The Zelda fandom is currently chomping at the bit to play the remake of Link’s Awakening. This 26 year old Game Boy classic holds a special place in many hearts, and soon a whole new generation will experience it. It’s a great move from Nintendo, and I hope it sets a trend. Nintendo is sitting on a treasure trove of 2D Zelda goodness that could be given new life on modern hardware. First and foremost, the original Legend of Zelda could use the kind of remake that the original Metroid received with Zero Mission.
What a Zelda remake can learn from Zero Mission
Metroid on NES was revolutionary for the time. That vast, alien game world was unlike anything an action-platformer had ever offered before. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t hold up to today’s standards. Nintendo realized this, and in 2004 they recreated it as Zero Mission. Say goodbye to the restrictive controls and outdated graphics! Say hello to modern conveniences like, oh gee, I don’t know, a freaking map. The remake even added some cutscenes that highlighted key characters like Mother Brain and Ridley. Then, after “beating” the game, players were treated to an extensive, brand new post-game area.
The original Zelda was also a revolutionary step for the gaming industry. The basic blueprint it laid out is still inspiring countless action/adventure games to this day. Like Metroid, it’s also a tough sell in 2019. Movement is restricted to just four directions. Enemies rely on brute strength due to AI limitations. What little dialogue exists is so poorly translated that some clues don’t even make sense. And, of course, there’s no map. This game needs a makeover.
A world of potential
Beyond just the need for modern conveniences, there’s so much room for evolution in a Zelda remake. It lacked many of the mechanics that we now associate with the “Zelda formula.” Those NES dungeons are looking pretty bland and similar these days. Why not give them an overhaul and more unique themes? That first dungeon sure does look like a Deku Tree to me from the outside. Or how about dungeon number seven, found by draining a pond? Sounds like a good excuse for an underwater temple to me! There’s also a precursor to the Lost Woods, a haunted graveyard, and a mountain range that could be riddled with caves.
Nintendo has plenty to work with. Why not flesh things out a bit more? The game takes place in a conquered Hyrule, so it wouldn’t make sense to show a thriving kingdom. But a lot could be done to show towns in ruin and survivors in hiding. Preferably survivors who actually say things that make sense! The map could even be expanded to show the decaying remains of Hyrule Castle Town. And what of the Gorons, the Gerudo, the Kokiri, and other tribes? Seeing the effects of Ganon’s war on their lands would add new depth to the world.
A spark of creativity
The number of items and weapons in the Zelda universe has grown so much since 1986. With more modern dungeon design, Nintendo could also include fan-favorite items from newer games. This would spice up combat, but also exploration. Give me that hookshot! Expanding Link’s arsenal opens up endless possibilities for creative level design. Puzzle-solving really wasn’t that big of a factor in the original game, especially in dungeons. Now it’s an inseparable part of the core formula.
Nintendo could even borrow elements from the most recent entry in the franchise. After all, the opposite already happened. Breath of the Wild aimed to return the series to the open world freedom of the original game, and they wanted to make that world more interactive than ever. To pitch this idea, they first built a prototype based on the first Zelda, but with new physics. For example, you could chop down a tree near water, then ride the logs like a raft. Nintendo could improve on the ideas in that prototype and implement them into an actual Zelda remake.
Remember where you came from
While I’d love to see a myriad of changes in a Zelda remake, it’s important to remember what made it special in the first place. It didn’t waste time on lengthy tutorials. It didn’t hold your hand and tell you where to go and what to do. Zero Mission made the mistake of taking the open world of Zebes and redesigning it to be much more linear. Being able to go almost anywhere and do almost anything right from the start is at the heart of Link’s first adventure. That cannot be compromised.
Zero Mission‘s story was simple and didn’t intrude on the gameplay. It just let players jump right into the action. That’s a winning formula for Zelda as well. Just as in Breath of the Wild, the world itself is the real star. Let it handle the bulk of the “story” telling. Design a world that’s so engrossing you don’t constantly need plot justification for exploring the next river, mountain, or desert. Your journey itself is the real story, and an open world gives you endless ways of telling it.