Link’s Awakening was near perfect to begin with – and the remake isn’t going to mess with that design.
As the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. There’s more than one way to remake a classic, too, as we’re seeing: Resident Evil 2 is big-budget, flashy and generally faithful. Final Fantasy 7 Remake looks like it’ll be more of a modern re-imagining than a beat-for-beat remake. And then there’s The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, which steps beyond a HD Remaster but is an absolutely faithful love letter to the Game Boy original. It has a snazzy presentation, but this is the same game – and that’s okay.
Link’s Awakening is without a doubt one of the best entries in the Zelda series – and that’s no mean feat when you consider that this is a franchise home to several of the best games of all time.
There’s something really joyous about Link’s Awakening, though. After the fairly dark, good-versus-evil story of A Link to the Past, this is the Zelda series experimenting, going off on an unrestrained tangent and seeing where it leads. The result is a charming journey across a brilliantly ethereal land with memorable characters, weird cameos and a core that is totally pure of heart. I love it.
Developer Grezzo has become a pretty solid partner for Nintendo, working on the Nintendo 3DS ports of Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask and Luigi’s Mansion as well as developing Zelda spin-off Tri Force Heroes. They very much know what they’re doing, and Link’s Awakening is as faithful a recreation as this studio’s takes on the N64 Zelda games get, even though this is a much more significant upgrade. Grezzo is now sort of taking on the role that Capcom had in the Game Boy Color years, handling smaller-scale Zelda titles – and that’s quite exciting, as it’s ex-Capcom folk like Hidemaro Fujibayashi now leading the series, having cut their teeth on the handheld games.
At the demo, I make the mistake of telling the Nintendo rep this is one of my favourite Zelda games, if not my absolute favourite. Thanks to that I’m then jokingly challenged to finish the game’s first dungeon within the demo’s strict 15-minute time limit. I almost manage it, but run out of time in the final screens of the dungeon. Playing like this has its advantages for the purposes of a preview, however: while other people plod around the overworld or frit their time away on Mabe Village’s crane game, I’m running down to the beach for my sword, then back up to the woods, battling moblins and grabbing magic powder, then down to the dungeon… and it’s all muscle memory. It all doesn’t just look as I remember it, but actually is how I remember it, and there’s something quite magical about that. There’s no rose-tinted glasses necessary, because Grezzo has lovingly baked that tint into the very cartridge (or download, but that’s infinitely less whimsical).
Being how you remember it and also acceptable to modern players carries certain requirements with it, so Link’s Awakening is subtly changed. The Game Boy original only had two action buttons, for instance, so you could unequip your sword and shield to use other items. Now your sword and shield are permanently bound to certain buttons, and you still get two swappable item slots – handy. This also might make the tougher sections of the game a touch easier for modern sensibilities, as it means the shield (which you’d barely ever use in the original) is now only a button press away.
Enemies are tweaked to better take advantage of this. The Moblins in the forest used to walk robotic loops until they spotted you in the original, but now they wander in a more natural way. The shield Moblins could previously be efficiently defeated by a poke war and a spin attack, but now are best offed by using your shield to stun them after they attack. It’ll be interesting to see how these mechanical changes stack up in the final release, as a bunch of little changes could add up to something significant.
Thus far this appears to be a solid remake, then, albeit one with creaks and groans here and there that’ll hopefully be ironed out for release – in particular a frame rate that occasionally struggles and some likely-related graphical effects that feel a little too aggressive. These things are hopefully easily remedied, however.
There’s all new content, too, including a dungeon organising mini-game that feels like the first baby steps towards a proper Zelda Maker game, but really I’m here for the original Link’s Awakening – which really looks and feels great at this stage. I can’t wait to fall in love with Link’s Awakening all over again – and I do imagine many newcomers will fall for its considerable charms as much as I did in the nineties.