I must preface this post by saying that I did indeed play the original Link’s Awakening on Game Boy, and have beaten both the original and the DX version on the Game Boy Colour. I also did that many, many years ago and my memory of them was lacking during my playthrough of the new and improved Switch Version. As a result, a lot of my playthrough felt pretty fresh. I didn’t recall a lot of the solutions from the original game and I did have to do a lot of working out, but as a result, feeling very unspoilt by my previous runs of the original/DX version, I can say that Link’s Awakening is a pretty bad game from a design standpoint.
It’s not all bad when you look at it on the surface. The art style used for the remake is incredibly cute and lovely to look at, and the reworked OST is beautiful. One thing I do remember fondly of the originals was the soundtrack, so hearing the music reworked for the remake was a joy. The Tal Tal Heights theme is still one of my favourite songs in gaming ever and the remake does it so much justice. Something about the pitter-patter of Link’s feet when using the Pegasus Boots made me grin from ear to ear every time I heard it too. Aesthetically, aside from the frame drops when the game loads an upcoming area you are transitioning to, the game truly is a marvel.
When it comes to the game though, this game is a remake of an early to mid 90’s Zelda game (or late 90’s if you are more familiar with the DX remake). The overworld is easy enough to navigate, mostly, gating off areas behind the need for tools found in the various dungeons as you would expect. But the game’s early design flaws show in said dungeons. The dungeons are the main event of the game, and again, as aesthetically pleasing as they are, are less of a test of intelligence and more of a test of patience. The game has a horrible tendency to not throw puzzles at you, but rather put locked doors in your way and taunt you with keys several rooms away. It’s less of “How do I resolve this puzzle” and more “Where the hell is the key for this door”. It leads to a lot of wandering around using trial and error, rather than using your mind to solve a fiendish puzzle which I found unsatisfying. This is much more of a thing later in the game, although I will give the seventh dungeon, Eagle Tower, a soft pass for its overarching pillar destroying puzzle. It’s just a shame the other dungeons didn’t have a unique mechanic similar to that. But I give it a soft pass because they still make the puzzle a lot more about running around and a lot less about actually solving the puzzle. The dungeon maps, however, have been given a much needed facelift making them easier to read and in turn, much more useful for finding your way around. The addition of allowing the player to add markers to both the main map and the dungeon maps does ease navigation to an extent, but often I found myself still getting lost and feeling more detail could have been added.
The trading quest, which is actually mandatory to finishing the game, also throws some curveballs. A man asking for “vittles” who wants a pineapple, which is great if you’re familiar with the term vittles, could have been reworded, but wasn’t for authenticity’s sake I would guess. And the necklace was for an NPC who I wasn’t even aware existed because, during my playthrough, I was never led to them and was stuck running around all of Koholint Island talking to everyone until I happened to stumble upon the correct one. Games like this need a breadcrumb trail. It doesn’t need to tell you the solution, but with no guidance at all, you get left feeling lost and frustrated, unable to progress because you have no clue where to actually go looking.
For a 90’s game a lot of this was forgivable and for its time it was a great game, but the remake is very faithful, warts and all. On the surface it is beautiful, but all in all, it is still an old Zelda with very 90’s game design tropes and problems. If you are very familiar with the original there is a lot to get out of the remake and I am sure a lot of people will have a lot of fun going through a beloved game, but new players may find things get very slow and frustrating in the second half of the game, with lots of backtracking (that may not even be necessary but where are the clues right?) putting off some people here and there. It’s well worth a playthrough if you want to experience a classic Zelda with a luscious coat of paint though.
I understand that the dungeons couldn’t be changed much otherwise it just wouldn’t be Link’s Awakening. I’ll concede that, although 90’s game design, etc etc. and I appreciate the map changes. But yeah… Faithful remake or not, the game design is frustrating when you don’t know what you’re doing.
There is one thing that wasn’t quite so faithful in this remake though, and that is the crane game and I LOVE what they did with it. Restocking items and actual physics involved made it genuinely fun to play and keep going back to. It just baffles me that, if they could change that so much, why couldn’t some of the other frustrations of the game be tweaked?