Revamp makes a classic even better

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Genre: Action-adventure
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Rating: E, for everyone

By Gieson Cacho // The Mercury News (TNS)

Link’s Awakening is a departure from other Zelda games because it doesn’t involve the customary pieces. It has no Triforce, no princess and no Gannon. In its place, the adventure follows Link as he’s caught in a storm while sailing. Lightning strikes his boat, destroying it and he washes ashore on the mysterious Koholint Island.

The villagers Marin and Tarin help him recover and a mysterious owl tells him that the only way to return home is to awaken the Wind Fish. That takes players through at least eight dungeons, where they have to defeat bosses and acquire the instrument of the Sirens. When they’re played together, they can rouse the creature from its slumber inside an egg that rests atop a volcano.

Many of the ideas in Link’s Awakening are ahead of their time, but simultaneously, they seem mish-mashed together. It’s a blessing and a curse. Without the need to follow the customary formula, the developers were given free rein to experiment, and the game has loads of original content that expands the Zelda universe. The downside to this is that the game doesn’t have its usual coherence.

That makes Link’s Awakening puzzling to navigate at times. Thankfully, the developers offered hints about where to go next after defeating a boss and they also included Old Man Ulrira, who is quiet face to face but willing to talk Link’s ear off when the hero calls the older gentleman on the phone. He and the owl provide essential directions on where players should go to advance the campaign.

As for the pacing, Link’s Awakening is easy at first. The six dungeons are a breeze as players tear through enemies and uncover new tools to help them in their quest. The items unlock areas to explore and players will revisit caves and other locales to unearth every single collectible.

Then players come across the last two dungeons and the difficulty jumps. The levels aren’t impossible, but they become more complex. It’s nowhere near as involved as the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time, but the levels are multilayered, require thorough exploration and feature obtuse puzzles. They can be tough but rewarding.

The major new addition to Link’s Awakening is the option for players to build their own dungeons. It’s done via tiles: Players connect different rooms to create one level. The tiles themselves come from dungeons that players have adventured through and special stones that they discover. It’s rudimentary and nowhere near the level of Super Mario Maker but it establishes the foundation for a great feature.

Link’s Awakening offers a glimpse of a Zelda franchise in transition. It’s a time capsule that shows how the game became a font of new ideas that later became mainstays of the series. The game also has a charming peculiarity about it. The story is darker than one would expect and it’s full of oddball characters. It’s one of the more unusual entries and that’s partly what makes it great. The best Zelda games are the ones that break the mold and have elements that come out of left field. Link’s Awakening has a lot of that and those ideas have aged well with time.