The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for Switch is a perfect translation of the original Game Boy classic. From character and object placements to how battles play out, everything feels almost identical. The visuals and audio easily rank among the finest on the Switch as well, so fans are unlikely to be disappointed with the core game in any way. The game lacks any real surprises for gamers who have experienced it before though, and Chamber Dungeon is a tedious addition.
From the starting village and the surrounding woods to the beach, the desert, and more landscapes, Link’s Awakening is a visual marvel. It eschews photorealism for a style somewhere between plastic toys and claymation, and it is phenomenally beautiful to behold. This style breathes splendor into the most mundane objects in a way perhaps no other game has achieved. I genuinely can’t imagine better visuals for the game than what developer Grezzo has delivered, and the frame rate holds up well overall both docked and handheld.
The praise extends to the soundtrack too. It’s all the same catchy classic tunes from the original Link’s Awakening, but revitalized by modern sounds and orchestral arrangement. Again, it’s just beautiful, plain and simple.
Link’s Awakening as you remember it, but with small improvements
Pretty much every monster, item, and even conversation you remember from the Game Boy game is here on Switch too, but with quality-of-life improvements. For starters, the pause menu now records every pertinent story dialogue, just in case you forget what you should be doing. It also documents where you found every Piece of Heart or secret seashell (collectible items with a *ahem* secret purpose). After collecting enough seashells, you get a Seashell Sensor to make finding the rest easier, which is helpful since there are nearly twice as many seashells as in the original game. You can mark up your map too, to give yourself clues.
Beyond that, Link can now attack and shoot at 45-degree angles, and his sword, shield, and Pegasus Boots all have dedicated buttons on the controller. That means you are not fumbling to change your equipment nearly as often as was required on the Game Boy, making for a smoother gameplay experience. You can make quick transitions between jumping around with Roc’s Feather and shooting “bomb arrows” in punks’ faces.
Although, speeding up Link’s Awakening doesn’t necessarily work in the game’s favor, as it’s pretty short in the first place. The game has a small world for a Zelda title, with relatively brief interludes between its eight dungeons, which makes sense for its Game Boy origins. I finished the core game in three (albeit long) sittings with most of the collectables obtained. I then played a quarter of Hero Mode, which doubles damage received and removes droppable hearts, and it was enjoyable. But Link’s Awakening is simple enough in the first place that Hero Mode is still not that hard, and I can’t imagine it extends the game’s length that much.
However, while it lasts, Link’s Awakening enjoys stellar and imaginative world design. The last couple dungeons in particular are designed so cleverly to test your wits, and the world map is full of unusual problems to solve, such as how to get a ghost to stop haunting you. They were firing on all cylinders on Game Boy, and it’s even better to behold here in the Switch version’s open, connected overworld that does away with screen transitions.
Chamber Dungeon misses the point
Chamber Dungeon is the singular major addition to The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and its execution is flawed. It is a mode by which you design your own Zelda dungeons out of preassembled rooms. You can get more rooms to use in this mode by completing dungeons, finding them in the game world, or buying them for outrageous prices at the town shop. You then put together the dungeon rooms like jigsaw pieces in order to create your dungeon, which must adhere to a few basic logic rules, and you can apply modifiers like having bombs fall from the sky. Zelda amiibo can be used to unlock additional content and trade dungeons built, but I don’t own any.
This mode is a very limited and repetitive take on what people really want — a “The Legend of Zelda Maker” — and it’s likely children who will enjoy using the mode the most. But that’s alright. What is problematic, however, are the sets of puzzle challenges Chamber Dungeon presents you. Ostensibly, completing these puzzles should teach you the ropes of puzzle design and train you to create excellent dungeons. In practice, the game actually trains you to build consciously awful dungeons.
Chamber Dungeon presents puzzles of escalating difficulty based on satisfying arbitrary conditions like making sure there are lots of treasures or staircases in specific rooms. However, whatever dungeon you build, you then must complete yourself before the game gives you a reward. For the sake of saving time, it makes the most sense to design terrible dungeons where a single staircase skips most of the dungeon and delivers you straight to the Nightmare Key to fight the boss. I completed every puzzle, and I am now a master of making crap dungeons.
Even worse, placing the same rooms over and over to complete puzzles is so tedious and outright boring. It turns out really valuable rewards like Pieces of Heart stop appearing after the third set of puzzles too, so my hours spent completing the remaining Chamber Dungeon puzzles felt like a less-than-ideal use of time.
Lacking in surprises
Aside from Chamber Dungeon, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening offers some little surprises here and there. For instance, there are more collectable Nintendo dolls beyond Yoshi to be found and placed on display around the village. But there are no big surprises hidden away in the game for longtime players that I ever found. Something like a new epilogue dungeon, or just anything exciting and new that didn’t interrupt the flow of the original game, would have been welcome. Instead, all we get is Chamber Dungeon, a mode that pads the game’s length in often the wrong ways.
Link’s Awakening makes a perfect transition and stops there
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for Switch completely faithfully updates the Game Boy classic for modern audiences, and Zelda fans would be out of their minds not to play it. It is a piece of art in the literal sense with its impeccable presentation. It just doesn’t last very long, Chamber Dungeon is tedious and illogical, and the game won’t surprise longtime players with anything especially big and new. I can’t imagine those factors will bother fans very much though.
A review code was provided by the publisher.