Re-imagining a classic like The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening can be a bold risk, but if anyone could do it, it’s Nintendo. Revisiting such a masterpiece from the early ’90’s only bought so much joy, to this huge GameBoy fan. The Nintendo GameBoy revolutionised, and reinvigorated gaming for it’s time. The thought of triple-A portable gaming was a mere pipe-dream in the early 80’s, with the Nintendo Entertainment System bringing us back from the historic Video Game Crash of 1983. Gamers were absolutely in admiration of Nintendo’s many franchises that would go down in infamy as some of the most inspirational marvels for the last three decades. This of course includes The Legend of Zelda, a series that influenced an entire new wave of action platformers, with it’s stellar mechanics, vibrant environments, interesting setting, and incredible plot. Fans of the series initial title, and namesake, were elated to see their favourite emerald-clad hero making a return to form after Zelda II: Link’s Adventure was met with a mixed reception. A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, met with mass acclaim worldwide, and is regarded and labeled as “The best entry into the franchise” by many of it’s fans to this day. So the question beckoned, what would a Zelda title be like on Nintendo’s first ever handheld, the GameBoy?
Link’s Awakening development began as an R&D project for the GameBoy during the system’s launch period back in the early 90’s, with Programmer Kazuaki Morita initially designing the title as a way to analyse the portable handheld’s hardware. This would lead a small number of members from Nintendo’s official Analysis & Development team, to help Morita after-hours, and run technical stress tests and other inquiry’s towards the GameBoy, while unbeknownst to the team themselves, they were developing a fully fledged Zelda game in the making, using different resources that were available to them at that time. After the release of A Link to the Past, Director Takashi Tezuka approached members of his team to work on Link’s Awakening with permission from Shigeru Miyamoto, who oversaw the title’s production as a Producer, rather than a developer. Lead Designer of A Link to the Past, Yoshiaki Koizumi joined the project to create the original plot and setting for Link’s Awakening, in which Tezuka inspired it’s creator’s to take a different approach to the story, rather than going back to the well.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening take’s place on a reclusive islet known as Koholint Island. Away from Hyrule, the enclave is isolated completely from the rest of the world. While it’s population mass is high, the island itself is small but story’s of secret passageways and rumors of underground dungeons find Link in a familiar setting, almost commonplace. While every Zelda title explains that there is a new generation of hero with a new story, Link’s Awakening take’s place right after the events of A Link to the Past, and in the same timeline as Ocarina of Time, but take’s place before Oracle of Seasons. After prior events, Link travels abroad in hope to extinguish other countries from similar threats he had encountered. His plans are abruptly halted, after a massive storm destroys his boat and throwing him overboard. Link washes ashore and is discovered by a young girl by the name of Marin. She goes to fetch her father, who retrieves Link in hope of recovery. Awakening in Tarin’s house, Link is met with his saviour’s who guide him to back to the beach where he was found, to recover his sword.
After retrieving his sword and shield, Link is confronted by an Owl that instructs him to wake the Koholint’s guardian, the Wind Fish in hope to return back to Hyrule. The Wind Fish lays dormant atop Mt. Tamaranch, who can only be awoken by the eight Instruments of the Sirens. It’s from this point that we’re off on another mystical adventure with our favourite hero of Hyrule, only this time in “unfamilar” territory. Of course, I exaggerate when saying this due to the title’s similar style of layout and gameplay seen from it’s predecessors. Now this is where the fun part kicks in, because I played the original title in preparation for the Nintendo Switch version, for instinctive yet legitimate comparison sake. Link’s Awakening’s re-imagining hearkens a presentation style that could be compared to Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. While the plot may initiate something of a fully fledged action adventure game, the style demonstrated here plays a light-hearted and charming environment. It’s overhead perspective reminds us of it’s technical limitations the original hardware, while trying to convey a large world in a smaller scale.
While traversing through Koholint Island, Link will encounter a number of familiar character’s and NPC’s. Many whom represent the Super Mario series, which may be why Tarin embodies a strong resemblance of our favourite Italian Plumber, Mario. Chain Chomps, and Goomba’s are scattered through different parts of the Island, with collectibles also representing a myriad of Nintendo’s many franchises. While the map representation may be close to the original, the remaster carries some originality. Area’s and different parts of Koholint Island remain the same, but are updated to fit the modernised reconstruct. Scrolling through each slides of scenery now represent a streamlined approach instead of designated scopes of view. Ditching the classic partitions between screens, the island now scrolls through as a sandbox style map for players to experience. While the original may have a certain amount of items littered through the map, the remaster ups the ante for end goal objective scattering more heart pieces and seashells across the peninsula.
Using Pegasus’ Boots to sprint across the screen, or Roc’s Feather to leap across bottomless pits, make Link’s Awakening a truly unique experience compared to some of the series predecessor’s and ultimately make’s it’s present felt within the remaster, almost making the little-big adventure ahead of it’s time. While in the original, you would have to swap out these abilities with equipped weaponry due to hardware limitations, you may now designate each ability to the X or Y button on the Nintendo Switch, using them while still having your Sword and Shield docked for the A and B buttons. Enemies and their unique abilities to attack, or block Link’s incursion will help player’s time their techniques and eventually master their offensive onslaught. Boss fights are updated, tweaked slightly, and modernised to consolidate the title’s upgrade. The title now has an Auto-save function, which will save at certain checkpoints throughout your playtime, but the option of manual saving is still present for those who are looking to quickly end their gameplay for the time being.
In addition to the overhead top-down presentation, moments of platform side-scrolling action occur within the depths of different dungeons. The use of Roc’s Feather in this case almost resonates that of an underground experience from a Super Mario level, although this has been stated to be heavily inspired from not only Mario, but Zelda II: Link’s Adventure, where much of the title exists within the platforming genre. All character and enemy models are heavily inspired from their initial 8-bit design from the original version of the game, but are now fully rendered in a 3D-style Chibi format that is not only cute, but charming. Koholint Island’s redesign is stunning. Lush environments pop with gorgeous terrain design, and the ambiance surrounding scenery, change in tone within each locale traveled. The delightful visuals are captivated by it’s incredible soundtrack that has been recomposed by Nintendo in-house musician Ryo Nagamatsu (A Link Between Worlds, Super Mario Galaxy 2), who encapsulates the adorable adventure we embark on. From the onset, hearing the theme music reminded me of the tones we hear in “Toad Brigade” from Captain Toad’s appearances in the Super Mario Galaxy series. The soundtrack itself is memorable, and will have you humming so many of it’s classic tunes that have been amplified to truly experience in a modern take.
If this proves anything, it’s that The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is timeless. Re-imagining the title for a whole new generation to experience and for player’s of the original to revisit encompasses how much we hold Nostalgia and it’s value towards fresh ideas. While the game itself presents nothing that’s completely new, it’s charming upgrade has proven it’s place within our current climate of gaming. It’s the age old cliche’, old-school is still cool. It’s always great value to revisit an overhead perspective style Zelda title every once in a while, just to understand the franchises grass-roots, something I believe is taken advantage of, or even avoided by new-age gamer’s that don’t understand what technical marvel’s we have come to experience. Placing this title as an entry point, to any novice that has never picked up a video game before, marry’s itself perfect with Nintendo’s newest hardware entry into the handheld market, the Nintendo Switch Lite. It’s ironic, but not a coincidence that we experience a title, tailor made for handheld hardware make a solid return for Nintendo’s newest piece of kit. The charming, and nostalgic world of Zelda returns with this incredible adventure, proving that the franchise itself, will remain timeless with Link’s Awakening being one of the greatest entries ever.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (2019) – Nintendo