September has been an irregularly strong month for video games; Control came out late August, Borderlands 3, FIFA, Untitled Goose Game, Overland, Sayonara Wild Hearts, Gears 5. The list can go on with at least a dozen more titles, but I’ll cut it there! I’ll be covering some of them throughout this month, and the rest hopefully later on, but for now I’ll start with the obvious omission from that list and the title game of this article.
There’s a consensus amongst fans and critics alike that nobody makes a game like Nintendo; there are other games out there that have the polish, love, and character that define Nintendo games, but none are quite as successful or as prolific as the Japanese giants. Without fail, Nintendo serves up at least one title that reminds and reassures this belief at least once every year, with this year being no different; I’m sure a lot of people would jump at the opportunity to revel at the qualities of Fire Emblem’s latest entry, the one that most mainstream audiences would have been looking forward to is the latest entry (or rather re-entry) in the Legend of Zelda franchise, with the remastering of Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the Nintendo Switch.
For those who don’t know, the Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was originally released on the Game Boy in 1993 and later on was ported for the Game Boy Color, and it has been one of the most beloved entries in the franchise ever since, but the reasons for why it has been so loved by fans have been more vague and ambiguous than usual; in terms of gameplay, Link’s Awakening was very simplistic in terms of combat, puzzles, and dungeons. Famously, assets were used from other titles in Nintendo’s repertoire such as Goombas and Kirby, as a resource cutting method, thus visual design was certainly a “fan-servicing” element, but not a selling point.
Having completed the recent remaster on the Nintendo Switch, I can now understand what’s so special about Link’s Awakening and why it is hard to comprehend if you’ve never played it. All of the game-related variables, such as gameplay, visuals, sound, and others, are good to very good, but because they are wrapped up in one of the most charming and loveable packages I’ve experienced so far, they combine to make this game one of the best in the Legend of Zelda franchise, and this current iteration a must-buy for any Switch owner. To elaborate, this remaster will not deepen the simplistic combat of the original, but it will make it more modern and friendlier to audiences today; you still have one attack button and only two options with your sword, as well as bombs, a boomerang, a rod, and some magic powder, but that’s basically it and there’s no added depth. You will need to use your full arsenal in order to defeat enemies and thankfully the remaster allows the player to have equipment on their person automatically rather than having to pause and equip it on a slot, however it’s very straightforward and not that exciting overall. Thankfully, this mainlining of equipment and item slots greatly benefits the game in terms of progression and exploration, which is where the game truly shines; going out to explore, find secrets, and the way to progress the main questline is how you’ll be exposed to a lot of the charm and child-like joy that the game is full of. Whether it is the cameos from other Nintendo characters, children that serve as tutorials, or following a trading quest with increasingly absurd items and logic, this is where Link’s Awakening manages to put a smile on your face.
However, where the game truly comes into its own and becomes a must-play is mostly achieved through its presentation. The love and care Nintendo put into making a coherent, vibrant, and charming style is unrivalled; the remaster features an adorable toy-like aesthetic that makes it one of the most beautiful games of the year, as well as making the charming, fairy-tale-like story and setting irresistibly endearing; this is what makes this game special. Watching a cut-scene of toy-Link learning a new song turns the smile you had on your face into pure, unadulterated joy; I was suddenly grinning like a child hearing a goofy joke. It’s not just the cutscenes; it’s the animations of the characters, the lighting on trees like the room light on your plastic toys. The visuals were not the only presentation element that was reworked though; the soundtrack was already considered to be one of the best in video game history, but with the remastered version come a new orchestral take on the OST, that makes it incredibly good music regardless of the game. In conjuncture with the visuals and the gameplay, it makes Link’s Awakening memorable as an experience.
For the entirety of this article, I’ve gushed and praised Link’s Awakening but just like with anything, there are criticisms and weak spots to point out; performance isn’t perfect with some sections dropping noticeable framerate, the visual fidelity in handheld mode leaves a lot to be desired, and with the new ‘tilted’ over-the-top perspective there are awkward sections and moments of frustration. However, none of that matters because the reason the original release, the Game Boy Color release, and now the Switch release are all hailed as classics is because Link’s Awakening is above and beyond everything else a fairy-tale, complete with bittersweet elements, wacky characters, and an experience that you will cherish as a kid and feel nostalgic about as an adult.