The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening Review: A Reverent Reimagining

It’s hard to find any sort of fault with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for Nintendo Switch. It is, after all, basically just… the original version of Link’s Awakening with some minor changes. For those that might remember, this isn’t the first time the game has had an overhaul, and while there’s far more years between DX for Game Boy Color and the Switch version than the original and DX, the premise is largely the same: you can make it look better, sure, but there’s no point in messing with greatness.

And Link’s Awakening is greatness.

Which is why it’s difficult to correctly parse out the new additions and what they add to an already winning formula. There are, in essence, three major changes to the game: an updated and improved set of graphics, a similarly reworked soundtrack, and a replacement for the camera and associated shop in the form of the new amiibo-supporting Chamber Dungeon.

I've loved the world of the Wind Fish, Marin, and Koholint Island since I was a kid. There’s a whimsical sadness to the tale of Link’s Awakening, and it’s probably extremely telling that, historically, my top two Zelda titles are this and Majora’s Mask. Not that I had a particularly depressing childhood, but I was absolutely drawn to media that embraced the fact that there are actually a number of emotions rather than just, say, joy.

So it should come as no surprise to learn that I was hesitant to see what a 2019 version of what I’d recalled so fondly would actually look and play like. Even though I tried to remain as impartial as possible, it’s not like I could just jettison all of those memories and feelings before picking it up. Stepping foot out into that initial village as Link felt like trying to breathe underwater, the pressure of all my expectations bearing down on me.

zelda screenshot
(Photo: Nintendo)

And then, eventually, I just, quite literally, got lost. I forgot where things were, and had to actually explore as if I were playing for the very first time. I made mistakes, and died a whole bunch, and generally caused the whole experience to be much more difficult for myself, which is truly the Zelda way. But it was lovely to realize I’d need to do a good chunk from scratch rather than memory, and to ultimately find that I enjoyed it even so.

The graphical update basically reimagines Koholint Island, its inhabitants, and everything else in a 2.5D, slightly cartoonish fashion. This isn’t a knock on the game’s art style, and even though it initially grated, the stylization actually grew on me over time. It was wild to think back to playing the game previously, or even check screens online of the Game Boy version and compare the two. There’s an obvious, loving reverence for what was already in place, and the new graphics style only refines and embellishes what was already there instead of completely overwriting it. The soundtrack essentially takes the same approach. It’s a reimagining, after all, and not a remake.

If there’s a disappointing aspect of the new game, it’s the Chamber Dungeon. While it’s essentially a little Zelda Maker all to itself, crafting my own little dungeons to then complete felt like an unnecessary chore. It’s nice that the new Link’s Awakening amiibo offers special Chamber Dungeon bits, but it was disappointing to not get something that’d directly impact my experience with the game.

Perhaps if I were at a different point in my life, trading dungeons with other folks (via amiibo of all things) would interest me, but as it stands, my reaction to the entire thing begins and ends with, “Wait, is that it?” If I’m being honest, I actually miss the photographs from the DX version of the game.

But that’s ultimately a small gripe when considering everything else the game has to offer. The vast majority of Link’s Awakening has an incredible foundation, and a new coat of paint helps the experience feel fresh and lively without heavily retooling anything. New and old players alike will find something to enjoy here, and the previous expectations from both -- the high of Breath of the Wild vs. the preconceived notion of what the game is and was -- will almost certainly be set aside to simply play and enjoy a sometimes unexpectedly charming, if not entirely new, Zelda game.

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Rating: 5 out of 5

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is set to release for Nintendo Switch on September 20th. A copy of this game and its associated amiibo were provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.