Sunday, October 20, 2019

Little Town Hero (NSW) Review

Game Freak has a smaller series of games coming out next month called Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield, but all the hype right now is on Little Town Hero. Wait a minute. Sorry. I was writing up this introduction in an alternate dimension. Still though, Little Town Hero is an intriguing title from the makers of the Pokemon games with a creative but complex battle system. As the review tagline asks, "Izzit worth buying?" SPC has the answer with its review.

Little Town Hero: Izzit worth buying?

While most of the gaming world focuses on the developer's more prominent and popular property, Pokemon (especially as it receives a brand new duo of entries next month), Game Freak recently pushed out one of its smaller projects akin to its HarmoKnights, its Tembos, and its Giga Wreckers. Little Town Hero saw itself featured in a couple of Nintendo Direct video presentations, but to say that the game arrives with any fanfare would be a flat out lie. Still, with Game Freak's credentials and Undertale's Toby Fox providing some music to the game, does Little Town Hero deserve your attention, or would that be a bad idea?

Little Town Hero's tale brings to the table a precocious youth named Axe, who wishes to leave his hometown and explore the world beyond. However, there's just one catch: the people of his town are forbidden to leave as the world beyond is extremely dangerous. Thus, a castle and protective wall keeps the foreboding beasts and malicious monsters out of the town. At least, they're supposed to! One day, after training with a guard, Axe and his friends find themselves in the midst of a monster attack. Using a red stone that he found in the mines, Axe apparently gains enough power to vanquish the attacking monster and save the town from destruction in the process. 

There's no coincidence that Little Town Hero's full adventure happens within the confines of this little town.
While early on, Axe has a tremendous desire to leave his hometown, this desire diminishes about halfway through the game. The middle word in Little Town Hero's title is where the entire 15-hour adventure plays out. The town is a bit expansive, offering plenty of space, but many times you're limited to where you can go. Axe will stop himself from proceeding any further, usually saying that you, the player, as Axe need to go to the next quest destination. 

When there is some freedom in exploration, it becomes quite clear that there is little to do in Little Town Hero's town, apart from the occasional side quest. These side quests generally offer a rare glimpse and back story into some of the game's quirky characters, but more often than not they're simply busywork. 

The town itself is visually nice with its clear, crisp, and colorful charm, but unfortunately and some astoundingly, there are frame-rate hiccups that pop up while exploring and also in the game's battles, where Little Town Hero players will spend the majority of their time with the game. 

Getting my brain wrapped around Little Town Hero's battle system and its quirks was quite the challenge for me. Sure, battling Axe's rival Matock in the game for the 70th time in the story eventually made me a pro, but the combat is certainly quirky and definitely one that possesses a learning curve. It involves the concept of Izzits (ideas) and Dazzits (actions). Izzits require points to turn into Dazzits, and these Dazzits are then used to combat and counter your opponent's own set of attacks. Starting off in battles, you get a hand of five random Izzits from your collection of 13, as well as three points to utilize to turn Izzits into Dazzits. Generally, the more powerful and beneficial the Izzit, the more points you need to spend to turn it into a Dazzit. As battles progress, this number of points you get to use at the start of each turn increases.

Izzit? Dazzit?! Whazzit all mean?! It takes a bit to come to terms with Little Town Hero's
 battle system, and even when you do, it still is challenging to win battles!

There are three types of Izzits in battle: red, which are attack-based and can only be used once per turn; yellow, which are defensive and can be used as many times in a turn as you like until they are broken by the enemy, and blue, which have special abilities such as the power to pelt your opponent's set of Dazzits, lowering each Dazzit's defense by one. Some Dazzits, particularly ones tied to your enemy, have secondary effects, such as turning a spent Izzit back into a Dazzit, lowering all of your Izzit's attack and/or defensive levels, or dealing direct damage to your hearts. There's a puzzle aspect here in trying to figure out how to best combat and counter opposing Dazzits so they don't a close battle into a losing one.

Each side of the battle has three hearts which serve as their overall health. When all hearts are gone, the battle is over. Most battles, particularly ones against bosses, give the boss and you an extra shield which must be first whittled away before damage can be done to you or the boss's health. If you take damage to your hearts, then your shield returns to you. It's the same way with the boss. In order to injure an enemy's hearts, you must first defeat their hand of Dazzits, and also have an extra red attack Dazzit to dish damage to them. 

Each red and yellow Izzit and Dazzit has a pair of numbers attached to it. One signifies the attack power, while the other displays its shield, or its defensive power. In battles, you want to break as many of your opponent's currently active Dazzits as possible so they don't have any left over to attack your shield or worse yet, your hearts. Though, the latter grants you an automatic reshuffling of your Izzits so ones you've already used (or discarded in a card game sense) can be turned into Dazzits again. As an aside, Battle Points (or BP) can also be spent to reshuffle your Izzit "deck" as it were.

After each turn in Little Town Hero's battles, you get a roulette wheel that spins and the number it lands on determines your movement around a board game-like map. Landing on different spaces on the map can have various effects. Some allow you to call upon the help of a fellow townsperson, resulting in actions like allowing you to turn an Izzit into a Dazzit without needing to spend any points, or having that character directly attack the enemy's health. Some battles feature objects and traps that can be used to your advantage, but require a specific Dazzit attack to unleash them. Such an example is launching a rooster into a sheep-turned-boss with one of your Dazzits. No real explanation needed on that scenario since I'm sure we've all been there.

Some secondary Dazzit effects allow you to choose which nearby space you'd like to land on.
As the game goes on, battles become more and more arduous as well as taking a lengthy duration to complete. To give you an idea (or should I say "Izzit"?), the first boss battle in Little Town Hero took upwards of 20 minutes to complete. Later battles took over a half hour, and there are no checkpoints either. That means that if you lose, you just wasted a sizable amount of time. Sure, you get a pity Eureka point to spend in the game's skill tree of sorts (these are used to upgrade Izzits to make them stronger and more effective in battles), but it can be absolutely soul-crushing to be invested in winning a battle only to lose and have your progress halted. I found myself sometimes bashing my head against progression walls, as some encounters just didn't seem fair, much less fun for me. Throw in that many times you winning is dependent on how lucky you are with the Izzits you're dealt in your current hand, and things can get quite maddening and just plain cheap.

Little Town Hero certainly delivers a delightfully cozy setting with a unique and creative battle system. However, this sometimes luck-based combat and somewhat convoluted concept can make a poor first impression on players. It definitely did with this one. Fortunately, as I stuck with the game, came up with solid strategies, and persisted despite losing battle after battle, I made progress and enjoyed a fair amount of my time with the game. That said, I doubt as many players will have the same level of patience as I had, and I doubt that I would have continued with the game if I had not needed to review it.

[SPC Says: C+]

A review code was provided for this review.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair (PS4, NSW, XB1, PC) Review

Near the beginning of the month SuperPhillip Central reviewed a 3D platformer. Now, we turn to a series that started as a 3D platformer and has now jumped perspectives to 2D (or 2.5D) with Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. Here are my in-depth thoughts on the game with the SuperPhillip Central review!

Giving other platformers this year the bzzz-ness.

Playtonic Games is made up in part of former Rare staffers from the developer's golden years with Nintendo, before the buyout from Microsoft. It's nothing that the company has been coy of hinting at--what, with its logo, its first game being a take on Banjo-Kazooie and now its second game being a take on Donkey Kong Country. While the original Yooka-Laylee did not impress all who played it (and that's putting it lightly), the old saying is true: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." 

And, that's what the precocious folks at Playtonic Games have done with its second foray with Yooka and Laylee, a chameleon and bat duo, with its clearly Donkey Kong Country-inspired Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. It's complete with familiar gameplay, being able to roll and jump off the edges of platforms to impressive effect, and it even has alliterated level names to hit a particular nostalgia spot for me. While Playtonic's take on Banjo-Kazooie didn't overly delight, the DKC-drenched Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is an amazing platforming escapade that also adds enough newness to the formula to not feel like a blatant copy.

Capital B is back to his mis-bee-havin'.
Right from the get-go in Yooka and Laylee's adventure, they arrive at Capital B's Impossible Lair, an extended gauntlet of challenging platforming peril that is certainly not for the timid. While it's indeed very possible to run through the lair on your first play-through, you're meant to fail the challenge and get transported to the overworld, where the queen bee of the kingdom asks Yooka and Laylee to venture the world for various books containing levels, which in turn contain Guard Bees to rescue. For each of the 48 Guard Bees Yooka and Laylee rescue, they receive a bonus hit to shield them from damage within the Impossible Lair. 

I really love the Impossible Lair mechanic on display here in this game and think it's just genius design. It's similar somewhat--if you'll forgive the forced reference--to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where you could venture into the last area of the game and challenge all of the bosses there, but it'd be an insanely challenging task. Insanely challenging, but possible, mind you. It's the same principle with Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. You can enter and try to complete the 15+ minute Impossible Lair as many times as you'd like--even from the start of the game--but it's best to wait until you've assembled a sizable collection of Guard Bees. 

The lair itself is the ultimate test within Yooka and Laylee's latest adventure, and it's a mighty formidable place. Even with a full collection of 48 Guard Bees, I struggled to even reach halfway in the lair my first time through. However, the challenge is one where with practice, learning the level, and discovering how to overcome each obstacle and hazard thrown at you, that you'll find you'll slowly but surely make progress in the lair. You might not make it further to the end than your last run, but you'll eventually make it to the very end, beat the final boss, and successfully complete the game. This level of challenge isn't for everyone, especially having to redo quite a lengthy level. Thus, I can see this aspect of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair--assembling all 48 Guard Bees yet still being unable to overcome the game's final task--one that might put off and disappoint a good portion of players.

Don't stop and admire the scenery too much, as there are Guard Bees to rescue!
The titular Impossible Lair in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is but one of the ways that Playtonic's spiritual successor differentiates itself from its clear Donkey Kong Country inspiration, but another way is shown after you are booted out to the overworld after your (more than likely) failure at beating the Impossible Lair your first attempt at the very beginning of the game. This is the overworld, and imagine the map of Super Mario 3D World, where it's a 3D space that you can move around in to various levels, but instead of just being a level hub, it's also where you are tasked with solving puzzles and discovering levels. 

The overworld is an open and expansive place absolutely teeming with secrets and discoveries. Finding levels requires the solving of relatively simple puzzles. Some of these require pushing objects into place, hitting switches in the correct order, among other tasks. While the puzzles are relatively simple, they're still fun to complete. I never felt I was simply going through the motions, as how solving these puzzles altered and manipulated the state of the overworld was always a surprise to me. Some merely open up the path to a new level, while others lead to more astounding discoveries. More on that later.

The overworld is one of many fresh and fun additions brought forth
by Playtonic to its take on Donkey Kong Country.
Levels in Yooka-Laylee's latest adventure are sprinkled about in books along the world map, and there are 20 total to find. Each level also comes with an alternate state. For instance, an early level in the game has you opening up a floodgate to reroute the flow of water over a level's book. Thus, what was once a completely dry level is now one that Yooka and Laylee will need to swim through as it's totally flooded. Changing the state of a level back to how it usually was is a generally easy and pain-free process. The actual process of altering a level's state to begin with is usually the much more involved (but plenty of fun) process.

This factory becomes flooded when Yooka and Laylee alter the state of this stage.
While the puzzles to access each of the game's levels and their alternate states are overall ones that won't have you banging your head against a wall to figure out--thus halting your progress--ones that have you venturing the overworld for the game's 60+ Tonics are more puzzling and perplexing. Some of these are hanging out in visible view, just requiring you to figure out how to reach them, but others require the aid of helpful signs that give you clues on where you perform a buddy slam (aka ground pound) on the world map to reveal them out of hiding. 

Tonics are completely optional finds, but they can be a huge help within the game's levels. Depending on which ones you equip during a run (you can initially equip up to three at a time), you can make a level much easier and much harder. There's a catch, though, and here's another clever trick this game employs. Tonics that make levels easier, such as giving Yooka and Laylee faster mobility, faster run time, faster rolls, faster speed in water, and so forth--these make the Quill multiplier lower. Quills are the primary currency of the game, allowing you to purchase and use Tonics that you find out in the overworld. Therefore, if you use a multitude of Tonics that make the game easier, your Quill count at the end of the level with greatly diminish. Likewise, equipping Tonics that make the game more difficult, like swapping what buttons do, giving enemies double the amount of hits to defeat, or making it so there is only one checkpoint in the level, makes it so your Quill multiplier will grow to great lengths, allowing a great collection of Quills at the end of a level. It's a clever system that makes it so more proficient players can have a more challenging game if they want, and beginning players can still enjoy the adventure--just not with all of the Quill benefits. 

Levels themselves are just fantastically crafted. You can tell that Donkey Kong Country and most notably the latest in that series, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, were great inspirations for the developers of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. While you won't get the same amazing amount of action/platforming set pieces as you would in the Nintendo and Retro Studios collaboration, you will still get a tight and splendidly designed platforming romp with the game's levels. Some are straight hop and bop affairs, while others remind me more of Yoshi's Island with all of the keys and locked doors within them. One in particular is a quest of sorts where you must rescue an imprisoned Guard Bee by searching a village area for six gems to open the Guard Bee's lock. 

Hazards in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair come in all shapes and sizes (and altitudes). 
I adore the constant risk and reward moments that are on display in this game. Whether it's chasing after a string of Quills before they disappear, all the while avoiding hazards as you race to collect them all; or bouncing off a special series of red Quills that appear one after the other as you bounce on them, and when the last one is defeated, it explodes into a bounty of Quills, my thirst to collect Quills was seldom satiated. Other moments in levels that require this risk vs. reward mindset occurs when exploring levels for the game's T.W.I.T. Coins, used to open up literal Paywalls that block Yooka and Laylee's progress in the overworld. These T.W.I.T. Coins are hidden well in each level, with each level containing five to collect. But, just like with Quills, T.W.I.T. Coins only stay collected if you reach a checkpoint and then finish the level. A final challenge in four particular levels of Yooka and Laylee's latest is that of secret exits. These lead to otherwise inaccessible Guard Bees on the overworld map. Like most of the collectibles in the game, these are smartly hidden. Well, except for one, which is just diabolical--maybe too much so--in its placement. 

Gathering a bounty of Quills while avoiding these rolling snowballs--my kind of risk!
Of course, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair could have the greatest level design and set pieces in video game history, mimicking Donkey Kong Country otherwise to a "T", but otherwise fall flat on its face if it didn't ape the quality of its inspiration's controls. Thankfully, Yooka and Laylee control well, minus the same feel of weight in the controls--which makes sense considering Yooka and Laylee's aren't exactly multiple ton gorillas. DKC vets will find a lot to like and find familiarity with Yooka and Laylee's move set. Yooka has a roll to barrel through enemies--even the same option of rolling off the edge of a platform to jump over chasms, the ability to bounce off the heads of foes to reach higher platforms and areas, and unique to Yooka and Laylee, the ability to twirl in midair to slow their descent. 

When Yooka takes damage, Laylee flies erratically around (seriously--come back here, you annoying bat bastard!), requiring Yooka to nab her before she flees. Not only does Yooka have less abilities when without Laylee, but taking a second hit will result in death. Thankfully, you can perish as much as you want in the game's 40 levels, as there is no live system in place. Finding a Bat Bell (serving as this game's version of a DK Barrel) will bring Laylee back to Yooka's... ahem... back. Laylee automatically returns to Yooka after a death, so sometimes I just found it easier to die after reaching a checkpoint if I didn't already have Laylee with Yooka, so I'd just get her back after dying. 

Hang tight, Yooka--just don't get too comfortable up there.
No matter the platform you get Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair on, you're going to get a wonderfully running version of the game. The only main difference would be load times between levels, but outside of the initial loading of my save file each time I started the game, I didn't suffer anything noticeably lengthy--unless we're suddenly considering 10-15 second load times for levels to be a blemish. If so, then I'm about to bust out a grouchy "back in my day" speech on the horrors of gaming during the original PlayStation era. Regardless, the colors of the game pop and shine beautifully, and the game is just filled to the brim with gorgeous environments and effects. Sound-wise, the collection of four composers to Yooka-Laylee and Impossible Lair, including vets like David Wise and Grant Kirkhope, make a superb musical offering with catchy songs and that I will definitely be searching an online store for a soundtrack to purchase. 

I'd say a checkpoint is a sight for sore eyes, but whose eyes could be sore looking at this beauty of a game?
Despite my enjoyment of their original romp, Yooka and Laylee's return trip to gaming with a shift in perspective with Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a terrific title that delivers delightful humor and charm, a whimsical platforming world full of engaging challenges and tight controls, and one of the most accomplished games I've played so far this year. The excessive challenge of the eponymous Impossible Lair may put off some players from fully engaging with this game, but for everyone else, do not sleep on this game. Between the sophisticated 2D platforming levels and enjoyable 3D overworld to explore, Yooka-Laylee and Impossible Lair serves up a generous helping of jump and run goodness like nobody's "bzzz-ness."

[SPC Says: A]

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Spyro Reignited Trilogy (NSW) Review

I listed Spyro Reignited Trilogy as my fourth favorite game of 2018. That was the PlayStation 4 version of the game, so when one of my favorite games of 2018 was released on the Nintendo Switch--a platform where I can comfortably enjoy some gaming without being stuck to my TV--you bet I was looking for any excuse to replay it! That's exactly what I did over the past month with Spyro Reignited Trilogy on the Nintendo Switch. Here's the full SPC review.

Check out my review of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One original release of Spyro Reignited Trilogy by clicking on this link.

Of purple dragon's majesty...

Last year, developer Toys for Bob showed how remarkable remakes are done with its work on updating the original PlayStation Spyro the Dragon trilogy of games in one fantastic package on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. A year has since passed, and now the complete package, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, has arrived on the Nintendo Switch with the bonus of being able to take the experience anywhere you want with its portable play. Adding some refinements and some drawbacks as well, does Spyro Reignited Trilogy hold up as well on the less powerful Switch?

Sparx isn't just Spyro's companion on his adventures--he's also Spyro's health indicator.
Having played through Spyro's three games for the first time to completion last year on the PlayStation 4, my run through of the games on the Switch didn't take as long--but at the same time, it was just as enjoyable for me. There's easily over 25 hours' worth of content to delve into with Spyro Reignited Trilogy, and after the original, you can see how much each of the sequels builds off its predecessor.

While the original Spyro the Dragon employs a simple start-to-finish progression with its levels, and these are connected by hubs, each level begs to be explored. This is due to the fact that your transport between worlds requires a set amount of a particular collectible to proceed. Sometimes it's a number of gems, Dragon Elders to rescue, or Dragon eggs to nab back from pilfering (and quite cowardly) egg thieves upon which Spyro must give chase to return the eggs.

Come back here, you pesky egg thief!
Generally, levels in the original Spyro the Dragon are relatively brief affairs, but that's only if you're running from point A to point B without going off the beaten path. As stated, exploration from finding gems, Dragon Elders, and other collectibles is paramount to Spyro's progress. Plus, if you're a sucker for collectibles like myself, you probably won't be able to ward off the temptation of aiming for 100% completion in each level.

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage introduces new characters, a more involved story, and more cinematics (including cutscenes that appear at the beginning and end of each level). Spyro also expands his arsenal of moves by paying off a particularly greedy ursine fellow with the gems he discovers throughout his platforming escapades. These moves include the ability to swim underwater, climb ladders, and perform a ground pound of sorts. In addition to these learned moves, Spyro has an incredibly helpful ability to cap off his winged descents across pits and other chasms by having the player press the X button to perform a quick ascent into the sky. No more "just" not having enough height to reach faraway platforms.

Of the three games in the trilogy, Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage slightly edges out the original as my favorite.
Additionally, Ripto's Rage brings with it side quests that have Spyro completing special challenges for special collectibles. Some are rewarded by surviving certain platforming perils while others involve mini-games such as controlling a train cart through a hazardous course, beating an NPC in a game of ice hockey, or defeating a group of enemies causing trouble in a level.

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage introduces unique side quests that add even more variety to the series.
Spyro: Year of the Dragon rounds out the trilogy, and it adds even more gameplay variety to the series. This is both a positive and a negative. While being able to play as characters other than Spyro--such as a club-wielding yeti and a missile-toting bird--mostly brings about entertaining variety, some of the other types of variety on display in Spyro 3, such as mini-games like the woefully awkward and clumsy hoverboarding, don't give off as great of an impression.

Speaking of variety, being able to play as several new animal
companions turns the "variety dial" up to 11!
Staying with the theme of "not giving off as great of an impression," we have the boss battles. In Spyro the Dragon, the levels leading up to each boss battle are more challenging and lengthier than the actual bosses, which can usually be flamed or rammed into a quick defeat. In Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage and Spyro: Year of the Dragon, bosses are their own encounters without levels preceding them, but these range from total jokes to hair-pulling in their difficulties. The total lack of checkpoints in these encounters made these particular encounters more frustrating and annoying than they needed to be. It's a shame that with all of the updates and upgrades in both presentation and quality of life aspects of Spyro Reignited Trilogy that the addition of the occasional checkpoint in the more arduous boss battles was not included.

Not all boss fights are created equal. While all are pretty forgettable
in this trilogy, some are just frustrating as all get out!
As mentioned and as expected of remakes of this type, all three games in the Spyro Reignited Trilogy have been touched up dramatically, and although they don't have the same wow factor graphically as the PS4 and Xbox One versions (or especially the newly released PC version, for that matter), the fact that the games hold up rather well visually on the Switch--especially when considering you can play them on a single device that you can hold in your hands--makes for its own kind of wow factor. Something impressive as well is how that the only frame-rate hitches that I noticed were ones that happened during loading screens. Nothing out of the ordinary occurred during actual gameplay. An important point to mention: this didn't matter whether I was playing with the Switch placed in the dock or if I was playing the game in handheld form.

While the visuals may not be astonishing compared to the other versions, Spyro Reignited Trilogy running as flawlessly as it does on the Switch certainly is astonishing all on its own!
Spyro Reignited Trilogy may be a year late in coming to the Nintendo Switch, but it's on the system in style with surprisingly remarkable results. Though Spyro's adventures are dated in some regards when it comes to their designs, overall, each adventure is worthy of a play through (or several) and holds up exceptionally well. If you haven't played these sensationally remade versions of Spyro's original three platforming adventures already, own a Switch, and favor either the platform itself or portability, then enjoy Spyro Reignited Trilogy on Nintendo's hybrid system--because this port is a well done one.

[SPC Says: A-]

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Review Round-Up - September 2019

SuperPhillip Central ended summer with a dream vacation to Koholint Island in the remake
of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening for the Nintendo Switch.
A new month begins with a new Review Round-Up. Only three reviews were posted for the month, but for the most part, it was quality over quantity. We got neither of the two with the first game reviewed for September, Whipseey and the Lost Atlas, which got an unsatisfying "D" grade. Following that were two games that share Game of the Month honors, Fire Emblem: Three Houses and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, both for the Nintendo Switch, and both earning an A-.

Check out every review ever posted on SuperPhillip Central with the SPC Review Archive!

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) - D
Fire Emblem: Three Houses (NSW) - A-
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (NSW) - A-

Which house did you choose in Fire Emblem: Three Houses? 

Friday, September 27, 2019

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

SuperPhillip Central closes out the month of September with an onslaught of new reviews, beginning this evening with The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, a 1993 classic fully remade on the Nintendo Switch. New audiences and old fans of the Game Boy original have something special to enjoy. Let's take a deep dive into this remake with the SPC review!

A legend reawakens from its slumber

The year 1993 saw many things: such as Bill Clinton officially starting his first term as the president of the United States, Jurassic Park and Free Willy making big bang as blockbusters in movie theaters, and obviously the most important (at least in the context of this review), Nintendo releasing the first  handheld game in The Legend of Zelda series. Despite countless games in the series since, many longtime fans of the Zelda franchise continue to find that game released on the extraordinarily popular Game Boy, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, as one of the best entries in the series to date.

That's why so many of us found an immense amount of excitement and rekindled passion, whether from nostalgia of a simpler time in gaming or just from having a chance to re-experience a fantastic entry in the franchise, when Nintendo formally announced a Nintendo Switch remake of Link's Awakening, 26 years after the original. With new features, a gorgeous new graphical style, a redone soundtrack, and several improvements, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening shines brightly with its return, but it's not quite as remarkable of a remake as this reviewer dreamed.

Mabe Village serves as the starting point of Link's journey.
The setting of Link's Awakening takes place on the fantastical Koholint Island, where our hero Link has found himself marooned on after a freak storm caused him to drift away in the sea. Despite teeming with monsters and beasts of various levels of danger, the island is a rather warm, homey, and cozy place to explore. It is as much of a character itself as the unique people and animals that Link comes across in his adventure. There are several villages that are full of lively townspeople, places to go, shops to spend rupees on, mini-games like fishing and a claw game to play, caves and hidden areas sprinkled throughout the environments, housing rewards for those bold and curious enough to uncover them.

Sword in hand, Link sets off to find a way to leave Koholint Island.
Koholint Island game design-wise is a sprawling overworld comprised of various regions, from the fog-covered Mysterious Woods to the sparkling waters of Martha's Bay. While you're limited somewhat in where you can go at the beginning of Link's Awakening, the overworld slowly opens up more and more as new items and equipment are earned, either from gaining them in small quests or acquiring them from the game's dungeons. Items like Pegasus Boots that bestow the ability to run, Roc's Feather that grants the ability to leap into the air, and bracelets that give Link the power to lift specific objects over his head and toss them allow you to access more of the island. Perhaps to also uncover hidden seashells and Heart Pieces, the latter of which is a mainstay of the series which gives our silent protagonist an extra heart of health when four pieces have been collected.

Items, such as the Hookshot, not only assist Link through the dungeons they're found in,
but also as a means to access new parts of Koholint Island.
For those who are used to The Legend of Zelda, the progression and flow of the game follows the familiar formula. You explore the overworld and make your way to various dungeons where puzzles need to be solved, keys need to be collected to open locked doors, treasure chests beg to have their contents looted, and the boss that awaits at the end of each dungeon needs to be beaten. Each of Link's Awakening's eight dungeons need to be beaten in a specific order, and once one dungeon has been completed, a clue reveals the general location of the next.

Each of the puzzles in Link's Awakening's dungeons are generally contained
to one room--except in special (and particularly cool) cases.
That's not to say Link's Awakening holds your hand. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The game is a product of its time, 1993, and a product of the system it was on, the Game Boy--and later Game Boy Color for its DX incarnation. You don't have the same degree of guidance and hand-holding that--up until The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild--later Zelda games featured. While many of its then-contemporaries were marred by obtuse design, Link's Awakening doesn't really suffer from this at all. However, there is the need to fully explore the game world of Koholint Island, talk to characters to figure out where to go next, and rely on your own head to figure out puzzle solutions and what you need to do next to progress in the game. For those needing extra hints, various huts on the island house a phone with a helpful NPC ready to bestow advice on the next step to take in Link's adventure.

Some segments of Link's Awakening play out in a 2D space, such as this boss battle.
This Nintendo Switch remake of Link's Awakening adds a few new features to attempt to make for a better experience. The original Game Boy only had two buttons to assign items to in Link's inventory. This, players had to continually and constantly swap in and out items to the A and B buttons at a tedious rate. With the Switch's bounty of buttons by comparison, the need to enter and exit the inventory screen to swap items to the A and B buttons is a far less common occurrence than the Game Boy original. This is helped by many items being automatically assigned to Link's active equipment, such as his sword, shield, and items that he acquired along his adventure like the Pegasus Boots and Power Bracelet.

It's absolutely amazing to see the world that was limited to the Game Boy's
screen fully remade and realized with stunning detail.
Also new to this remake is the addition of Dampe's Cabin. This has taken the place of the Photo Hut of the original games. Inside Dampe's place of residency is the ability to create Chamber Dungeons, a Super Mario Maker-like (and lite) feature to create your own dungeon arrangements using rooms from dungeons you've already completed from the main game. Dampe assigns creation challenges that require you to connect rooms together to form a dungeon so that all the pieces fit together properly so your dungeon can be completed. You aren't actually placing anything inside the rooms yourself, as rooms already dictate what doors are locked, what enemies are inside, and if they contain treasures in the form of keys. All you're doing is making sure you're making a complete dungeon with properly connecting parts while following the constraints of construction.

These challenges of Dampe's are essentially their own types of puzzles, but they are also the only way of earning certain collectibles within the game. Considering it can be a drawn out process to complete all the challenges needed to unlock everything in this part of the game, I sort of dread replaying this part of the game--even though it's completely optional. Just not completely optional if you want every secret seashell, Heart Container, and Empty Bottle in the game--which as a Zelda purist, you're darn right I'll be wanting to get everything!

Finally, the most apparent change in this remake of Link's Awakening is that of the visuals. Nintendo and developer Grezzo opted for a toy-like diorama appearance, and it's a gorgeous graphical style. Instead of the overworld being split up between smaller sections that would scroll to the next when Link reached their edges, the entire overworld has a more connected feel to it. However, this doesn't make for a perfect experience, as the game is constantly loading in areas as Link is moving about, resulting in some occasional and noticeable frame-rate drops. The overworld also has a blur effect that blurs the top and bottom of the screen somewhat, but while some have found issue with this, I appreciated the effect greatly, as someone who enjoys toy photography and this blur effect associated with it. It feels right at home with the visual direction this remake employs.

Unfortunately, this remake does not employ the use of the D-Pad, which baffles me. Instead, you're required to use the control stick, which makes for a bit of a learning curve, particularly to those of us who have been playing top-down Zelda games for a while now. It creates issues in that certain parts of the game are much harder than they need to be, such as moving diagonally, or controlling a particular gadget in one of the game's final dungeons.

Thankfully, our green clad hero has no fear of heights!
Despite not considering this a perfect remake, I believe the positive and beneficial changes made in this Nintendo Switch remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening when compared to the Game Boy and Game Boy Color originals far outweigh the negatives. This is still one of the better 2D Zelda games in the series--and it's been made even better on the Nintendo Switch. Now, a whole new generation of gamers can discover why older generations fell in love with Link's Awakening, a true classic, almost three decades ago.

[SPC Says: A-]