The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, la review

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Valery Aloyants
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The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening it was released in 1993 on the Game Boy, and is unanimously considered one of the best games on that platform; what you are reading about review is his remake, developed by Nintendo in collaboration with Grezzo, who also took care of the remakes, for Nintendo 3DS, of Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. It is crazy to think how in twenty-six years we have gone from playing - on the move - with the Game Boy, from the characteristic greenish screen, to Nintendo Switch Lite: an extraordinary leap, much higher than the one, however great, that the home consoles made in the same period. The contents of Link's Awakening have been faithfully transplanted from a very limited console, to one in which Breath of the Wild runs: seen this way it is a huge demonstration of esteem towards the game design of the game. An estimate, as we will see shortly, far from misplaced.

In this process, one element must be kept in mind, which also explains the graphic style adopted: Link's Awakening, compared to other The Legend of Zelda, it is small, compact and dense. But it is because, given the potential of the Game Boy, it could not have been otherwise. This is so due to the technological limitations of the time. However, no kid who started Link's Awakening in 1993 saw it that way - it was probably the largest, and certainly the most complex, world to be found on that pocket console. Nintendo and Grezzo had two options: to create a remake that remained faithful to the soul of the game, in the style of Resident Evil 2, or to perpetuate its contents, consequently altering the aesthetic identity of the work.

Se Link's Awakening su Game Boy it was huge, with an overhead shot to simulate three dimensions, on Switch it's an adventure with a miniature world, which uses the same shot, but this time with the opposite goal: to present two-dimensional gameplay.

Stile e framerate

With this in mind it graphic style adopted, in addition to being delicious, it also makes sense. The need was to give a new visual identity to the work: the developers became aware of the compactness of the adventure, and rightly thought that a diorama would be the ideal solution. A Diorama composed and inhabited by plasticine toys: the effect is truly wonderful, and it is the element that strikes the most once the adventure begins. You really want to insert your fingers inside the screen, lift Link by the hat, carry him out of there and place him on the table: such is the delight, such is the consistency of the characters. Even the water, almost always shining - in the game there are no atmospheric changes - seems to have just been poured from a very diluted tube of cyan-colored gouache.

It's hard not to fall in love with this new Koholint, and its quirky inhabitants. Yep, weirdos: Link's Awakening, inspired in the atmosphere by Twin Peaks, is the closest the series has gone to Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps even more so than Majora's Mask, which had decidedly more macabre hues: there are also here, but to a lesser extent. The main characteristic of the inhabitants, and of some enemies, is precisely the bizarre (not surprisingly it is full of Mariesque crossovers, and more). The graphic style adopted in this remake is so graceful that there was doubt it could limit this characteristic which, we repeat, is absolutely central in Tezuka's work: in fact something has been lost, but much less than we feared. The atypical nature of certain creatures, although translated into a different graphic context, has remained intact. Above all, some macabre traits have been lost, but they were not so relevant as to represent a defect. Although the gap between the animated introduction (which looks like an 80s anime) and the graphic style of the game is very large, the events themselves, which we do not reveal here, justify it: the transition could have been more elegant, but also in in this case, fidelity to the original introduction was privileged.

The visual problems of Link's Awakening certainly do not reside here, but elsewhere; we are referring, unfortunately, to framerate. During the exploration of the overworld, drops are frequent, well below 30 FPS, and very annoying: never to the point of making the action difficult, but still annoying. Moreover, they are even more marked by playing in portability, the ideal condition to appreciate Link's Awakening: it is possible that they will be removed with an update, perhaps even on day one, but we must stick to what we saw in our copy. And our copy slows down dramatically.

The game and the story

The adventure begins when Link, after a violent shipwreck, is found and cared for by Marin, a beautiful resident of Koholint, the island where the whole story is set. Although our hero speaks little, and you never know exactly what he says, the feeling is that he has a crush on Marin, who is also a gifted singer. Details from the gossip aside, as soon as Link wakes up he must recover his sword, lost by the sea: once found, he is joined by an owl, his mentor in this quest.adventure in a foreign land, which begins to show him the path to rid the island of monsters. The question does not end with this task, but we prefer not to reveal further: the "battle for Koholint" has simple but profound nuances, and it is good that, if you have not already played the original, you discover them for yourself.

We were surprised how perfect this game still is. On the Game Boy it was divided into quadrants, which have been removed here (apart from the dungeons), yet everything is extraordinarily composed. Playing it back we realized that Link's Awakening is, together with A Link to the Past, the The Legend of Zelda more balanced: if you are passionate about a single chapter of the series, it is impossible that you will not like this. It balances all the souls of the saga in a surprisingly harmonious way: there is action, there are puzzles and a lot of exploration as well. We're not saying it's better or worse than other episodes, but simply that it's more careful in mixing the various anime in the series. And, we repeat, it is incredible that the game design, transported without changes (excluding a few minor tweaks) directly from 1993, still turns out to be so perfect. The first dungeons and the missions that lead to them seem rather elementary; but from then on things get complicated, the secondary events intertwine, and they prove necessary to continue.

Is not linear like Skyward Sword, but not even free like Breath of the Wild: it is an excellent middle ground between the two, with the main events that must be performed in order, with the secondary ones much less constrained (at a temporal level), and above all with certain apparently irrelevant missions that prove to be fundamental to continue. And so many places accessible at the "wrong time", which is a key feature of The Legend of Zelda, which has been kept out of the three-dimensional series for too long.

Controls and Dungeons

Il control system it is also very similar to the original, decidedly softer, but identical in essence: the same movement of the character is limited to eight directions. A decision that does not create problems, after all it is not a title that requires pressure or millimeter movements, however it is strange to turn the character in a circle (with the control stick) and see him rotate in a segmented way; even stranger is the fact that the d-pad is not supported, which on the normal Switch is not very comfortable, but on Lite it could represent a serious lack. Not having tested the game on the new laptop, we postpone the matter for a few days. In any case, the greater availability of buttons makes the adventure much smoother than in the past: now you can carry, in addition to the sword and shield, two other objects. Some, which once had to be equipped (such as bracelets), have been wisely automated.

Aside from the inventory changes, we have noticed small tweaks to make the experience smoother: thrown pots can destroy other pots still on the ground, so as to speed up breaking. Some doors exhibit an amphora, so as to indicate the method of opening, overcoming an illogicality of the original. Certain enemies, notably a mini-boss, have been weakened but, at the same time, made more difficult to hit - a twist in line with Aonuma's The Legend of Zelda, which however will not be noticed by many. Basically, the cerebral part of certain fights has been emphasized, in spite of the purely action one. Even some puzzles - few - have been modified: we were particularly bothered by one involving (chess) horses, because it seemed rather senseless to us. It was already weird in the original, but maybe that's the only situation where this remake, instead of making the elements more readable, has complicated them.

Some situations also seem a bit anachronistic. We refer to the geometric intersections of certain dungeons, but above all to the objects that block the exploration of the overworld: it is clear that they are arbitrary constraints, at the time not even questioned, but now they are actually strange. Like the plants that prevent Link from jumping over a cliff, because they push him back towards it, or the poisonous shoots, less tall than the character, that manage to prevent him from passing. However, they are details. As we said before, the way Link's Awakening has aged is almost miraculous.

Longevity and Dungeon Maker

Many feared that the game would prove too much brief. It is actually quite short: if you already know what to do, and not want to complete it one hundred percent, you can finish in a few hours. However, it would not be fair to evaluate the question from this perspective; Link's Awakening is a complex game, with some very difficult puzzles, and it's not impossible to get stuck for long. Indicatively we could tell you that it lasts between ten and fifteen hours, but a lot depends on your skill. It is very strange, and anachronistic, to find yourself unable to continue: in Link's Awakening, especially inside dungeons, it can happen that you have to solve a puzzle to get out of a room. You can stay closed there for minutes, if not hours, without having alternative routes. In general, the typical labyrinth-object structure of the labyrinth-boss has not aged badly; it's no longer original, but still works great. If it bored you, it's only because you played too many The Legend of Zelda, and because many subsequent episodes recycled it: it's certainly not Link's Awakening's fault, which was the second episode of the series to adopt it.

The longevity is therefore acceptable even by today's standards, but it would have been much better, as well as the work as a whole, if the advertised mode Chamber Dungeon had been ... a modality. Instead it is "only" a complex minigame, accessible from the hut of Danpei (the gravedigger), in which labyrinths are built, and subsequently crossed. Labyrinths composed of various rooms faced in different dungeons, which must be completed, following the instructions of Danpei, respecting certain constraints: taking into account the introduction of several floors, the number of chests in relation to closed doors, the presence of a boss and of an entrance. You can use amiibo to unlock new room tiles to add, but the benefits are limited, except for the one (released with the game) which introduces Dark Link: an absent enemy in the main adventure, which haunts the hero along the way. I walk, and it generates an interesting variable.

In general, Danpei's is a fun mini-game, but nothing more. And it's well done enough for us to imagine the untapped potential. Such as unpublished rooms or rooms that can be filled in in detail; labirinti to be played in multiplayer and to be shared online. The future of the "two-dimensional" branch of The Legend of Zelda could be just that.



Readers (99)


Your vote

Nintendo and Grezzo have transported the content of a 1993 game for the Game Boy to Nintendo Switch, without essential changes: considering the process, the outcome is essentially miraculous. Link's Awakening's game design is - again - practically perfect. This adventure harmoniously doses the many souls of The Legend of Zelda: action, exploration and puzzles, without one overriding the other. If you've loved at least one episode of the series, it's very unlikely that Link's Awakening will disappoint you. However, the work presents some anachronistic situations, it is rather short and the dungeon editor should have been more structured. Above all, it is unacceptable that a Nintendo title has such a dancing framerate, without which we would have given it a nice round nine. However, we repeat, it is a game with a basically perfect game design, and with a unique atmosphere: an engaging, and bizarre, little ancient world that deserves to be visited.


  • Graceful and unique graphic style
  • Perfect game design
  • Bizarre atmosphere and characters
  • The dungeon editor is nice, but ...
  • ... deserved more attention
  • Some puzzles and anachronistic situations
  • Shaky framerate in the overworld
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