Wednesday 2 October 2019

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening Review (Switch)

Released on the Game Boy two years after the Super Nintendo masterpiece that was ‘A Link to the past’, ‘Link's Awakening’ was the first time our intrepid hero had dared to cross onto the handheld games scene. With the Game Boy not being able to able to handle anything the size of ‘A Link to Past’ Nintendo set Link in a whole new world, far away from Hyrule.

The story goes that while Link is sailing back to Hyrule from a far off land his ship encounters a huge storm. During the storm Link is thrown overboard, awakening on the beach of Koholint island. He soon learns he must find the eight instruments of the ‘Sirens’ in order to wake up the legendary ‘Wind Fish’ in order to return to his homeland. Well, it was obvious wasn’t it!

Surprisingly enough these eight instruments are located around the island in eight dungeons, all of which must be searched and explored to succeed in your task. Then once the eight instruments have been collected they must be played in front of a big spotted egg on a hill where the ‘Wind Fish’ resides in order to wake it. The dungeon featured in the Gameboy Colour version of the game is also included for completeness and there is also a dungeon designer included for added longevity. The designer allows any rooms visited from the various dungeons to be collected and used to create custom maps. It’s a nice idea and a welcome addition.

Graphically the game has changed a lot from its routes. Now everything is bright and cartoony and the characters have an almost toy-like appearance. It’s something that we never really got used to when playing as it seems a bit out of place when looking back at the original design. A lot of the little touches and details seem to be glossed over with the new approach and as such it does lose some of the character that made the original such an impressive achievement. When you consider how good the Wind Waker remake was a keeping the original games style it’s a little surprising to see something so different in the transition from Gameboy to Switch.

Like all Zelda games though the gameplay is where the game really shines. As always the dungeons are excellently laid out needing clever thinking and good swordsmanship to complete. Also two things have been added since ‘A Link to the Past’, the ‘Roc’s feather’ and a new way of using the shield in order to block attacks. This shows that while the game couldn’t hope to match the scale of its Super Nintendo counterpart there is still some progression and development in terms of gameplay.

If there was one problem apparent with the original it’s the difficulty of the game. This has been toned down dramatically in the remake. Save points are more generous and the fact many items are now assigned to specific buttons makes enemies at lot more straight forward to deal with. Some puzzles remain truly bizarre but at least there are helpful hints on hand in terms of phone rooms spread around the map. As a result the game becomes a much faster paced and breezy affair.

However, there are a few issues we can’t ignore. The game often drops its frame rate when the screen gets busy which is simply bizarre. We’re all for mimicking older systems but slowdown is really something we can do without and hopefully it’ll be patched out in the future. The focus effect on Link is also odd. Link moves as if under a magnifying class with the areas on the periphery of the screen blurry. This seems to us like a way to mimic the idea of having to move between screens (like with the original game), but it can be really annoying when you are trying to see what’s ahead of you. Also, not having an on screen map that’s easily accessible is an oversight.

When all is said and done though it’s clear to see ‘Link's Awakening’ can still stand up as an quest worth undertaking. There are some obscure puzzles but on the whole it’s an excellent and consistent adventure that makes clever use of a limited number of ‘screens’. It’s also a little bit of a shame that the Gameboy and Colour version of the game weren’t included to give a ‘complete’ feel to the package. That said, the dungeon design is strong throughout and it serves as a great introduction to new players, a nostalgia trip for long term fans and an example of how remakes can be done in creative ways to fit new systems.

Overall 8/10