There’s something just gloriously entertaining about every minuscule detail stuffed within this 2019 remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. From the glossy surfaces to the dense foliage to the cartoonish fog swirling over the mysterious forest, every detail has been lovingly crafted and tuned for optimal effectiveness. When standing as a remake, Link’s Awakening is a brilliant achievement, warm, compassionate, and dashing with a buoyant charm. When compared to the Nintendo Switch’s other major Zelda title, Breath of the Wild, there’s a lot for newcomers of the series to sink their teeth into, most of all a fantastic world and presentation. But on its own merits, there are still some unavoidable blemishes, tainting what is otherwise one of the best releases in an already strong year for Nintendo. The occasional flavorless level here and there ultimately adds up, climaxing in a finale thirsty for ingenuity. Dense foliage sections take a heavy drain on the Switch’s power, bringing performance down significantly. These slight faults would be far more forgivable if Link’s Awakening had genuinely new and well-developed features to showcase to returning players, but as it stands right now, they still by no means compromise the overall experience. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is every bit as bold, warm, tender, and imaginative as veteran fans will remember it to be, sweeping the competition with its inspired ambition.
Published in 1993, the original Link’s Awakening was seen as something of a generational wonder. Pushing the technical boundaries as the very first Zelda title to land on a handheld console, fans and critics alike gushed over its meticulous world, dense foliage, wondrous creativity, and ingenious design. All of these things make the transition to this 2019 remake, realized in full 3D graphics by Grezzo. And yes, the presentation is every bit as magical as you could ever hope it could be. Inspired by the glossy surfaces of toy figures, there’s something about this direction that’s so charming it’s disarming. Instead of opening opportunities to nitpick at the occasional technical or engineering mishap, Grezzo smartly places focus on how creative the world is, never opening the opportunity for players to understand the many cogs twirling in the background. It’s all in service of remaking the Game Boy classic, an intention masterfully accomplished.
What made the original intriguing to so many players were its obtuse design and storytelling. Having characters from completely different universes merge under the game’s one umbrella was nothing short of remarkable and reflected that unique touch only some of Nintendo’s finest developers could conjure. After so many years later, it’s a wonder that these elements still work as well as they do, and it’s a testament to the rock-solid foundation Grezzo had to work with, and they’re aware of it. The main narrative remains almost entirely intact from the original, save for a few quality of life improvements. There’s a definite opportunity that was missed as a result, however. Implementing voice acting like Breath of the Wild did could have added the texture to solidify the narrative, or even introducing new missions and story content could have been appreciated. As it stands, 2019’s Link’s Awakening is incredibly faithful to its source material, sometimes even at its detriment as great as the original may have been.
Perhaps the most glaring issue in this remake’s total package is its performance. In areas with dense foliage, stutters in the frame rate should certainly be expected, sometimes even dropping to around 20 FPS. At a base 30 FPS already, it’s obvious that Link’s Awakening is demanding the absolute most of the Switch’s hardware, perhaps even too much. It’s fascinating that it’s the high foliage areas draining the power but not the areas with the most obvious post-processing like the forestry with its dooming atmospheric fog. Regardless, most of these issues could be resolved in a later patch but with it being nearly a month since the title’s initial launch, it’s starting to look unlikely.
Link’s Awakening is undoubtedly one of the most impressive remakes of all time, standing on the shoulders of last year’s gorgeous and technically impressive Shadow of the Colossus remake, but with that comes its incessant need to stick to the elements of the past. Grezzo as a developer can’t quite let the rotten parts of the 1993 Game Boy classic be thrown away, instead of tossing them into this already massive remake as something of a gesture of passion. Regardless, Link’s Awakening still shines as an impressive feat of re-imagination, contemporary in all the ways one could hope for and oh so nostalgic in all the ways one could dream of.