Though we associate Link with his homeland of Hyrule, the young adventurer is often at his best when he journeys abroad. The sad, doomed land of Termina in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is one example. The dark, cracked landscape of Lorule in A Link Between Worlds is another. We'll skipGamelon from the wretched CD-i Zelda games, though. Look the other way.
In the Switch remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Link steps away from Hyrule once again and onto the shores of Koholint Island. Link's Awakening is another example of Link conducting himself well while visiting a strange land. The original 1993 Game Boy release still stands as one of the best games in the celebrated Zelda series (take a look at our Zelda game ranking if you need reassurance), and the remake improves on its masterful design. The tweaks, adjustments, and polish applied to Link's Awakening for the Switch combine with welcome quality of life improvements to make the definitive edition of a game that's remained legendary for 26 years.
Link's Awakening starts with Link's titular awakening. Feeling unsettled after the defeat of Ganon in A Link to the Past, Link sails out to find new adventures on distant shores. What he finds is a near-death experience after a storm wrecks his ship. Koholint Island proves mysterious from minute one. It's eerily like Hyrule in many respects, except an enormous egg sits at the top of a mountain. Legend says the "Wind Fish" sleeps in the egg, but no one can tell Link what the Wind Fish is, exactly. The cryptic words of Koholint's people, monsters, and literature (not to mention a chatty owl) ultimately make one thing clear: Link can't leave Koholint if he doesn't wake the Wind Fish, but waking the sleeper will cause dire events to occur. Despite the warnings, Link sets out to retrieve the Eight Instruments of the Sirens, all of which are necessary to jolt the Wind Fish back to the waking world.
Like Hyrule, Koholint is conveniently riddled with dungeons that require significant effort to reach. Each dungeon is packed with puzzles, battles, treasures, and terminate with a fight against a boss creature—a.k.a. a "Nightmare." This iteration of Link's Awakening also includes the Color Dungeon that was previously exclusive to the Game Boy Color "DX" version of the game. (Sadly, you won't find DX's photobooth in the remake.)
It's been some time since I played through Link's Awakening, but I never forgot how much fun it is to explore Koholint and its dungeons. I'm happy to say clambering around Koholint's overworld and spelunking through its caverns still feels great. Link's Awakening was initially designed for a tiny system, but it never feels small—not even on the Switch, which adapts the terrain at a 1:1 ratio in most instances. Every screen is packed with purpose. There's always some item to find, or a Secret Seashell to unearth, or a foe to put down, or a Heart Piece to collect. Similarly, Koholint's dungeons don't sprawl as much as Hyrule's dungeons, but they never feel truncated. Later Koholint dungeons, like Catfish's Maw and Turtle Rock, still take considerable time to explore.
Unfortunately, the overworld is where the biggest flaw in the Link's Awakening remake is laid bare. There are some framerate issues that pop up when Link's above ground, with obvious slowdown in Mabe Village and Animal Village. This hitch doesn't leave a deep scratch on the adventure, since it never impedes my movement and dungeons still hold steady at 60 FPS. Despite the scuff, I'm still charmed by the new Koholint's unique plastic shine and toy-like inhabitants. I want to hug every bunny and bear hanging out in Animal Village.
I'm also charmed by the soundtrack for Link's Awakening, which received a total overhaul, but sometimes implements the original chiptunes in admirable ways. The strongest example is in the Face Shrine dungeon, which layers sombre violins on top of the original song. It's a perfect mood-setter, since Link visits the Face Shrine dungeon after learning certain disturbing truths about the nature of Koholint. Everyone's favorite track, Tal Tal Heights, has received a royal makeover as well. The new soundtrack even adds thundering kettle drums to the galloping tune as Link draws closer to the end of his quest.
Other additions to the Link's Awakening remake are similarly fun, but superficial. Old walkthroughs will get you through the remake's dungeons—which is good news because Eagle Tower was designed by Satan—but there are twice as many Secret Seashells to find now. There are also more heart pieces, faerie bottles, and a bunch of figurines up for grabs in Mabe's crane game. It's a good thing Rupees are everywhere, because you're going to spend all of them and then offer up your soul for the chance to catch a Boo toy.
The most noteworthy addition to the new Link's Awakening is the ability to build and explore dungeons with Dampe the Gravekeeper. As you traverse through Koholint's dungeons, some of the rooms you visit can be used to build your own labyrinths. Building dungeons is a bit like playing a laid-back version of Pipe Mania, as each room's entrances and exits must connect in a manner that lets Link reach the Nightmare guarding the maze. Assembling dungeons is a fun diversion, but don't expect to make anything as complicated as Koholint's own caverns. The whole endeavor plays suspiciously like a tutorial for a Zelda Maker, which makes me more certain than ever that we'll eventually be designing our own dungeons in a dedicated Maker game.
While I was initially disappointed the Link's Awakening remake isn't a top-down revision of its source material like A Link Between Worlds, I can't deny Link's Awakening is still a great game in its raw form. The remake's charming graphics, epic soundtrack, and hugely welcome improvements to its control scheme (important items are hard mapped to certain buttons, which is far preferable to juggling vital weapons between two buttons) make it well worth Nintendo's asking price. It's a great game bestowed with great improvements. It is, in a word, dreamy.
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening remake for the Switch improves most of the flaws from the original game while maintaining (or enhancing) everything that makes Link's Game Boy adventure a classic. Its shiny new coat of paint suits it well, even if slowdown issues pop up from time to time. A few hours of play is all it takes to remind you why Zelda fans love Link's Awakening so very much.