The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch Review)

Here’s a thought exercise for everyone. Ask yourselves how any group of gamers would react if you told them that a 1993 Game Boy release that originally retailed for $29.99 USD would be remade in September of 2019. But, the game would only receive a novel facelift to its appearance. A successful facelift, one that makes it look like no other game before it.. sorta like the LEGO Movie, but with Fisher Price figures instead.. BUT, the actual content would mostly remain intact. What was there in 1993 would still be there, functionally unaltered, in the 2019 release.

The characters that were created during an era where depth and nuance were not normal for game writing? Unchanged.

The world map, which, although ambitious for its time, was largely a result of concessions that had to be made for the limitations of the 1988 Game Boy hardware? Unchanged.

The story, thought-provoking then and now, but left largely unexplored? Unchanged.

That’s the proposition: would they bite at a re-release of a 1993 game, with 1993 gameplay, 1993 storytelling, and all the limitations of 1993 Game Boy development intact, only with 2019 graphics technology..

But, it now costs $59.99 for that 1993 $29.99 Game Boy game. Would they buy it?

I’d think most gamers would decline that offer without thinking about it twice. Yet, here we are. Link’s Awakening for Switch is a huge hit. Nintendo has paid close attention to what Disney is pulling off with its live action remakes and said “why not us?” Those movies make incredible money with the bare minimum effort, and so too is Link’s Awakening, with the bare minimum effort.

This is not a good thing. Also, having good graphics doesn’t change the fact that this is a hugely lazy remake.

To be perfectly frank, I wasn’t blown away by the graphics most of the time. BUT, sometimes they left me gobsmacked. The Face Shrine area is one of the locations where I put my Switch down to just gawk at how nice it looked. Like a diorama.

Now, this opinion is not flying with most Nintendo fans. So many are besides themselves with the mere suggestion that efforts could have been made to improve what was already a very solid Zelda game. If you say “they could have reworked the script. Dialog has come a long ways since 1993” they scoff. If you say “some of the level design is nonsensical or overly-simplistic, even for its era. Maybe they could have sharpened it up for a new generation of gamers” they balk. And they always say the same thing with these suggestions: “it wouldn’t be Link’s Awakening then!”

I have to say the same thing I said about the ToeJam & Earl remake: why didn’t you fucking people just keep playing the originals if you don’t want anything changed? If they make a REAL remake and not just the facade of one, it doesn’t erase the existence of the original games. You can still sit down and play those if you’re nauseated by someone trying to make something good even better or more relevant in 2019. Hell, you can still buy Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX for $5.99 on your 3DS! And I guarantee you almost everyone rejecting making changes still has a 3DS. Then again, they probably still have their original Link’s Awakening carts and working Game Boys. What the FUCK is wrong you people? Are you stunted?

She’s making a face like Link copped a feel. Maybe that’s why this is Link’s Awakening. He’s going to be woke when Twitter gets a hold of him.

Okay, let me set aside my dumbfoundedness for a second and tell you the good stuff: Link’s Awakening is an incredible achievement for its time. Given the limitations for the Game Boy, some of the levels are absolutely inspired. Ironically for a game based around waking up, it’s a slow riser. After a nifty introduction to the shield and sword, momentum grinds to a halt with a plodding first couple hours and two of the most boring 2D Zelda dungeons ever. But, around the time of the third level, things start to pick up. By level 4 and onward to the end game, Link’s Awakening is not merely good for its time. It’s good on its own merit. Occasionally, it’s even great, like having to move a giant metal ball around a stage to collapse pillars of a level to cause the tower to collapse by one level. THAT is fucking genius and maybe the best 2D Zelda Dungeon ever. Sadly, things crater out a bit in the eighth and final proper level, Turtle Rock, a miserable slog of a stage. And the Wind Fish egg itself is nothing more than callback to the Lost Woods from the original NES Zelda, only with more directions to memorize, followed by the final boss fight.

BUT, this is a good Zelda. And the Switch version has advantages to it. While the maps remain the same as the DX Game Boy Color version (including the lame ass color dungeon, still every bit as pandering and phoned-in here), Nintendo added more pieces of the heart and secret seashells. They’re absurdly easy to find and add fuck-all to the game, but they’re there if you care about that type of thing. By far the biggest improvement is the elimination of tediously fumbling with the menu to change items around. This time, the sword, shield, power bracelet, and pegasus boots are always equipped once you have them. This cuts down on so much bullshit. Having said that, they should have also always had the Roc’s Feather equipped too. You’ll be using it so much that there’s really never a time it’ll go too long without having to take up one of the two item slots. If it had been, the item equipping would have been such a non-factor that it would become the single most desirable reason to own this version of the game.

The Dungeon Maker stuff is one of the absolute worst disasters in recent memory. It’s horrible. You can’t even change the room themes. It feels exactly like what it is: a series of rooms not compatible with each-other being interlocked. It’s crazy limited. You can’t alter the rooms. You can’t even ROTATE the rooms. This is dog shit. The worst idea Nintendo has actually gone through with releasing since Wii Music, easily.

And it IS totally worth owning.. the Game Boy Color version for $5.99 on 3DS Virtual Console. I really can’t recommend the Switch version at full price. Especially when the standards of remakes have come so far. Nintendo fans justify Link’s Awakening by noting that they Nintendo did the same thing with Super Mario All-Stars back in the day (ironically, it came out the same day as the original Link’s Awakening did in North America) and nobody thought it was a ripoff. This might be the dumbest argument since “because the Bible says so.” Super Mario All-Stars had FOUR games in it. And, you know, it came out in 1993. Gaming has come a long ways since 1993.

The issue is, Nintendo fans just never challenge Nintendo to aspire higher. I once joked about Dr. Luigi, literally just Dr. Mario but you throw bigger pills into the jar, and Nintendo fans responding to this absolutely half-assed idea by saying they hoped it came out on both Wii U and 3DS so they could pay for it twice. Nintendo doesn’t support cross-platform eShop downloads. If you bought a Virtual Console game on Wii U, you didn’t get the same game on 3DS. Why would they do that? They have a fanbase that still has their original game consoles but will gladly keep paying new money for old games. Do you realize there’s people out there that already owned the NES Balloon Fight cart who also paid money for..

-Balloon Fight on Wii Virtual Console
-Balloon Fight on Wii U Virtual Console
-Balloon Fight on Game Boy Advance
-Balloon Fight on eReader Cards
-Balloon Fight on 3DS Virtual Console
-An NES Classic Edition, which has Balloon Fight

(And hell, they probably worked to unlock Balloon Fight in Animal Crossing and play it on there)

It begs the question: why do you need so many copies of the same game? Why do you PAY for so many copies of the same game? Because it is the same game. While this doesn’t represent all Nintendo fans, or even most of them, there’s enough people doing this type of thing that Nintendo has never had an incentive to change their business model. “Hardcore” Nintendo fans behave like naive religious fanatics being grifted by a televangelist into sending more and more money to earn God’s favor.

And they didn’t really fix the stuff that was dumb in the first place. Allegedly there’s a rhyme and reason to how rolling these chess pieces works, but I threw them from every angle and every square and they didn’t lock into the desired spot as they should have every time.

Of course, with Switch Online’s $20 a year fee that includes NES and now SNES games, it would appear Nintendo knows they’ve milked that cow for all its worth. But, with all the partners Nintendo has, they now have enough resources accumulated that they can pivot to re-releasing old stuff with new graphics. This has been worth, as of this writing, nine *billion* dollars for Disney with their live action remakes. Functionally, the Link’s Awakening remake copies that model. It’s the same game with different graphics and minimal additions that they really could have done without and nobody would have said anything. When I say “it’s the same game” I get thrown back at me “they added more hearts and seashells!” I ask you, do you really think these fanboys wouldn’t have bought the game if they didn’t add more hearts and seashells to find? Of course they would have still bought it. It’s what they do.

The combat mechanics are now wonky and getting timing down on some enemies and bosses is different now. The Ganon nightmare was the moment in the game that I came the closest to losing a fight. I went through two fairies and Tracy’s secret. Well, that’s because they kept the fight basically the same but it’s harder to judge the angle with the new tilted camera. This isn’t even the final form. It should have been, because the final one is a total pansy.

The shit thing is, Link’s Awakening is probably the most high-concept of all the Zelda games. None of them have THAT deep of stories. But Link’s Awakening has a universe with complex moral implications and consequences that are begging to be explored. I once again have to go back to this old chestnut: gaming has come a long ways. Look at something like Undertale, which explores morality in a way that has captured the imagination of gamers of all generations. Link’s Awakening’s framework has potential to surpass Undertale’s examination of the nature of morality. Instead, it retains the minimalist, on-the-nose writing of a typical 1993 game. Marin is crushing on Link, but we don’t explore why. When Link wakes the Wind Fish, he wakes-up floating in the middle of the ocean, hears the song he first heard from her, and smiles contently. He just blinked her out of existence! Yea yea, she turns into a seagull. Because that was her dream. KIDS DREAM FOR STUPID SHIT! I wanted to be a Power Ranger as a kid. In reality, being a Power Ranger would suck. You’d cause forty 9-11s a year fighting giant monsters with your Zords. Stepping on pedestrians would be inevitable. It’s be awful to be a Power Ranger. And Marin turning into a seagull is NOT a happy ending! He killed her! He killed them all! He did it with a smile on his face! At no point in Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is the hero tasked with the conundrum of consequence. His mission is to wake the Wind Fish. All his interactions with beings are treated as distractions in that quest.

And I’m sorry, but that’s insanely fucked up. Because there’s some damn emotional moments in Link’s Awakening. I got choked up when Marin and Link share a moment on the beach. Marin talks about her hopes and her aspirations. They share a moment, and it’s beautiful. It has an innocence about it that made me think of how a first crush is handled in Charlie Brown’s world, or like the interactions between Vada and Thomas in the film My Girl. But when it’s over, Link doesn’t carry a burden of what succeeding in his quest means for her. Monsters taunt you that you’ll vanish too, but we know that’s not the truth. We know it’s not Link’s dream. Part of the problem is Nintendo is still obsessed with keeping Link as blank a slate as possible, so that any little boy or girl can insert themselves into his shell. It becomes THEIR adventure, not his. But, give children a little credit. When little kids play Star Wars, sometimes they pretend they’re Luke, and something they’re Darth Vader. A child’s imagination is vivid enough that they don’t need a character to be an empty vessel to explore them. But, it’s Zelda. Link is a silent protagonist and that’s just how it has to be. What a missed opportunity.

I was so touched by the authenticity of the connection between Marin and Link that I was fighting back tears. And given how little there is with it, that really says something about how big a lost opportunity it was to not develop this further. Shame on you, Nintendo. You might as well of had ads for AT&T if you’re going to totally phone it in like this. At least that might have knocked Link’s Awakening down to a reasonable price for a twenty-six-year-old game.

There’s tons of ways you can interpret Awakening, and apologists will say that they like how open-ended it is. I find it hypocritical that these guys like the idea of having so little actual plot that you can fill in the blanks with almost any headcanon, yet they lack imagination to such a degree that they can’t fathom the game existing with spruced-up, modernized storytelling and dialog. I said it about Sonic fans, and I have to say it to Nintendo about your fans: if they demand so little of you, you need to go out and get better fans. My review system isn’t set up to account for over-pricing, so I have to award Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening my Seal of Approval. It’s a good game, old or not. But unless you can get it on sale, I don’t recommend anyone purchase it. If you’re happy with the remake, great! But don’t talk about what a “slippery slope” it is to bring everything but the graphics into the 21st century. Your old carts wouldn’t just vanish if they TRULY remade Link’s Awakening. They didn’t even bother removing it from the 3DS eShop. It’s still there, and it’s still the same Zelda. Of course, Nintendo fanboys are gatekeepers operating under the delusion that Link’s Awakening is THEIR Zelda, and doesn’t belong to anyone of any other generation on any term but their own. If you want depth or complexity, go play something else and leave their precious 1993 portable Zelda product alone. I don’t get it. If you want to play the same old game, play the same old game. That way you never have to grow up or challenge yourself. The rest of us should be challenging Nintendo to challenge us.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was developed by Grezzo
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$59.99 never was bothered by the frame rate hiccups, which seems to be everyone’s #1 complaint in the making of this review.

Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is Chick-Approved. Non-indies aren’t ranked on the IGC Leaderboard.

For those that already played the Link’s Awakening on Game Boy or Game Boy Color, or own a port of it, it’s worth about $30. If you’ve never played it, $40 is a good price for it. Or $5.99 for Link’s Awakening DX on Virtual Console for 3DS. It’s also Chick-Approved and I recommend it without reservation.

 

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