but it mostly makes me hungrier for a fully fledged “The Legend of Zelda Maker.”
How faithful must a remake be?
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening puts me in a strange position. I’ve gotten used to video game remakes evolving or branching off in much different directions than their original incarnations, sometimes even changing genre. Link’s Awakening 2019 doesn’t do any of that; it is an almost shockingly faithful redux of the Game Boy game. Nintendo EPD and Grezzo are simply trusting players to believe that the original game was darn near perfect in the first place and didn’t need any big changes. And I mean… I guess that’s basically true? Ultimately, it will be up to the players to decide.
Stay tuned for our final review next Thursday, before The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening releases on Friday, Sept. 20.