The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch) review

Nintendo / Grezzo
Nintendo Switch

links-awakening-switch-boxWhen it comes to the Legend of Zelda series, one game stands out in particular as something of a black horse: a game that defies the normal conventions of the series and introduces a bunch of new ideas.

That game, of course, is Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

What’s that? You were expecting it to be Link’s Awakening? Nah mate, Zelda II. It’s proper side-scrolling and everything. Give it a go, it’s good.

Anyway, I’m digressing. You’re here to read about the Switch version of Link’s Awakening, so let me cut to the chase: it’s bloody good. Not without its issues, but bloody good nonetheless.

If the Game Boy original – and its colourised ‘DX’ version on Game Boy Color) – were before your time, allow me to fill you in (not like that, you complete filth).

Yer boy Link is out sailing his boat in a storm one day, because apparently he’s forgotten to pack the Triforce of Common Sense. Inevitably, the storm becomes too much and Link is washed ashore on the mysterious Koholint Island.

After being reunited with his sword and shield, Link is informed by an owl that the island is overseen by the mysterious Wind Fish, which lies sleeping in a giant egg atop Mount Tamaranch. If Link wants to get home, he has to wake up the Wind Fish. I smell an adventure!

Hooray! A Yoshi doll! I’m never going to let this out of my sight

Those familiar with Link’s Awakening will already know that it’s a brilliant adventure with some truly eccentric characters to meet along the way. This remake is more or less a scene-for-scene, beat-for-beat, location-by-location recreation, so – oddly – it’ll probably appeal least to those who already know the Game Boy game inside-out: there isn’t much new here besides the presentation.

That said, there have been a number of quality-of-life updates made to ensure some of the most annoying niggles from the original haven’t carried over to the current generation. Most notable of these is the item selection process.

In the Game Boy games, every time you collected an important item you had to go into the menu screen and activate it to use it. It was a time-consuming, repetitive task, but it was also a necessary evil given that you were dealing with a system with just two action buttons.

Now that it’s on the Switch, which has more buttons than… um, someone with seven buttons, a lot of these items can now be assigned to X and Y to be used at just a tap of a button, and some even happen automatically now. The Power Bracelet, which lets you pick up and throw objects, now just works constantly from the moment you collect it: after all, why would you ever need to take that off?

Ah, shit

Other improvements include a significantly revamped world map – which you can now zoom right into to see individual buildings, and even place markers so you know where to come back to later – and the decision to replace the Game Boy version’s static screen-based design with a properly scrolling environment. The latter makes the game feel a lot more open, but it does come at a bit of a price.

The main issue with Link’s Awakening is the game’s performance. You don’t need me to tell you it looks absolutely gorgeous: you have eyes (um, unless you don’t, and someone is reading this to you. If they are, they should have skipped this bit, so they’re to blame, really). The problem is, that beauty is accompanied by some fairly serious dips in frame rate.

The game hits 60 frames per second a good deal of the time, and feels lovely when it does. However, rather than giving the game an uncapped frame rate – which would potentially mean the odd stuttery bit here and there any time it failed to hit 60 – here the game seems to switch at will between 60 and 30, making for a massive, noticeable drop in performance any time 60 isn’t hit (which is relatively often).

It isn’t game-breaking by any means, but even people who usually claim they can’t tell the difference between frame rates will certainly notice it this time, and potentially be distracted by the fact it runs smoothly one minute then gets significantly choppier the next. I’d go so far as to say that Nintendo could have probably gotten away with just locking the game to 30fps and nobody would have bothered because it looks so lovely (see Kirby Star Allies, which does just that).

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That aside, there’s a new addition called Chamber Dungeons, which features Dampé the gravekeeper. Every time you beat one of the main adventure’s dungeons its rooms are added to the Chamber Dungeons mode, where Dampé gives you a series of dungeon-building challenges.

An early one gives you a heart-shaped map, for example, and asks you to fill it with rooms while being sure the number of staircases in there is even: that sort of thing. The problem is, you then have to play through and beat the dungeon once you create it, and that’s boring as shit.

No wonder they look bored

It’s not just the fact that you’ve already beaten those rooms before the first time around: there’s an art to every Zelda dungeon, an expertise in the way Nintendo creates them that means you have to not only conquer what’s in them, but also figure out which rooms to visit to collect the keys and new items you need to proceed. They’re essentially mini-Metroidvania adventures in their own right.

Here, though, they’re just a bunch of random rooms joined together and you just slog your way through them all until you reach the end. It’s a bit of a nothing feature, really, but thankfully it’s entirely optional so you’re more than welcome to do what I do and pretend Chamber Dungeons don’t exist.

That’s Link’s Awakening, then. I appreciate that it seems like this review started really positive and then went south pretty quickly, but it’s important to get some perspective here. The only issues I have with this game are the only two I’ve mentioned: the frame rate and the new optional dungeon-creating mode.

Everything else is still a fantastic Zelda adventure that’s every bit as engrossing, entertaining and – as it gets near the end – surprisingly emotional as the original. Those who’ve already played the Game Boy or Game Boy Color version will already know what’s in store here and should decide accordingly as to whether they want to play through the same adventure again (albeit in a significantly more beautiful form).

For those who never played Link’s Awakening in the first place, though (especially if you’ve somehow managed to avoid the ending to this day): consider this yet another absolutely essential purchase for your Switch.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is out now on Switch. You can get it on the eShop for £49.99 / $59.99, or buy the physical version from Amazon UK or Amazon US.

In order that I could write this review, I received a digital copy of the game from Nintendo. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.

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