RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Dec 9th 2019 at 08:00:00 AM by (MetalFRO)
Posted under Links Awakening, The Legend of Zelda, Game Boy, Nintendo, Switch, remake

Image shamelessly linked from Nintendo UK.
The new art style is a nice compromise between shiny, flashy graphics, & a respectful homage to the original.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is a landmark title in a series that is highly lauded by the gaming community. Not only did it manage to successfully take the formula established in the series' debut title, and solidified later in A Link To The Past, and shrink it down to a portable format, but it also told a unique story that deviated from the established canon quite a bit, and became its own experience. Despite the large number of entries in the series since its release, many of them on other Nintendo handheld devices, Link's Awakening is still often spoken of as being in the upper echelon of titles in the series, and, indeed, on the Game Boy itself. It's not unusual to see it in a top 5 list of Zelda games, and even occasionally sits atop a list at number 1. It's no surprise that Nintendo, having seen some success with remaking the Game Boy's only outing for Samus Aran, in Metroid II: Return of Samus for the 3DS, would return to the Game Boy well again, and give Link's first portable adventure a fresh coat of paint.

I've stated before, but it bears repeating, that I'm very much a latecomer to the series. I played the original a bit as a kid, but didn't have much time with it, and it never grabbed me. I bought Link's Awakening DX as a new release when I got my Game Boy Color, but without a guide, it seemed like a lot of pointless walking around fighting the same enemies over and over, while looking for clues as to what I was supposed to be doing. I enjoyed what I played of Ocarina of Time, but since I didn't own my own N64, my time with that was also short-lived. I played A Link To The Past for an RF Generation Play Through a few years ago, and enjoyed it, but was frustrated by my inability to suss out what I was supposed to do, once I made the transition to the Dark World. When I played the original, for another RFG Play Through a while later, it finally clicked with me, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The following year, I played through the original Game Boy release, to review for my blog, and loved it. And my Switch will attest to the ridiculous amount of hours I've put into Breath of the Wild. I may have been late to the game, but I certainly have found a love for the series now.

Image shamelessly linked from The Verge.
Though I prefer the original chiptune version, I must credit Nintendo for trying to bring Marin's song to life in full vocal form.

I must preface what I'm about to say by stating that I'm only a couple hours into the adventure. I'm only part way through the long trading quest, and have only taken down 2 of the dungeons so far. That said, I think I've spent enough time with it to see that the game's essential DNA is still intact, even if it has had a facelift, and some other reconstructive surgery. I have a couple minor gripes to discuss, but otherwise, I mostly want to give my impressions of what I've played so far. In short, I think this is a solid update of a venerable classic.

First things first: The game takes a step forward with the control options, then immediately takes a half step back. The wealth of buttons available to players via the Switch Joy-Con or other controller, to assign skills/actions to, is a welcome update to the 2-button control scheme on the original Game Boy. Having dedicated sword and shield buttons is nice, and then being able to assign functions to 2 different buttons means you don't have to go into the menu quite as often as in the original, to switch back. However, Nintendo doesn't really make full use of this capability. You're locked into a dedicated sword button, and a dedicated shield button, as well as a button dedicated to the dash feature, once you have the boots. The only buttons you can assign other items to are X & Y. This means once you've acquired Roc's Feather, your only options for "jump" are those 2 buttons. If L is dash, and R is shield, it's somewhat inexplicable why Nintendo didn't allow users to assign any item/action to the rest of the buttons. There are 4 face buttons, and 2 additional shoulder buttons/triggers that could have been configurable, so it feels unnecessarily restrictive, given the possibilities.

Image shamelessly linked from Nintendo US.
Bow Wow wow, yipee-oh, yipee-yay.

Aside from the awkwardness of having to jump with either X or Y, and still having to access the menu more frequently, it's also curious that Nintendo locked movement down to the left analog stick. I don't mind this control method, but I could see some long time fans of the game being upset that the D-pad or directional buttons cannot be used to move Link around on screen. This is especially true in the 2-D platforming sections. Thankfully, they're short, and not overly affected by this, but analog control for that particular type of play style doesn't work very well. Instead, Nintendo chose to map the digital directional controls to inventory access, which at least is a minor concession. This decision I find less irritating than the button layout limitations, but I still feel it's worth mentioning, especially for those who find any kind of analog control for 2-D game play off-putting.

Now that the negatives are out of the way, let's talk about what's good here. Thankfully, Nintendo has chosen to largely keep the game the same, but just give it a shiny, pretty coat of paint. The stylized graphics here are gorgeous, and keep that sort of cartoony look that gave the original so much personality. Link's Awakening always had a certain charm, and this remake is oozing with it. Characters and enemies all have a lot of personality in their designs, and it's all quite faithful to the original, while updating it to look new. Enemy behavior is the same, but slightly updated animations give things that little extra bit of flavor that's nice to have. Animations are great, and everything just works so well together visually, that it feels like you're controlling an animated story. If Nintendo ever chose to do a CGI animation, based around the Legend of Zelda franchise, this would be a style they should consider.

Image shamelessly linked from CNet.
Due to the perspective and graphical style, everything looks like toys, or items in a diorama that you can reach out and touch, and interact with.

In the audio department, I don't think it's quite as successful, but it gets the job done. Most of the new arrangements sound good, though a couple tracks don't stand out much, and the nostalgia tied to particular songs will likely inform some players more than others. I found the vocal version of Marin's song to be a nice touch, though the emotional impact wasn't there, the way it was with the original chiptune version. That has a particular somber tone and loneliness to it that I felt was lacking in this version. Still, points for effort. The sound effects work well here, and though Link's constant grunting and emoting doesn't bother me, I understand that it could get on one's nerves quickly. Thankfully, the sound effect that plays when you're down to your last heart isn't nearly as grating as the original. It's not Breath of the Wild levels of subtlety, but I'll take it.

At the end of the day, it seems odd to pay full price for a remake of a 25+ year old game that is a decidedly short adventure, compared with most other games in the series. And yet, Nintendo knows how to leverage the power of nostalgia, and I think they mostly succeed with this effort. It's not perfect, but it hits more often than it misses, and it's still a joy to play. The time I've put into it has been mostly in handheld mode, which is unusual, given my propensity to play my Switch almost entirely docked. However, because of the game's portable origins, that works well, and I might decide to finish the game that way, for old time's sake. I won't tell you to rush out and buy it at full price, like I did, because you can still find the original, and the Game Boy Color version, for a reasonable price. But if you're a fan of the series, and of this game, I still recommend checking it out, because it's a worthy update of a classic.

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Nice write-up! I agree with a lot of your assessments. The graphical update looks fantastic, but the defocusing of the edges of the screen are really annoying to me. I'm curious if this was an issue for you as well. I also agree on the music. The new tunes are great, but something about those old tinny Game Boy sounds gave the music a poignant quality that worked so well with the bittersweet story. I think the Game Boy version still holds up well, and I'd argue that Link's Awakening is the best example of that system being able to invoke emotion through a game's music. Like you, I'm only a couple hours into the remake, but I'm curious to see if the ending will emotionally resonate with me as much as the GB original did all those years ago.
@zophar53: To be honest, I've seen a lot of complaints about the defocusing of the edges, and while I understand the complaint, it doesn't bother me. I think it would be nice if players had the option to toggle that on or off, but ultimately, I see it as a minor complaint. It does kind of provide some kind of illusion of perhaps seeing when things get blurry toward the end of Link's field of vision, but then that wouldn't explain why he can see farther to the left and right than he can in front or behind him. Still, it's a pretty minor issue, all things considered. In some ways, it gives the game a way to show off the Switch a bit, because objects come into focus more as you approach them, so it's not just that the hardware is rendering the image, but it's doing so in one way, and then changing it on the fly as you move around.

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