Preview: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

It’s fair to say that I wasn’t initially drawn to The Legend of Zelda series. Both the initial title and its subsequent sequel on the NES didn’t appeal to me. I did play A Link to the Past, but its size and scope was quite intimidating to my then 14 year-old self. Link’s Awakening, however, was different.

It wasn’t set in Hyrule, there was no titular character to be seen, and Link found himself stranded on a mysterious island – with characters from other Nintendo franchises bizarrely making appearances. Our hero needed to collect the eight instruments hidden away in dungeons to facilitate his release from this adventure. With ingenious puzzles and some fantastic level design, all incredibly squeezed onto the Game Boy, it was an amazing experience which began my love for the series; at one point this was not only my favourite Zelda title, but my favourite game of all time.

Now, Link’s Awakening was released more than 25 years ago, and in my honest opinion, it hasn’t aged particularly well. The visuals, whilst impressive for the day (and indeed, the system) don’t hold up by today’s standards, and the user interface was a little counter-intuitive to say the least. Additionally, with only two face buttons on the Game Boy, you were continually switching between screens to assign and reassign items.

Luckily, Nintendo have seen fit to bring the adventure right up to date. Our adventure begins with our hero washed ashore, before awakening in a strange house. Marin, and (a very familiar looking) Tarin explain how you came to be there before returning your shield to you. Your shield is equipped to the R button and you set off on your quest. The first objective is to return to the beach, and you are soon reacquainted with your trusty sword (permanently equipped to B), and the story can really begin.

The story itself is very linear, requiring you to tackle each dungeon in order. The world is ingeniously designed to restrict your progress, with your progression aided by your most recent dungeons prize item and your first such dungeon is the Tail Cavern, with its key hidden in the forest. After besting Moblins, Chu-Chus and finding a magic mushroom, you soon discover your prize and head back down to the dungeon. What awaits you is a cleverly interconnected sequence of rooms, with staircases, locked doors and secrets requiring all of your guile and cunning to solve. Each of these actually possesses two boss encounters as well! Successfully negotiating the final boss encounter will reward you with one of the instruments needed to satisfy the legendary wind fish located atop the regions’ mountain.

During this playthrough I was able to experience the first three dungeons, and although following similar mechanics, all had a very distinctive and unique feel. They became more difficult as I progressed, as you’d expect, and introduce new challenging elements – adding in the new skills I’d been endowed with along the way, such as picking up items and smashing through previously invincible obstacles. As noted above the previous title on the Game Boy restricted you to two item slots; and although you are still only able to choose two items (to X and Y), your core equipment is NOT included. You always have your sword and shield, and always have use of your lifting ability, once you’ve located the Power Bracelet. You don’t even need to equip the Pegasus Boots either!

I have to say, this Switch version of Link’s Awakening is incredible. Sticking with that top-down perspective familiar to all 2D Zelda experiences – but with a stunning visual overhaul, this Switch re-master brings Koholint Island to life like never before. Its art style is incredibly impressive, although it’s sure to be divisive (but then again, which Zelda style changes aren’t?) and everything has an almost plastic, toy-like charm to it. The perspective shifts slightly when needed to offer you a better view, and everything just out of view has a blurry style effect applied to it until you get closer. Looking more closely at your surroundings illustrates an incredible level of detail like never before.

The same can be said for the music. The Game Boy hardware was very limited in its capability, but this game always had a memorable soundtrack, but it’s reimagined here and incredibly stunning. Hearing the musical instruments that I’ve unlocked so far ACTUALLY sounding like they should is simply magical. All of the games sound effects have a certain degree of freshness mixed with familiarity and certain NPC interactions carry so much more charm than ever.
This new edition of Link’s Awakening didn’t just bring a fresh coat of paint, though, and the biggest refinement comes in the form of the Chamber Dungeon. Where the Advance shop was located in the DX version, you’ll now find Dampé’s Shack, and this new addition enables you to craft your own dungeons.

I’ve only spent an hour or so with this section so far, but what I’ve experienced allows you to build your own rudimentary dungeons from the chamber elements you’ve unlocked through playing. There are rules, of course, and dungeons need a nightmare boss and an entrance, the number of chests need to match the number of locked doors and you need to link staircases. You also need to make sure that all of the rooms join, but the interface will tell you if there are any issues. After that, you can undertake your own dungeon. It lacks the depth of Super Mario Maker, but for those that have been craving a Zelda Maker, it’s a good start. I’ll have more thoughts on the Chamber Dungeon when I’ve had a little more time with it.

Overall, I have to say that my time so far with Link’s Awakening has been magical. It’s a fantastic little adventure, brought right up to date, and you can get my full thoughts next week.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening releases on September 20th. A unique amiibo figure of Link in the Link’s Awakening style releases on the same day.