Remastered games have steadily gained popularity over the last several years. Putting a fresh coat of paint on a game and re-releasing it for the latest generation of consoles has proven a lucrative model for publishers.
Far less common is the idea of remaking a game from the ground up. Taking a one-time masterpiece and bringing it up to modern standards. Taking “Pong” and making it “Mario Tennis,” if you will.
“The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening” originally released on Nintendo’s Game Boy in 1993 and remade for Game Boy Color in 1998. While not the deepest “Zelda” game by today’s standards, it was a revelation at the time. Packed with dungeons, side-activities and a complex story that somehow managed to fit into a tiny Game Boy cartridge.
“Awakening’s” remake for the Switch retains all the charm of the original transporting the graphics into the 21 st century.
“Awakening” looks like no “Zelda” game that went before it. Gone are the tiny pixels, replaced with shiny toy-like like figures, smooth animations and colorful environments. Like a child’s playset, the achingly cute style works wonderfully with the game’s slightly simplistic design.
This game shouldn’t be held in comparison with “Breath of the Wild.” The latter’s sprawling open world is a modern masterpiece, while “Awakening is a game out of time. The compact world unfolds in a linear fashion, with various dungeons being designated as numbered levels.
There’s still plenty to explore in the overworld, though many areas require specific tools to enter, thus limiting access until after certain points in the story.
Dungeons, too, lack the complex puzzles seen in later installments. Instead you’ll need to suss out particular paths to reach each dungeon’s special item, map, compass and nightmare (boss) room. Usually you will need to use the dungeon’s special item to defeat the nightmare, a conceit “Zelda” fans should be used to.
The refreshed graphics, beautiful as they are, are most useful for drawing attention to the game’s outstanding original design.
The game starts with Link washing up on the shores of Koholint island, a small place where dungeons outnumber villages four-to-one.
The game’s story revolves around Link’s need to find the musical instruments needed to waken the wind fish. Only then will he be able to solve the mystery of the island and return home.
In addition to all of the familiar “Zelda-style” dungeons, equipment, and overworld, “Awakening” features an eccentric mixture of Nintendo cameos, unseen in any other installment.
Link will meet Kirby, stomp on Goombas and can even catch a Cheep Cheep in the local fishing pond. One scene even has him walking a Bow-Wow on its chain, showing these metal monstrocities can actually be kind of cuddly.
The game contains all of the locations from the original except the camera shop (apologies to the two of you that still have a Game Boy printer waiting to be loved). That has been replaced with the chamber dungeon, a place where players create their own dungeon layouts to solve a series of challenges.
The system is somewhat rudimentary: you create your dungeons using rooms from existing dungeons you’ve already solved, and you cannot move the elements in the rooms around. Still, it’s a wonderfully original mode that brings us a tiny step closer to the “Legend of Zelda Maker” fans have been begging for ever since Mario got his own “Maker” game.
In addition to the graphics and chamber dungeons, there have been a number of other improvements. Things like being able to map items to the Switch’s X and Y buttons, making the game quicker and easier to play in ways the old two-button Game Boy just wasn’t capable.
“The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening” shows how much life is left in some of these old games, if thoughtfully updated. Next year we will see a couple more including “Final Fantasy VII Remake” and “Trails of Mana,” both of which look to to up the remake game even more.
Whether or not you’ve played an old-school “Zelda” game, adventure fans owe it to themselves to give this game a go.
“The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening” – Nintendo – Rated E
Who it’s for: Anyone looking for a great adventure game
Switch – A