The Legend of Zelda: Hyperlink’s Awakening
has at all times been the most eldritch Zelda recreation. That’s pronouncing so much in a sequence that has featured a sentient red boat, a golden turd, and a toilet with an arm in it, to name a few. This mysterious island brimming with bizarre townsfolk and a decidedly unusual story moved away from Zelda staples like Triforce pieces, your perpetual nemesis Ganon, and, well, Zelda herself, to tell a very different but much-appreciated tale. All that happened on the Game Boy in 1993. But, luckily, through some miraculous fate, Link’s Awakening is being given a whole new life on Nintendo Switch on September 20. So, how does it hold up?One of the reasons that Link’s Awakening always felt so strange, obtuse, and wonderfully mysterious was the pixelated art style, which kept things feeling simultaneously friendly and inviting and vague and creepy. I was a bit worried that this would be lost with the shiny new toy-like aesthetic in the upcoming Nintendo Switch remake, but it’s such a beautiful take on this world and its characters. Telling this curious, melancholic story through the lens of what looks like a collection of clay sculptures and children’s playthings adds a whole new layer of mordancy.
What gets left behind in the ambiguity of the original game’s look is traded up for an utterly gorgeous new attention to detail in the remake. Newly redone animations, sound effects, and a fully recreated, often fully orchestrated musical score significantly elevate the entire experience. Boppy tunes from places like the Mysterious Woods take on a whole new level of creepiness in this remake, as do several of the dungeon themes. This modern take on Link’s Awakening is teeming with little vibrant touches that truly help paint the picture of this cozy world as an alluring and cryptic place.
In fact, the island of Koholint – where all of Link’s Awakening takes place – is much smaller than the playable worlds in your average modern Zelda games, and even many of the vintage top-down, two-dimensional ones. Yet, there’s something wonderfully intimate about it. Nearly every screen is consistently charming to look at and explore, and almost all of them contain something interesting to do, fight, or discover.
New players, especially those whose first foray into the Zelda franchise was the vast, open, and near limitless world of Breath of the Wild – might find Link’s Awakening a little slow and restricted in its first few hours. Link plods along at a simple, casual pace and is pretty consistently met with an inaccessible cave, walled-off region, or puzzle he has no means of solving yet. This is an old-school video game through and through. That might turn off some modern players who aren’t a bit patient with it. That said, if you played through Breath of the Wild and noticed that it was missing dungeons – you know, those sprawling, item-based puzzle temples that conclude with a boss fight – you’ll be happy to know that Link’s Awakening has lots of them, including some of the best in the series. And they hold up remarkably.
Speaking of dungeons, you’ll likely fly through the first two or three in just a few short hours (depending on how much you decide to investigate the overworld throughout.) Dungeons give you access to powerful utility items like the Roc’s Feather, which allows you to jump anywhere at the push of a button – something fairly uncommon for vintage Zelda games – and the Pegasus Boots, which allow you to run and dash everywhere you go.
In the original game, these items (and every item!) needed to be manually mapped to one of two buttons, meaning you had to constantly go in and out of the inventory to manage which ones you needed at any moment. Thankfully, that’s been scrapped in this modern remake, as actions like running and using your shield are permanently mapped to the many available buttons on Switch. The shield, in particular, is now a much more useful tool considering some enemies now require you parry or deflect their attacks, making combat a bit more interesting against things like Moblins and Darknuts.
In fact, there are some wonderful little quality of life improvements sprinkled all over this remake. You can now find hidden bottles to store fairies for when you’re about to perish in battle. The compass in the dungeon won’t just beep when you’re in a room with something noteworthy, it will also display a quick icon on the side of the screen in case you’re playing without headphones. And with more fast travel locations, more heart pieces, more hidden seashell collectibles, and newly added Nintendo figurines scattered throughout the land, you’ll be zipping around and hunting down collectibles faster than you ever could on the Game Boy. There’s a ton to do here and if you’re like me, you’ll want to do it all whether this remake is familiar or brand new to you.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening may feel like a smaller, slightly constrained Zelda game after something like Breath of the Wild, but classic 2D Zelda games still manage to evoke the same joy, wonder, and ingenuity as their bigger, brawnier fully 3D older brothers and playing a newly revisited one on Switch just feels right so far. We’ll have a full The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on Switch review on Thursday, September 19th at 5AM PT right here on IGN, so don’t miss it. Until then, I absolutely can’t wait to play more.
Brian Altano is a host and producer at IGN. Link’s Awakening is his very favorite video game of all time and he’s happy to have brand new reasons to never shut up about it. Feel free to follow him on Twitter!