It might be hard to remember now that we live in the future and all, but the Game Boy was a pretty big deal back in the day. Imagine: you could play video games wherever you wanted! I mean, assuming you had several billion AA batteries to power the thing, but it was still a pretty cool idea. It was especially great on account of having actual games you actually wanna play, like a full-on Mario and, of course, Zelda. And no, we’re not talking about that open-world blockbuster that redefined a franchise celebrating its thirtieth year.
No, we’re talking about another, much older, entry in Nintendo’s second-most popular franchise, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, a completely refreshed version of the 1993 Game Boy classic that helped give Nintendo’s portable player a few more years of relevance. That’s right – decades before smartphones and hybrid consoles it was gems like this that proved mobile gaming could be a pretty great thing in the right, er, hands. In this case a AAA developed Zelda adventure that was every bit as good as the home versions.
After a shipwreck, eternal Zelda hero Link finds himself stranded on the mysterious Koholint Island with no way to leave. It’s a nice enough place if you aren’t too bothered by monsters here and there, but there’s world-saving to do back in Hyrule! To escape, Link’s going to have to wake the Wind Fish by collecting a variety of magical instruments, each of which is housed within a dungeon full of deadly traps and confounding puzzles.
Link’s Awakening is a pretty faithful representation of the Game Boy adventure of the same name. That means it’s pretty easy to review – if you’ve played the original, the Switch version offers mostly bells and whistles (albeit very pretty bells and whistles) sprinkled throughout. That’s because the Game Boy game had to contend with a relatively small map on account of of limited cartridge space, so Nintendo filled what few empty spaces there are with the odd new secret…but that’s not enough to change the game in any significant way.
One thing that did change significantly are the visuals, which are some of the best on the Switch. This version of Link’s Awakening has something of a Lego feel and look positively shiny running on the console. Characters look like minifigures running across a crafted landscape. The game looks and sounds absolutely fantastic, though it’s worth mentioning that the framerate can struggle somewhat.
Even the gameplay upgrades don’t change too much – you can move in eight directions, but the levels and enemies are still based on being able to move in four, for example. That’s not necessarily a bad thing! The compact design lends itself well to some pretty devious dungeon arrangements, for instance, and there’s no sense of wandering for ages trying to find something to do. Still, if you’re looking for an all-new Zelda experience in the vein of modern gameplay, that’s not what Link’s Awakening is offering. You’d be better off waiting for the sequel to Breath of the Wild.
The original Game Boy release of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was interesting as an example of a full-on video game being released on a portable system. You weren’t tied to your TV any longer! You could play on the go! And, despite being confined to black ‘n white, the game still managed to look and sound amazing. This version is just as effective – and the fact you can now play it on your TV means its the best of both worlds. Zelda fans who haven’t recently played Link’s small-scale adventure ought to book a trip to Koholint Island if they haven’t already – better late than never.