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-]