Link's Awakening for Nintendo Switch is a faithful recreation of the original game, except when it's not.
Although I remember watching my older brothers playing the original Zelda on their NES, the Game Boy was my first console, and Link's Awakening was my first Zelda. My first RPG, really. I played the game for hours on end, losing myself to the world and its many mysteries. After graduating to bigger and better consoles, I've never returned to Koholint. Until today, when I got a brief look at Nintendo's upcoming remake.
The demo starts as the old game did: In Tarin's house with his daughter, Marin, watching over a sleeping Link. To my memory, every line of dialogue in this scene -- and in every scene I encountered -- is completely unchanged from the original. I then made a beeline towards the beach, chatting to a couple of villagers along the way, to collect the sword that, for some reason, I remembered being there despite the 25-year gap since I last played.
Link's Awakening has always been a charmingly odd game, full of personality and whimsy. The incidental dialogue, the zany characters you meet, the platforming sections, the claw game where you can get a Yoshi -- in a Zelda game! -- it's a unique, mysterious spin on Zelda that doesn't take itself too seriously. In this frame, the plasticine art style suits it perfectly. The near-permanent tilt-shift effect makes it feel like you're looking at a blown-up diorama, full of Playmobil characters. This is a desperately pretty game, up there with Yoshi's Woolly World in its unique style.
The translation of the original simple pixel art into rounded designs could easily have made the game feel inauthentic, but running around the overworld, every monster I met was familiar. It's in fighting those monsters that the game began to deviate from the original. Sword play is tweaked slightly, with the Whirling Blade attack -- Link's Awakening parlance for "that spin attack that Link has in every game" -- taking slightly longer to charge than it used to. Enemy movement patterns are also slightly changed, and attacks like the Moblins' spear throws are better sign-posted than before.
One change I wasn't a huge fan of was the Buzz Blob, which in the Switch remake visibly crackles with electricity. Attacking that mob in the original, only for Link to be shocked, is something of a rite of passage to me, and sign-posting that danger took away some of the fun. With that said, when I passed the controller to my colleague Nick, who never played the original, he immediately attacked the Blob and got hurt.
There are some other quality-of-life changes. The Switch has, not counting the analog sticks, four times the buttons of the Game Boy, and these are used appropriately, with the shield in particular now mapped to the right trigger. I played through the first part of the Mysterious Forest -- the first real challenge of the game -- and discovered some graphical flourishes which helped to signal the trick to the puzzle.
If the first 30 minutes or so are anything to go by, the final game is going to be full of tweaks to the original formula, and that's fine What a remake like this needs to do is capture the feeling of playing a game, rather than recreating it exactly.
Nintendo's updates so far ensure that it's friendly to those coming to it for the first time, while still faithful to the original. I wish I'd had a little more time with Link's Awakening, but really, I'm not the sort of person that a nostalgia bomb like this needs to win over. From the reactions of those coming to the game for the first time, it's pretty clear that Nintendo has the balance right in the demo.
There are, of course, lots to see, and lots to go wrong. Nailing the feel of once-2D weapons like the bow, hookshot and boomerang in a 3D world isn't an easy task. There's also a whole new dungeon-editor which we know very little about. Hopefully we hear some more before Link's Awakening gets its release on September 20th, but even without, what we've seen at E3 is very encouraging.
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