As you watch the opening cutscene for Link's Awakening, there's a moment where it's easy to forget just how strange this game really is. Whether it's the fact there's so much ambiguity about the story's wider meaning or the fact it revolves around waking up a Wind Fish who's sleeping inside an egg on the top of a mountain, Link's Awakening is one of the series' odder entries – which is saying something for a series that includes Majora's Mask.
Release date: September 20, 2019
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Developer / Publisher: Nintendo
But, it's one of the reasons why Nintendo's decision to remaster the Game Boy original – or more specifically, the 1998 Game Boy Colour release of Link's Awakening DX – is such a wonderful surprise. And Nintendo makes the whole thing more of a joy by totally reimagining its art style to give it a brand new life on the Nintendo Switch, hopefully enticing a brand new audience into this quirky adventure.
From pixels to perfection
Part of the original game's charm came from its pixelated art style, which managed to feel friendly and charming, but simultaneously belied the more mysterious and somewhat darker elements of the game's story. For the Nintendo Switch release, Nintrendo has switched out the pixelated style for a toy-like aesthetic – a decision that makes you feel as if you're leaning into a tiny recreation of Link's adventure. The tops of the trees and buildings have a glossy sheen to them that makes them look like plastic Fisher Price toys, while the characters have a chubby, chibi-esque design that just adds to its overall adorableness.
But, it's not just cute, it's beautiful too: the water literally sparkles like a tropical ocean in the sunlight; colours practically burst through the screen as you move through the various areas of the map, from coastal paths to lush forests where waterfalls dash down mountainsides; and each of the characters has been given a thorough, loving makeover. Easily one of the best looking games on Switch, you'd be surprised a game like this could have ever existed on a Game Boy. And that's without even mentioning the full orchestral score that's been added, elevating the entire experience, and causing me to regularly just to leave Link idling just so I can enjoy the music and atmosphere like some kind of expensive screensaver.
However, because it does feel like its pushing the technical capabilities of the Switch, there are a few issues with framerate stability when exploring the world. It only lasts a second at most, but it's more noticeable than you might think, especially considering it's not an issue I have regularly on Switch.
Classic Zelda at its best
For anyone coming to Link's Awakening by way of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it may seem like this is a much slower adventure. Link toddles from place to place, tip of his hat bouncing with every step, and the game plays out like a more traditional Zelda adventure – a topdown, dungeon focused, almost metroidvania-like affair. You'll make your way around the map, and consistently find yourself faced with areas that are seemingly inaccessible, blocked by not having a certain ability or piece of equipment yet. It's classic Zelda at its best. In order to fully access all regions of Kohalint Island, you'll need to complete the game's various dungeons. It's within these that you'll not only collect the full band of instruments you'll need to wake the Wind Fish, but also collect new items like Roc's Feather, which gives you the ability to jump, or the simply named Powerful Bracelet, which lets you lift up heavy items like rocks and, well, elephants. See, told you Link's Awakening was on the odd side.
In the original game, you'd have to map various items and abilities to your face buttons, meaning you'd have to swap between them all regularly. However, for this Switch remaster, Nintendo has implemented a number of quality of life improvements that makes it more akin to a more modern release. Abilities like running, dashing and swimming are all permanently mapped to specific buttons, along with your shield and sword, and then it's just a case of switching between other less frequently accessed items like bombs, the aforementioned feather (which I keep constantly mapped to X), and the hookshot, for example.
But the improvements don't end there. The Ocarina's special Manbo's Mambo song now lets you fast travel to any warp point you've unlocked on the map; there are more heart pieces, and hidden seashell collectibles than in the original; and there's even a new doll collectible added for additional content. There's more to explore and discover in Koholint than ever, so if you're coming back to the island after enjoying the original release you'll certainly find new things to enjoy.
In fact, so many little things have been tweaked and changed that coming back to Link's Awakening feels more dreamlike than any other remake I've encountered. Not just because of its strangeness either, but because of its ability to bring together Nintendo's heritage under one title in a way that always feels seamless. The initial presence of the Chain Chomp in Mabe Village feels odd, but soon you'll realise this is a paradise for Nintendo fans, blending together elements of Super Mario and Zelda in ways you didn't think would work outside of Super Smash Bros.
This is old-school Zelda at its best and most strange, reimagined for a modern audience. For those looking for a more traditional Zelda experience on Switch, this is the dream, with its inventive dungeons and puzzles galore (although don't make me do any more horse head bouncing), set in a world that'll keep you exploring for days to come. Regardless of whether you're familiar with the game or are experiencing it for the first time, this is a sweet slumber you'll want to slip straight into.