There’s a reason that classic games come to be respected and revered as classics. They must embody a certain charm and cleverness, delivering a sense that the gamemakers really put in the work to create something special. Classics are games that you almost want to start over and play again after finishing them.
The original version of 1993’s The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening—created for the Nintendo Game Boy—was such a game. Even today, it’s considered one of the best of the Zelda titles, and it’s definitely in the top tier of all Game Boy entries.
So Nintendo thought it was high time to revisit that classic and remake it for the Nintendo Switch, giving Switch and Zelda fans a new perspective with that dual strength console.
One of the problems with the original game was its grainy, teeny tiny visuals. (It was a handheld game in the early ’90s after all.) It’s been colorized and blown-up since then in various forms, but Link’s Awakening for the Switch is an endearing remake from the ground up. The game’s brilliantly colored characters and monsters now seem quite toy-like, and the bird’s-eye view is close and detailed enough to look great on your HDTV, as well as on the portable Switch screen in the palm of your hands.
The island story and its great puzzle challenges, however, remain pretty much the same.
Things commence with the elfish, green-clad hero, Link, being battered and bashed by a hazardous storm he encounters on the high seas. Next thing you know, he’s waking up in a strange bed after having washed up on the shores of Koholint Island. A young girl named Marin and her slightly dizzy father, Tarin, have saved Link. And they give him back his trusted sword and shield.
Link soon learns from a talking owl, however, that if he’s ever going to get off this quaint island—decorated with dark misty forests, stark deserts, open caves, a bat-populated cemetery and various swamps and streams—he going to have to wake something called the Wind Fish. He’ll need to gather eight magical instruments to do so. And the whole quest will involve solving dungeon puzzles, besting big bosses called Nightmares, and eventually making a way to a giant egg sitting atop the island’s central mountain.
Video games and video gaming have changed a whole lot since the handheld days of 1993, in great and sometimes not so great ways. That said, this new updated version of Link’s adventure does something relatively rare: it stirs new graphics and improved mechanics in with the best of the old game and doesn’t add any nasty bits.
The dungeon designs remain wonderfully clever, and the environmental puzzles take thought and timing to master. Loot treasure is regular and pleasing. And the special weapon rewards aren’t designed to make Link more deadly, but rather to help him jump, run, and lift heavy objects and the like: new boosts needed for the next set of tougher puzzle challenges.
Level-ending big-boss Nightmares get some creative upgrades, too. Players will square off against a fireball-juggling genie in a jar; a robotic rock Gollum; a bouncing, ball-like head covered in lava; and various prehistoric-looking fish and beasties. But while threatening, these foes are never frightening or gore-seeking baddies. And each can be bested by younger gamers who are willing to invest time in finding the monster’s weakness.
There are, of course, lots of little monsters scattered across the island. These include skeletons, spiders, birds, ghosts, slimy blobs and things with spiky protrusions. (In fact, players face a number of recognizable Mario villain cameos in the island mix.) But again, none of them are bloodletting, and they generally disappear in a puff of smoke when defeated. Oh, and the talking baddies spew written out taunts such as “Fool!” “You buffoon!” and “Bah!” at worst.
Best of all, though, is the fact that this version of Link’s Awakening doesn’t feel like a stale retread in any way. It’s fresh and fun and reshaped just enough to even take devoted fans of the original by surprise now and then. And you may want to start it again, once the Wind Fish’s dream island finally fades away.
In other words, it’s a top-tier game that seems destined to become a classic in its own right.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.