Posted on June 15 2019 by Rod Lloyd
Link’s Awakening for Nintendo Switch, scheduled to release on September 20th, was one of Nintendo’s marquee showings at E3 2019. This upcoming remake of the Game Boy classic was in fact playable on the E3 show floor, as attendees were invited to play through the game’s opening 15 minutes, from the moment Link wakes up on Koholint Island to the completion of the game’s first dungeon.
The Zelda Dungeon team was given the opportunity to be among the first people to go hands on with Link’s Awakening, and we, being the Zelda experts that we are, meticulously combed through the opening areas of the game to find every juicy detail. We have condensed all our thoughts and impressions from the E3 demo into a list of five major takeaways, so join us as we break down the most exciting and interesting aspects of the Link’s Awakening remake.
Link’s Awakening Introduces Changes that Streamline the Experience
After playing through the original Link’s Awakening last month, we identified a few gameplay elements from that version that have not aged very well. Swords and shields cannot be equipped at all times, and the overworld is sometimes hard to navigate, for example. None of these gripes are game breaking by any means, but they represent issues of an older generation that have long since been addressed in more recent games. The setting, characters, and story are timeless, but the gameplay unfortunately is starting to show its age.
Luckily, Link’s Awakening on Switch introduces a series of quality-of-life changes that eliminate the original game’s clunkiness and improve the overall experience.
First and foremost, Link’s Awakening‘s overworld map is now completely seamless, with no screen transitions in between each area. In our demo, we were able to walk from Mabe Village, to Toronbo Shores, and then to the Mysterious Forest without a single break in gameplay. Not only does this alteration speed up the pace of the game considerably, but it eliminates the needless backtracking that plagued the Game Boy title, as players were forced to fumble between adjacent screens to get from one area to another.
And let’s talk about that map, shall we? The new Link’s Awakening also introduces a handful of improvements to the map screen. Players can now add waypoints and add various pins to the in-game map, just like in Breath of the Wild! Do you want to complete some side quests without forgetting the next destination of the main quest? Set a waypoint! Do you want to remember the location of a Heart Piece that’s currently out of reach? Place a heart-shaped pin! The map sub-screen also allows you access a “Memories” menu, where you can replay key dialogues relating to the main quest. So if you accidentally missed a key detail in one of the Owl’s lengthy speeches, you can quickly and easily replay the entire message.
The remake also lets players use both the sword and the shield at all times, clearing up space for two additional inventory slots. Players will no longer need to put the sword away if they want to, say, use Roc’s Feather and the Pegasus Boots in tandem. And with the shield also permanently equipped, its usefulness is greatly increased as players no longer feel the need to pocket it in favor of a more useful item.
Every change introduced in the new Link’s Awakening is a welcome one, as they improve the overall experience and effectively bring the adventure into the modern age.
Link’s Awakening‘s Art Style Enhances Everything
When Link’s Awakening was first announced, some fans were puzzled by its cutesy, toyetic art style. But after spending a considerable amount of time with the game, we’re happy to report that this charming art style not only grows on you like an adorable fungus, but it actually enhances the entire experience.
The most tangible result of LA‘s striking artistic direction is seen in characters’ expressiveness. It’s one thing to see a screenshot of a little Link running around in his cartoon world, but it’s something else entirely to see it in motion. Every character and creature Link meets on his adventure is brilliantly animated to best communicate something to the player. Townsfolk like Marin and Tarin express moods, emotions, and motivations with only pantomime and body language; and we’d argue that their conveyance is more effective than any photorealistic image.
This eye-popping expressiveness enhances the game’s humor as well, as the silly situations that naturally occur on Koholint Island are definitely best played out by a cast of cartoon actors. One scene in particular that caught our eye involved a Raccoon character found in the Mysterious Forest. After sprinkling some Magic Powder on this little critter, he will bounce and spin around the screen like a rubber pinball. Our bite-sized demo alone was filled with numerous funny character moments, so we’re certainly excited to see what other antics the island’s inhabitants are bound to take part in.
The game’s enemies are equally as expressive, but in such as way as to improve combat and swordplay. Baddies like Moblins and Octoroks telegraph their movements and attacks with strong body language, which helps the player to anticipate threats and respond more effectively. We most noticed this fact when fighting the Tail Cave miniboss Rolling Bones. This jiggly misanthrope is constantly hopping around his arena, but if the player pays attention to his expressive eyes and arms, they will be able to predict the monster’s actions and justly punish him.
Just walking around Koholint is a beautiful experience, as light showers the environment and every part of the world sways with motion. Link’s Awakening‘s art style may be simple at first glance, but it is truly something to marvel at in motion.
Link’s Awakening Has Even More Secrets to Find
While it would seem that all of the Secret Seashells and Heart Pieces from the original Link’s Awakening are in the exact same hiding places in the remake, we did note at least one additional Heart Piece that was not present in the Game Boy version. We noticed that the new version of the Trendy Game offered a shiny new Piece of Heart as one of its prizes, so we can only assume that there will be even more new ones out there on Koholint Island. Perhaps we’ll even be able to find more than 26 Secret Shells in the remake!
With its updated visuals, Link’s Awakening on Switch also packs its environments with little details for which you should keep your eyes out. For example, both Marin’s house and the Trendy Game are home to a ton of set dressing. Many unique objects line the walls of these locations, such as framed pictures on a table in Marin’s House or a Zora statue on a shelf in the Trendy Game. We even noticed two conspicuous pedestal-like objects in Marin’s house; could they hold collectable statues later in the game?
Like most Zelda remakes, Link’s Awakening is littered with interesting details hidden by the development team. We can’t wait to uncover them all!
Link’s Awakening Has a Stellar Soundtrack
We knew that back in 1993, didn’t we? Yes, we all already know just how good the original Link’s Awakening soundtrack is, but this remake sets a high bar as well.
The trailers we’ve seen thus far have already showcased some of the excellent music we can expect to hear in Link’s Awakening, but our play session really sold us on how good this soundtrack is. Like with most modern Zelda games, this title’s score features live instrumentation, with strings serving as the driving force for most of the melodies. The Mabe Village theme in particular perked our ears, as bells and chimes are primarily utilized. The song actually sounds like something played by a crib’s mobile, fitting in nicely with the toy-like character models.
This revamped soundtrack also improves a few of Link’s Awakening‘s more undercooked tunes, songs that that were well composed but were done in by the Game Boy’s inferior hardware. While we didn’t get the chance to play through the game’s third dungeon, Key Cavern, we did hear the rearrangement of its theme while waiting to play the demo. The composition sounds absolutely amazing given the remake’s live instrumentation, no longer held back by the incessant buzzing produced by Nintendo’s early portable. We still weren’t the biggest fans of the jingle played when Link collects a Piece of Power, but that was simply one underwhelming tune in a sea of great ones. We can’t wait to hear what other Link’s Awakening tracks are made better in this new version.
All of Link’s Awakening‘s live instrumentation is driven by the timeless melodies heard in the original title, taking excellent songs and making them even better. Even hours after our demo, we found ourselves humming classic themes from the game.
Link’s Awakening for Switch is Still Very Faithful to the Original Game
Link’s Awakening veterans shouldn’t worry about needless changes to the classic title.
Despite the changes outlined above, Link’s Awakening for Switch retains nearly every aspect that made the original special back on the Game Boy. In fact, within just the first few minutes, we found that this remake feels and plays exactly like its 8-bit predecessor, just with a fresh coat of paint. We feel safe in saying that, for every way the original game succeeded, Link’s Awakening for Switch is a one-for-one recreation.
The layout of Koholint Island has not changed in the more than 25 years since Link’s Awakening‘s original release, so veterans will feel comfortable navigating the game’s sprawling map. Down to every last bush and tree stump (and every secret too!), the game’s map will feel satisfyingly familiar to those that remember the Game Boy version. And newcomers shouldn’t worry at all; Link’s Awakening brilliantly led players through its game world at a natural pace back in 1993, and the remake will be no different.
Based on our playthrough of the game’s first dungeon, Tail Cave, it seems that Link’s Awakening‘s dungeons will be likewise faithful to their original incarnations. Keys, chests, and items were in the same place, and enemy encounters were just as tense. We were also happy to learn that the dungeon bosses are just as chatty as they were back in the Game Boy days. The first boss Moldorm spouted off some familiar dialogue before it attacked, so we imagine every boss will have something snarky to say before taking the fight to our hero.
The adorable strangeness of the original Link’s Awakening is back as well, as the small details that set it apart from other games are present in the upcoming Switch version. You can still steal items from the shop and get punished for it, you can still sprinkle Magic Powder on a Buzz Blob to change its appearance, you can still collect goofy items as part of lengthy trading quest, and you can still (if you’re a monster) smack Mutt in the face with you sword. Cameos from the Super Mario series make a return as well! It’s all there, and it’s all just as charming as it was years ago.
The developers of the Link’s Awakening were clearly smart about not changing the things that made the original such a great game. We hope this means an entirely new generation will get to solve the mysteries of Koholint Island and so experience the magic of this timeless adventure.
And there you have it: the biggest takeaways from our hands-on demo of Link’s Awakening on Nintendo Switch. We are very much excited to revisit the entire island of Koholint in September, and we can’t wait to see the other ways in which the remake changes or improves the original adventure. But, perhaps most of all, we are ready to re-experience the magic we felt when we first played through Link’s Awakening way back when.
Link’s Awakening seems to have been lovingly crafted to keep Link’s quest to wake the Wind Fish as special as it was in 1993, and to, in some ways, enhance it.
Be sure to check out the gallery below for some screenshots from our demo. Are you excited for Link’s Awakening to drop in September? Share your excitement with us in the comments below!
Rod Lloyd is the Editor-In-Chief at Zelda Dungeon, overseeing the news and feature content for the site. Rod is considered the veteran of the writing team, having started writing for Zelda Informer in 2014 as a Junior Editor. After ZD and ZI officially merged in 2017, he stepped into the Managing Editor role and has helped steer the ship ever since. He stepped up to lead the writing team as Editor-In-Chief in 2023.
You can reach Rod at: firstname.lastname@example.org