Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening Review, Gameplay Videos and Speedrunning Tips

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2019

Nintendo

It is hard to steer astray while remaking a classic like The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening given the all-time status of the source material.  

Thankfully, Nintendo and developer Grezzo stay true to the original classic with a sprinkle of smart modernizations in this revamped Switch version of the game. 

First on the scene for Gameboy back in 1993, Link's Awakening was always an odd offshoot of the Legend of Zelda franchise that endeared itself as a classic right out of the gates. It doesn't take place in Hyrule. It doesn't feature some of the mainline villains. The music and characters were as wacky as the small, dense locale. 

And yet, this game that started as an offshoot from A Link to the Past and morphed into a legend in its own right has been revived in such a way that should have the rest of the video game industry taking notes. 

      

Graphics and Gameplay

There isn't a room, space or encounter that isn't pleasing to look at and packed with an overwhelming amount of gorgeous detail in Link's Awakening for the Switch. 

Some might have shied away from the almost infantile visuals on first pass—but rest assured, they do justice to the theme of the game brilliantly. The breathtaking art here is cute and toylike (somewhat reminiscent of Yoshi's Crafted World), yes, but it fits the total package alongside the superb music to the point it is difficult to imagine this game looking any other way. 

Longtime fans won't be able to wrap their minds around the visuals simply because of how far they have come since the original release. A side-by-side comparison borders on unbelievable. 

The mentioned sound design is another triumph. This redone orchestrated soundtrack pumps through the speakers with surprising clarity, and the bopping tunes in towns all the way down to the ominous lows of a cemetery are redone well and walk hand in hand with the visuals. 

Link and the characters that inhabit this tale are equally good listens. Link falling off the map is still oddly hysterical, the tunes of instruments are still pleasing on the ear, and it all is an enhanced experience on a headset like an Astro A10. 

Visuals, sound and gameplay didn't have any problems forming an all-timer of a classic the first time around, and nothing has been derailed in this regard here. If anything, the experience has been enhanced by some modern ideas. 

Those modern ideas are layups, to use a sports comparison. Link's sword, shield and items like Pegasus Boots are now just permanently equipped. That means less pausing the game to shuffle items around and more constantly having items enabling the ability to jump and otherwise readily available. 

It's the little things that make a classic even better, and this remake doesn't go too far in the wrong direction. Streamlined gameplay, some updated physics (like in the crane minigame) and the addition of items introduced later in the series, such as fairy bottles, wrap a neat bow on the improvements. Don't forget the scrolling camera, which prevents hitting a boundary of an area and having to wait for it to shift over to the next one. 

Otherwise, this is the classic tale as fans remember it. The top-down camera, trading sidequest and little fun hidden moments within the story remain. 

Progression is blocked in smart ways. Spikes need to be pushed with a shield to get to the sword. Holes, rocks and water limit access to the map until the appropriate time. The makers of this game mastered the art of it long, long ago, and the formula still holds up to this day. There is little that feels more rewarding in gaming than besting a dungeon, seeing what the new trinket permits Link to do and having an "ah-ha!" moment while thinking back to past roadblocks. 

It is worth noting that players who arrived with the series more recently during some of its console large-scale days—from the yawning oceans of Windwaker to the dungeon-less romp of Breath of the Wild—might feel like this is a plodding release. It's a fair point, though the puzzles found within dungeons and the charm of it all remain engrossing to the point even these players are likely to adjust and have a good time. 

     

Story, Chamber Dungeon and More

Longtime players know the deal. Our hero Link is stranded after his ship is stuck in a storm. Marin of Koholint Island saves the day, and he then partakes on an epic quest to collect eight instruments, which together awaken the Wind Fish. 

Along the way, players meet endearing characters and are treated to some funny writing and environments that have been landmarks of the video game landscape for decades. 

Chamber Dungeon is one of the biggest new features of the game, providing a dose of modern ideas to boost the game's replayability. The long and the short of it is simple—players collect dungeon rooms (Chambers) as they play, which lets them assemble their own dungeons via Dampe's shack. Time trials within unlock rewards and items. 

It sounds simple, and it is in action. Players get a basic map editor layout to plop down pieces, then they can dive right into the creation. It makes for good couch fodder with friends, and it could open up some interesting things for the community as a whole. 

This isn't strictly the original Gameboy edition, though. "Color Dungeon" from Link's Awakening DX is in (hint: read a book and head to the cemetery), and with it comes the unique rewards that impact how the game plays. 

From a tech standpoint, this game was made for handhelds long ago, and it still is. While it is a visual treat to slap this on a massive screen with the Switch docked, it does seem to chug in places at times. Playing it in handheld form just feels right, and the visuals predictably don't lose much in that mode. 

     

Speedrunning Tips

Zelda games, in general, are great speedrun fodder, yet Link's Awakening, in particular, has had a passionate following there since the game launched—a new world record was just set in August. Ditto for Link's Awakening DX

The Switch version is going to have a massive community on its hands as well. The streaming era—propped up by platforms like Twitch—has already helped organically uplift speedrunning, and the visuals, along with some of the new elements, make this one of the most interesting speedrunning releases in a long time. 

That necessary bit out of the way, there shouldn't be a ton of massive changes to general strategy. Jumping with Roc's Feather and using the Pegasus Boots to sprint through areas is a traversal tip that will shave seconds off times. 

The type of run will change quite a bit in the form of tips, though. A 100-percent run means going out of the way to nab side items and explore every bit of the map. An any-percent run is simpler, as player variance comes into play via skill. Not every item or health upgrade is necessary, especially for players who recall how to navigate the dungeons and boss fights to the point of hardly losing health as they go. 

As of writing, there aren't major wall clips or glitches that took sometimes 10 or more years to discover during speedruns of the original game. For now, the runs will dial down to memorization of where to go, when and why. That's a little vague, but the intention is to avoid spoilers, too. The exploratory phase of speedruns for this classic should be a blast to watch before the serious competition gets underway. 

    

Conclusion

There is a better title for this remake—this "link to the past" is a modernized treat on a creative piece of hardware that will repeatedly slam the nostalgia button. However, it will also introduce younger players to a classic for the first time. 

Both parties will come away hungry for more Legend of Zelda remakes in this vein. Call it an awakening. 

Surprisingly true to its original offering with just enough in the way of gently adding modern innovations to the formula, Link's Awakening for the Switch is easily the best version of the game to date and now stands as one of the powerhouse Switch titles available. 

The sheer joy experienced when playing a game like Link's Awakening doesn't come around often, and—to the benefit of players who experienced it in black-and-white all those years ago and new players alike—this remake has captured everything that made it a classic and improved upon it. 

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