One of the earliest things you’ll do in Link’s Awakening is collect a magic mushroom, ask a witch to turn it into magic powder and sprinkle it on to a talking raccoon.
What follows is quite the trip, involving Mario references, zany characters, and talking animals in one of the Zelda series’ most colurful and experimental adventures. It’s a Mario-Zelda fever dream, as melancholic as it is whimsical. Of course, if you’ve played the 1993 Game Boy original then you’ll know all that already.
This Switch remake is, if you’re anything like me, a childhood reimagined in vibrant hues and chunky new character designs. Yet despite its beginning life on the Game Boy (later re-released in colour as Link’s Awakening DX), this is a full-sized Zelda adventure in the palm of your hands that helped establish and refine many key tropes of the series. It’s got musical instruments, an overworld brimming with secrets (those pesky seashells), and a quirky, almost apocalyptic tone long before Majora’s Mask or Breath of the Wild.
So what’s changed? There are a few quality of life improvements: the controls are now smooth analogue, combat feels more responsive and fluid with extra buttons for your items, and pins can be stuck in the map as reminders. The soundtrack has also been completely re-orchestrated, only adding to the game’s cutesy, dreamlike appeal. Otherwise, this is the same game as before, with the same quest to wake the mystical Wind Fish from its slumber, and the same script and characters leading you on your journey.
Of course, the biggest change is to the graphics, making Link’s Awakening amongst the best looking games on the Switch. There’s a plasticky, toy-like feel to the diorama world that, fittingly, feels almost unreal – saturated in colour and impossibly pretty (with the occasional bit of slowdown in busy areas).
The animation, too, is adorable and littered with tiny details that add further personality: Link’s cutesy waddle as he runs, the way his face lights up when he catches a fish, or the way he munches on an apple plucked from a tree. Footprints are left in the sand, the sun reflects off thundering waterfalls, fish panic when they’re hooked. To see this world of the past updated is a sugar rush of nostalgia.
However, the dungeons, while satisfying, aren’t the best of the series. The new art style at least makes them feel more distinct from one another and you’re less likely to get lost in each labyrinth. But there are few interlocking puzzle box dungeons (Eagle’s Tower aside) and too often they rely on banal locked doors and key collecting. The bosses also are a little too simple; most can be beaten in mere seconds.
Yet with each dungeon room being so self-contained, they’re perfect for the game’s other new feature: the dungeon creator. Taking over the Game Boy camera integration from the DX version, visiting gravedigger Dampe’s shack allows you to complete his challenges by slotting together rooms collected from previously completed dungeons – along with a few extras – into intricate mazes.
It’s hardly the Zelda equivalent to Mario Maker, but as a proof of concept, it works nicely and adds plenty of longevity as a fun extra challenge. Frustratingly, though, your designs can only be shared through Amiibo and not online directly with friends.
What the game lacks in a challenge, it makes up for in charm. But don’t be fooled by its adorable visuals. Link’s Awakening is classic, unmissable Zelda with a healthy dose of the surreal. That raccoon is just the start.
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