The Nintendo Switch was such a good idea. Not only is it a home/handheld hybrid console great for couch co-op as well as your morning commute, but it’s also the perfect platform on which to re-release classic games because of said functionality. From Skyrim and Castlevania to The Witcher 3 and Resident Evil, the Switch has become the go-to place to showcase a new way to play familiar titles.
Interestingly enough, Nintendo has been a little shy about using the platform to re-release its own legendary lineup of classics. Besides the monthly NES offerings that come with the Nintendo Switch Online subscription, there’s not much in terms of Nintendo history on the platform just yet, which is why the arrival of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake is so exciting.
Originally released on the Game Boy in 1993, the remake is a complete top-to-bottom reimagining of the series’ first handheld installment. Nintendo could have easily re-released the Game Boy version, as it did on the Wii and Wii U’s Virtual Console, but then we’d be missing out on what’s likely to be one of the best games of the year.
While Link’s Awakening retains the top-down perspective of the original, the revamped visuals have received a full 3D upgrade and a new, chibi-like art style. Also of note is the marvelous soundtrack, which has been re-recorded with new woodwind and string arrangements, giving the world a lovely ambiance.
I spent 15 minutes of hands-on time with Link’s Awakening at E3 2019 and came away completely dazzled by just how much love has been put into bringing this 26-year-old title to current-gen standards. Little Link is adorable, an approximation to his 2D Game Boy counterpart, and Nintendo does a great job of making the combat feel like it’s taken right out of the original, a combination of cute sword thrusts and blocking attacks with your shield, which is now permanently mapped to the right trigger instead of in one of two inventory slots.
While I didn’t manage to reach Tail Cave in my brief demo (I was so close!), other hands-on previews have noted that, once you acquire Roc’s Feather in the cave, you can equip the item in the second inventory slot, allowing you to use your sword, block with your shield, and jump without having to rearrange your items. This major quality of life improvement should make combat and traversal feel more fast-paced. Certainly, it’ll be nice not to have to break the flow of a fight because you need to keep jumping into the menu.
The island itself, despite the graphical overhaul, looks as it should, with recognizable moblins, owls, and other creatures populating every corner of the world. You begin the game, as in the original, in Tarin’s house, and Link’s Awakening branches out from there, onto the beaches to the south and the danger-filled Mysterious Forest to the northwest. Every location I visited feels distinct, with their own enemies and obstacles. The Mysterious Forest is full of holes and underground passages that act as little mini-puzzles, while in Mabe Village, a chain chomp hurries to greet me with a bark and a young girl named Marin sings the “Ballad of the Wind Fish” (completely re-recorded) in the town square.
The story, now taken in as an adult, takes on a whole new, kind of trippy meaning, as Link embarks on a journey to seek out the Wind Fish, a giant flying whale who’s the little hero’s ticket to getting off the island. In the very early moments of the adventure, you’re tasked with gearing up Link, first with a shield, then a sword, and then the aforementioned Roc’s Feather. Along the way, you also have to locate a magic mushroom and bring it to a surprisingly friendly witch to turn into a powder for a sniffly raccoon who is actually Tarin in animal form. Don’t ask, just accept.
While the endless task lists of today’s open-world games get more mundane and tired, completing objectives in Link’s Awakening is loads of fun, thanks to the quirky direction of the story and the strange characters who inhabit Koholint. I’m very excited to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.
For those who have never played Link’s Awakening or its remastered DX version on the Game Boy Color, the Switch remake should feel like a fresh, current-gen title. Meanwhile, the nostalgic should feel right at home with this return to the strange island beyond Hyrule.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is out on Sept. 20.
Listen to all our reactions and impressions from E3 2019 right here: