I need to share a bit of history before we start this one.
The first time I ever played a video game remake was Pokémon Leafgreen. This title modernized the Gameboy classic Pokémon Blue. Finally released from the crusty shackles of the Gameboy, Pokémon Leafgreen was a graphical, mechanical, and technical overhaul of the original title. The things that really stick in my memory, even now, were how I could manage my stored Pokémon more easily, the removal of the 20 item inventory limit, and how additional content was added to flesh out the late game. This blew my 11 year old brain to shit. It wasn’t just a paint job – it was the definitive way to experience the first generation of Pokémon.
Unfortunately, Pokémon Leafgreen is the exception, not the rule. Most remakes do not put forward this much effort. We’re lucky if we get a handful of bug fixes, and a graphical update. Woo. Thanks guys. You didn’t think it was worthwhile to address any of fundamental issues while taking a second stab at it, huh?
To be clear, I think it’s fine if a company wants to repackage their legacy content, and sell it to a new audience. There’s value in experiencing the history of video games first hand. Though you could just pirate the titles. I’m not your dad – you do you when it comes to experiencing older titles.
For my money though, you’ve entirely missed the point of a remake if you’re taking a second swing on new hardware, and don’t make sweeping changes to improve things.
That’s all a really long way of saying that I think the Switch release of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is kind of poo. No shade at the original – it was a landmark title for the series. The Switch remake however, feels like your grandparents using slang they don’t really understand.
Before you get out your pitchforks, and burn down my comments section, give me a chance to make my case. Link’s Awakening works as a sort of period piece, but feels completely out of place in today’s market, doubly so with it’s premium price tag.
For those not in the know, Link’s Awakening is a Gameboy game originally from 1993. It’s as old as I am, and holy Moses have video games changed a lot over the past 30 years. Link’s Awakening released when the industry was still establishing conventions, which really shows in the way it’s designed. A lot of its puzzles feel completely random, and some even require real-world logic like old point and click games. Things like this, make Link’s Awakening feel old. Really old. It’s a great history lesson, but isn’t suited for today’s market.
Despite the developer’s best efforts to hide it, Link’s Awakening still feels dated in an incredibly awkward way. It’s not so crusty that it feels like a re-release of a 30 year old Gameboy title, which it is, but it also doesn’t feel like something released in 2019. This is thanks to a number of half-hearted improvements that were applied to sand down some of its rougher edges. My favourite of these changes is how the sword, boots, and shield are permanently equipped now. The original release was constrained by only having 2 action buttons, so players could only equip 2 items at any time. This meant you’d spend as much time shuffling through your inventory as you would playing the game. That sucks, so this improvement is a huge win in my books.
Unfortunately, the amount of inventory management that players are still expected to do is incredibly tedious. For real – when’s the last time you paused a game to equip a tool that was required to overcome an obstacle? It was probably the last time you played a Zelda game. This kind of thing has been solved across the industry, and even newer Zelda titles like Skyward Sword, and Breath of the Wild make use of less intrusive interfaces for swapping between your tools. This makes Link’s Awakening feel incredibly clunky, and archaic by comparison.
I know that probably feels like an apples to oranges comparison given the age difference between those titles, but we’re not talking about Link’s Awakening from 1993. We’re talking about Link’s Awakening from 2019, which was released on the Switch. The same constraints that limited the original release aren’t present for the Switch. Plus, 4 of the console’s face buttons weren’t mapped to anything. I’m sure they could have been used to reduce the amount of time spent farting around with your inventory.
It’s not just the inventory management that makes Link’s Awakening feel dated: there’s absolutely no sign-posting. The original game was already littered with hint houses, and an owl that frequently tells the player where to go next because the actual design of the world does nothing to guide the player. Link’s Awakening feels alien. It exists in a world that predates almost 30 years of videogame design. There’s no good reason for it to exist in this state when remaking it provided the perfect opportunity to update it.
The best, or worst I guess, example of this is the boss fights. More times than I could count, I was locked in a room with a boss, and had to throw everything including the kitchen sink at them trying to figure out their weakness. You’re given almost nothing to go off, so it’s a complete crap shoot against some of them. The final boss really exemplifies this as it has several phases, all of which have a different weakness. I could only intuit how to beat 2 of them: one because I’d already seen it, and the other because it had a giant eyeball and I’ve played a Zelda game before.
I don’t have a good transition for this, but I also wanted to mention fairy bottles. These weren’t in the original, but are in the remake. This is great. Fairy bottles have been a staple of Zelda since before either I, or the original game existed. Unfortunately, they don’t work the same in Link’s Awakening as they do in literally every other Zelda game. You need to manually use them to heal yourself, whereas in other titles they’re automatically used when you die. What was the point of this? Why would you want to confuse players by bucking an established trend in a 35 year old franchise?
I really don’t know what to tell you. I can’t even comprehend how I’m complaining about this when the game was developed, and published by one of the most experienced members of the entire industry. It’s just so amateur. This shit would totally fly under the radar in some 20 dollar indie that deliberately calls back to older titles, but feels woefully out of place in a premium priced product by Nintendo.
It wouldn’t be a premium priced game without some pretty graphics though, and in that regard Link’s Awakening actually delivers. The game looks nice. I like the graphics a lot. The whole title has its own distinct sense of style that allows it to stand apart from other games in the franchise. There’s so much colour, and small details all over the world, and I love that. It almost feels like you’re playing with a bucket of legos.
However, for as much as I like the visuals, I don’t like them more than having a stable framerate. I have no idea why this game runs so poorly. It looks good for a Switch game, but like…what’s it doing? Why does the framerate constantly do the cha-cha slide? Did we skip the part of development where we optimize things for the hardware, or did no one working on the project care enough to be bothered?
Speaking of things that can’t be bothered, Link’s Awakening now features a dungeon builder. This was a huge selling point in the marketing, and…honestly it’s kind of shit. Players are able to create their own dungeon by throwing together the rooms from the dungeons they’ve already finished. But, why would anyone want to do that? You can’t re-solve puzzles, as knowing the solution ruins the puzzle. That’s probably why no one’s made a puzzle rogue-like. Puzzles by their very design aren’t replayable. So all you’re left with is a time sink that adds no value to the experience.
Before I close this out, I wanted to speak positively about the one feature of Link’s Awakening that wasn’t obliterated by the passage of time: the dungeons. A lot of the conventions that we know of from modern Zelda were actually established in Link’s Awakening. As a result of this, the dungeons across the game still feel good to explore, and complete. My absolute favourite was the Eagle Tower. It requires players to carry a massive iron ball around the second floor, which they use to destroy a group of pillars. This causes the inaccessible fourth floor of the dungeon to drop down to the third floor, which grants players access to it. That’s so cool! It also requires players to manage the location of the ball, as they can’t freely carry it around the dungeon. It’s an instant classic.
I’m sure it came across loud and clear already, but I’ll state the obvious anyway: I thought Link’s Awakening was an incredibly middling experience. I don’t hate it – I just don’t understand why it was re-released for modern audiences with so few adjustments. It was a landmark title 30 years ago, but it’s just so crusty by today’s standards with what few changes have been made here. I’ve honestly had a better time playing indie titles inspired by it then I did playing through Link’s Awakening on the Switch. It’s a neat bit of Zelda history, but it should have remained in the history books if Nintendo wasn’t willing to update it for a modern audience.
It is interesting to hear that the game seems to be outdated in game design conventions and such…never played the original nor this, but I feel like the example of FireRed and LeafGreen, while very effective since I also played it (and heard how jank the original games were), might be a case of apples and oranges in my opinion:
FireRed and LeafGreen took advantage of every improvement that was added from RSE, and modernizing the base formula was easier due to the game’s nature (as well as most of the jank inthe original games were down to mechanics that were tweaked and technical limitations). With this one, its definitely easy to see the issue with not adding extra buttons for inventory items or making that less annoying, but the level designs and lack of conveyance for boss weaknesses are likely down to how the intention was clearly set on conserving as much of the original game as possible.
Regardless of whether it was outdated or not. At least you got a positive out of it with the dungeons, but it is funny to think that this game (from what you describe it) might fit more into a “remaster” category than a remake due to how a lot of the core game wasn’t changed. And if you didn’t like that much/felt that the original game is too dated nowadays…then sure, it makes sense that the feeling is even stronger here with how the developers wanted to keep from it.
This gave me some fruit for thought when writing this because of how I’ve heard good things about this game (and the original as well), but at the same time hadn’t seen someone provide complaints about dated conventions with the game…which makes me realize that Link’s Awakening definitely sounds like the Game Boy classic but with remastered graphics. For better or worse.
…And also there’s the fact that many remasters or remakes or whatever like this often seem to fall in either keeping almost everything the exact same (SADX, SA2B, RE4, GTA “Definitive” Edition, etc)…or straight up making a different game altogether with just some beats borrowed for the original (FFVIII Remake, Metroid Samus Returns, RE2 Remake and onwards). That topic is definitely a whole can of worms on whether games should stick to what they were but with a new coat of paint, or try something new and more modern rather than the original gameplay, is a debate on its own (also remakes that are close to the original with modern features is something that I only see with mods and fanmade stuff lol; would love to hear some commercial games that hit the nail on this).
To end with this long comment, regarding “it should have remained in the history books if Nintendo wasn’t willing to update it for a modern audience.”…I mean they practically ported Twilight Princess to the Wii and Wii U, Wind Waker to the Wii U, and Skyward Sword to the Switch; all virtually unchanged graphically (though Wind Waker benefited the most because of the upscaled artstyle and actually getting some retouches) and gameplay wise but with the same ol’ new price tag. And also ported SM64 to Switch with very few additions with 3D All Stars. Not to say that your complaints are invalid…but considering what they did with Nintendo Switch Sports and Mario Strikers Battle League, I just think its hard to imagine Nintendo nowadays trying to put THAT much thought on polishing a remake unless it was handled by another team (…and Game Freak is the one remaking the Pokemon games, not Nintendo, so there’s that).
have a nice day 🙂
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Honestly, I did consider that while ruminating on my thoughts about the game. “What if they just wanted to keep as much of the original experience in tact.” But it’s like you say – that’s a whole other debate, and goes well beyond the scope of what I discuss here. What makes answering that even more challenging is that it doesn’t have a definitive answer. Both remakes, and remasters have their merits. In some cases one makes more sense than another. In other cases, either could work equally well.
Though I will say, it seems that I was ultimately able to convey what I wanted to regardless of the amount that I lamented the direction the game was taken in. Link’s Awakening is a Gameboy classic, just with a spiffy new coat of paint. There’s some good in there (I really did like those dungeons), but…well I don’t need to repeat myself – you read the review already hahaha.
God – that’s another can of worms. I only lightly touched on it, but lord almighty Nintendo is just wild with their pricing strategy on games. Never mind, that, like you said, Nintendo has been engaged in some real scummy business with their sports titles. That too also has an entire post’s worth of discussion that could be dedicated to it though. I’m…not prepared for that however.
Likewise. Appreciate the long, thoughtful comment. Don’t get many of those, but it’s always nice o/
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While I really did enjoy the Switch remake of Link’s Awakening, I agree with pretty much everything you said. It really is a remake in presentation/aesthetic more than any meaningful gameplay upgrades.
I had COMPLETELY forgotten the dungeon builder was part of the game…😅
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That’s cause the dungeon builder sucks ass lmao XD
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I swear I never heard anyone mention the dungeon builder before reading this lol (I think that dunkey maybe mentioned it? But I watched that video a long while ago so I can’t even remember that well)
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The one thing that still annoys me to this day is that Nintendo decided to release this game at full price. I like Link’s Awakening, but it is not a $60 game.
Fun game otherwise, just not worth that price tag.
I will keep dreaming that one day the Oracle games will get this type of treatment (for better or worse).
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Funny you say that – Mir actually wanted me to play both of those. Apparently the dungeons are pretty cracking. Might be something I look into in future, though I might need to sail the high seas to do so (if you catch my drift).
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Of course. Wind Waker is also a fun Zelda game full of pirates and high seas adventures 😉
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Eh, it came with a cute Amiibo figure release so I’ll let its flaws slide 😆
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