A dreamy, tiny toy adventure.
I have a brief memory of The Legend of Zelda – Link’s Awakening for the original Gameboy. To give you a little perspective, it’s sometime in 1989, I’m four years old, and all I can recall is the opening cinematic as I plopped the cartridge in and watched the screen light up. I’m in my parents basement looking at this giant gray handheld and green screen, and maybe there was a moment my brother attempted to find batteries as everyone did for that thing. Flash forward to 2019, I’m on the eve of my 34th birthday and thanks to this new version, I’ve found a portal back to my four year old self. In short, this game perfectly encapsulates that feeling of a game in your hands, it takes the formula and blows it up to that near perfect Nintendo experience. I really loved this game.
To keep things short, our story starts with Link traveling on a ship during a storm. His ship wrecks and he washes up on the mysterious shore of Koholint island. Link awakes through the help of Marin and her father and then is tasked with defeating several bosses to wake the slumbering wind fish. In summation, if you played any Zelda game, particularly the 8 or 16-bit games, you know this story well. What does come through in this version though is the quirkiness of that original game. It’s quintessential style, particularly the dungeons, has deeply impacted the world of games. It’s also funny to see a goomba from Mario opposite this little Link. That specifically, is what made me love this game. There’s a strong adherence to staying close to the original and all it’s weirdness. Maybe I’ve always liked weird games, but this Zelda game always struck me as inherently different than the others. I think this boils down to a sense of humor that it has that the others don’t. I mean, this game has a raccoon that turns back into a man when you give him a magic mushroom. It’s weird, it’s original even after 30 years, and it’s funny.
The gameplay involves Link opening various dungeons, solving puzzles and defeating some challenging bosses. I’m also not ashamed to admit that I eventually used a game guide to take me through some of the longer and more grindy parts (item exchange and retrieval). I also needed a little guiding for some of the later boss battles. However, one play through and I imagine I wouldn’t need to refer to a guide again. The dungeons and bosses are varied and really tap into that “am I fully prepared?” nature of Zelda games. You’ll spend most of your time procuring items such as the bow and arrow, hookshot and boomerang, so for new players a guide will come in handy. I still had a good time even with the help.
I also have to stop and talk about the art style of this switch version as compared to the original. I absolutely love the look of this game. The small, plastic looking, toy-like characters create an experience that’s like looking down on a tiny diorama. I genuinely would pay unspeakable amounts of money for a physical map of this game with tiny amiibo like characters and baddies to move around. Nintendo, I’m giving you million dollar ideas here. But in short the look of this game is impressive not only for the switch but also in the way Nintendo continues to find ways to prove gameplay is more important than graphical masterpieces. That withstanding, there are many times I experienced frame rate drops that made the game hiccup here and there. Apparently this is a result of many of the refreshing items on each screen needing to be reloaded. I didn’t think about this much until I cut down a huge swath of grass, left the screen and came back, then noticed the frame rate drop. It doesn’t really impact any big gameplay moments, but for a big Nintendo release, it’s noticeable.
Above you can see the very first time I had a chance to play the DX version for the GameBoy Color. That version alone is still something worth playing. It’s a triumph of what was possible in 1989 and it still contains an experience that I’d say is wholly different than its 2019 counterpart. I had a blast playing this as much as the remake.
This may be my shortest review for a release of a first party Nintendo game, but don’t let that deter you from playing this game! Just know that means I really think it’s worth your time! I also know that it will gradually become a game I return to over and over again. It has that unique quality to transport me back to being a kid, playing games for the very first time. I like knowing, that with just a short play-through, that’ll always be there for me.
Give it a shot! If you didn’t already know!
Joseph “thepoorassgamer” Reyna