Monday, September 30, 2019

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening Review

When I reviewed The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX earlier this year, I came away feeling like even though it was a great game, it was held back by the Game Boy hardware, and it could really use a remake. It felt like a downgrade from A Link to the Past. Its graphics weren't as good as LttP's, the quality of the music wasn't as good as in LttP, and you had to constantly go to the inventory screen to switch items because the GB didn't have 6 buttons, like the SNES controller. Link's Awakening for Switch fixes all those problems and lets the amazing game that was always there shine. It's still that same game, but everything about it has been upgraded or improved in some way. Out of all the recent Zelda remasters and remakes, this is definitely the one that has had the most work put into it.

The story is still the same as in the GB game. Some time after Link's adventures in A Link to the Past, he sets off on a sailboat in search of training. While out at sea, he gets caught in a bad thunderstorm, his sailboat is hit by lightning, and the next thing we see is him washed ashore a tropical island. A girl named Marin finds him and takes him to her home to recover, and when Link finally wakes up, he quickly finds out that this island is actually the dream of a being called the Wind Fish. Aside from a little bit of altered or new dialogue here and there, the story plays out exactly the same way as in the original. The new anime intro and remade in-game cutscenes take the presentation to a whole new level, though.

The biggest improvement in terms of gameplay is definitely the controls. You don’t have to go to the inventory screen every 15 seconds anymore. This remake uses the same button configuration as A Link Between Worlds on 3DS, minus the touchscreen and D-pad camera controls. Your sword is always mapped to B, A is used to talk to people and lift things up, shield blocking is mapped to R, L is used for dashing after you get the Pegasus Boots, and X and Y are reserved for all the other special items you get throughout the game. You always have access to your Pegasus Boots, Power Bracelet, shield, and Sword, and never have to mess around with equipping them. You also don’t have to pull back to lift things anymore, you just press A. ZL and ZR do the same thing as L and R, and the d-pad isn’t used for anything during regular gameplay, so there is still room for improvement, but it’s much better than in the original. I also felt like the Roc’s Feather should have been permanently mapped to a button, too, since you do so much jumping in this game. I must have had the Feather mapped to Y for 90% of the game.

While this remake does play like a top-down 2D Zelda, it doesn't feel exactly like the others. It feels familiar, but new at the same time. Link’s movements feel very different here. Even though you can only use the analog stick to move, Link doesn't have full analog or 360 degree movement, like in A Link Between Worlds. Link only has 2 movement speeds; walk and run, and he can only run in 8 directions. The physics and animations in this remake also make all his movements feel like they have a lot more weight behind them than in LBW, LttP, or the GB games. His jumps don't feel floaty, and enemies are pushed back a bit more realistically, for example.

The combat has gotten a bit of an overhaul, too. The shield actually matters in this game. Since you had to equip it to use it in the GB game, the shield was basically just another item to solve puzzles with. But it's a big part of combat now since you always have access to it. It can be used to block more attacks and you can also parry some enemy attacks with it. Shielded enemies like the Moblins, Darknuts, and Shrouded Stalfos have been reworked so that they require you to parry their attacks in order to get your sword attacks in. The old L-2 Shield, which has been renamed to the Mirror Shield, can also reflect more attacks, like Moblin spears and Wizzrobe magic. Link hasn’t really gotten any new sword attacks, but the animation for his jumping sword slash now looks like the Helm Splitter from some of the 3D games, which I thought was really cool. Overall, I feel like the combat is a lot more fun and interesting with the changes.

The overworld and dungeons have the same layout, but there have been some small changes and a few additions. Some areas have been slightly reworked so that they look better or make more sense with 3D graphics. They’re not big changes, just a few grass patches, holes, or rocks, added or removed here and there. This is not an exact, tile for tile remake of the original game, but it's pretty close. There’s also a few more warp points around the world, and you can choose which one you warp to from the map, instead of cycling through each one to get to the one you want, like in the GB game. A total of 24 seashells and 21 Heart Containers have also been added to the overworld and minigames bringing the new total of seashells up to 50, and the max heart count up to 20 from 14 in the original. This remake also adds 3 bottles, which you can use to keep fairies in. There are no potions or Lon Lon Milk available on Koholint island. The original didn’t have bottles at all. Fairies don’t work exactly like in every other Zelda game, though. They won’t automatically revive and heal you when you die, Crazy Tracy’s secret medicine is still the only item that does that. Another thing I noticed is that Great Fairies don’t disappear forever after they heal you just one time, like in the original.

The UI has also gotten a major upgrade to go along with all of those new collectables. The map screen has little icons for all the dungeons, villages, shops, and telephone huts, it has the names for all the areas on it, and you can put your own markers on it, too. You can also toggle markers that will show you the location of every heart container and seashell you’ve found, so you can easily compare your map to someone else's and see what you’re missing. There’s also a dedicated save and load screen now, so you don’t have to press A, B, Select, and Start at the same time to save anymore, which would be kinda hard to do on a Switch controller.

A few of those new seashells, hearts, and bottles come from the fishing and crane minigames, which have also gotten some pretty big changes. The fishing game is a bit more like in the 3d games now. You don’t have to mash the button to reel the fish in anymore, you just hold the button down. There’s also a new tug of war kind of mechanic to the reeling. If you’re reeling in a big fish and you pull on the line while the fish is trying to swim away, the line could break. Rare catches, like Bloopers and Cheep Cheeps from Super Mario Bros, and 3 lure types have also been added to the fishing game. The heavier the lure, the better it is for catching big fish. The crane game is no longer just a square conveyor belt with items on it. It now has some items on a moving section and some on a stationary section. It also has a lot of new items, including a bunch of figurines of the Mario enemies, which you can use to decorate the villager’s homes, like amiibos.

There’s also a completely new minigame, which replaces the old photo booth, and is probably too big to call a minigame, Dampe’s Shack. This is basically a Zelda Maker prototype. Comparing it to Super Mario Maker might be a bit unfair, but according to Aonuma, Miyamoto told him to do something like Mario Maker for Zelda and this is what they did. It’s a start, but even as a Zelda Maker tutorial, it’s not very good. It’s just too limited to be any fun. In Dampe’s Shack, you can pick from a bunch of rooms, which are taken from the dungeons already in Link’s Awakening, and arrange them together to make a dungeon. And that's about it. You can’t make puzzles, choose which rooms have the chests or what is in the chests, which stairs connect to which, which side of the room has the locked doors, what enemies appear, or what walls can be blown up with a bomb. The game decides all of that stuff for you. The selection of rooms you can use come with locked doors, chests, stairs, bosses, and all that stuff you’d see in a dungeon, but you can’t customize them in any way besides a few effects, like making it rain hearts, or putting Dark Link in them. You can’t even pick a theme for your dungeon. All the rooms in your dungeons look like they came from different dungeons, because they did! These dungeons are only sharable through amiibos, too, so most people are probably never going to play anyone’s dungeons but their own.

And like the other minigames, there are heart containers and seashells which are only obtainable through Dampe’s Shack, so if you want to max out your hearts and get all the items, you have to play Dampe’s Shack. But you don’t just get to make whatever you want and get stuff, you have to do Dampe’s missions for that. Dampe has a bunch of missions that teach you how to use the dungeon maker by giving you dungeon designing challenges. Some have you make a dungeon that uses certain types of rooms, some have you fill the whole board with rooms that connect, some make you use a bunch of stairs, that kind of thing. This gets boring quickly because there’s only so many rooms you can use with these limitations, and you already know all these rooms from the regular dungeons, so you’re just making easy, boring dungeons for yourself so you can unlock something.

As you can clearly see, the game has gotten a huge graphical makeover. This is a bigger jump in graphical quality than any previous Zelda remaster or remake. This is one of the best looking games on Switch period. The lighting and shaders combined with the toy-like art style just look incredible. Link looks like a little action figure. He looks almost identical to my Link's Awakening amiibo in real life, and Hyrule looks like the biggest and coolest playset you could ever buy. Yeah, everything looks like a toy made of plastic, ceramic, wood, or metal, but it looks very realistic. All the effects really make the world come alive, too. You might think that all the little butterflies flying around, smoke, water, sand, and fog effects would clash with the toy-like graphics, but they actually make everything look even more like toys come to life. It looks pretty amazing.

This isn’t just Link’s Awakening with Switch quality graphics, though. There’s a ton of little details added to every place in the game. There’s new palms all over that give the world more of a tropical island feel, ferns and vines on walls and cliff sides, lily pads on water, and edible apples on trees, like in LttP. Every villager’s house is full of tools, flowers, ornaments, furniture, food, and all sorts of stuff that reflects all of the villagers’ personalities. For example, you can tell which one is Tarin and Marin’s house just by looking at it because there’s a big basket full of mushrooms on the counter, pictures of them on top of a table, and a bowl full of eggs on the counter, which must come from the Cucco in their front yard.

The game does have some very noticeable framerate drops, but it’s not like the game slows down like a Game Boy game or something. It just looks bad for a few seconds after going outdoors and when moving from one area to another. The drops seem to be a side effect of how the game loads the overworld. The game isn’t split into 1 screen sections, like the GB game, and there are no screen transitions anymore. The dungeons all have a smooth framerate, at least. The framerate drops never go away or improve, and I never stopped noticing them, but they didn't ruin the game for me.

I love the sound design in this game. It’s not just that the game has a great soundtrack. It has great sound effects, too. You can hear birds chirping and bugs flying around in Mabe Village, Link’s sword makes different noises depending on what you hit with it, his keys jingle when he’s opening a locked door, heart containers sound like they're encased in steel when they hit the ground, there’s different footstep sounds for every surface, Kirby sounds like a basketball when you hit him, and Link has a bunch of new voice clips. He sounds like a kid in an anime. I think I even hear a bit of a Japanese accent in his voice. All the villagers get the cute little Zelda game voices, too. It's incredibly well done.

The actual soundtrack blows every other Zelda game's out of the water. It’s Link’s Awakening OST Unplugged. It’s not orchestrated, but it is played with real instruments. Remember those guys that played acoustic Zelda music at the milk bar in LBW? Imagine seeing those guys in concert with a band, and you get to sit on stage with them. I played the game with headphones on, and it sounded like a band was following me around Hyrule. All the different instruments sounded like they were being played around me and I was sitting in the middle. Best Zelda soundtrack ever.

This is an amazing remake. I don't think the game is better than Ocarina of Time 3D, but this is the best Zelda remake by far. It just had so much work put into it. It's better than the original in just about every way. It's a shame that the framerate isn't smooth on the overworld, and that you can't move with the D-pad, but I think I can safely say that this is the best version of Link's Awakening.