The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening can be considered the first weird Zelda [Editor's Note: I guess Eric isn't counting Zelda 2]. Rather than a hero's journey to stop Ganon, Link washes ashore on the island of Koholint, soon realizing he's trapped. It's a memorable journey that I was elated to revisit in a hands-on demo of Link's Awakening at E3 2019 today, and at its best it felt like reliving the past.
In pure story and gameplay, Link's Awakening is largely the same. I played the same opening path I'd trodden dozens of times; waking up, getting a shield, running to the beach, getting your sword. I knew which rocks to push in the cave inside the Mysterious Forest, and where to find the witch who can turn the Magic Mushroom into Magic Powder, so I could toss it in the face of that annoying dancing raccoon.
The difference is the look, where it trades Game Boy pixels for a toy-like aesthetic. The Link's Awakening remake is infectiously charming, almost adding a second layer of nostalgic veneer to the game I've often called my favorite Zelda. The owl hoots and flutters in just like he always does, but there's an added charm to even the most mundane actions like those.
More noticeably, there aren't "screens" anymore, but one constantly panning camera. If you're used to thinking of Link's Awakening in terms of linked screens, this can be jarring as you seamlessly pan across borders that exist only in your mind. Each transition is seamless, with the only hard cuts being areas like dungeons or falling into the well.
While it was an early version, with the game coming in September, the sometimes-choppy framerate was a little bothersome. And Link moves awkwardly, only in either the four cardinal directions or diagonally, rather than a 360-degree range of motion. These didn't really actively bother me, other than feeling uncomfortable in the moment against my muscle memory. They're also issues that are easy for Nintendo to address in the run-up to September.
My experience with Link's Awakening was largely a retread of my own nostalgia. I had seen and done these actions so many times before that they felt routine. But even in that repetition, the look and charm of the remake's aesthetic gave it new life.
I was constantly wondering what everything would look like in this new style. Link's Awakening is extremely accurate, down to the dialogue itself. The witch still does her sped-up brewing animation, hastily stirring her cauldron to make Magic Powder. The raccoon bounces and ricochets around after being dusted (and you can still affect his trajectory by standing in certain spots). My only bummer was that I was unable to rob the shopkeeper—we've asked Nintendo if it's still possible, but I ran laps around him trying to get the shovel early, to no avail [Update: You can totally rob the shop after all].
I had to think over my time with Link's Awakening, because it was really more of the same, what I already knew and loved. But my Link's Awakening cart is in a box somewhere, and I'm one of the lucky ones who still has one. For so many people, this is a Zelda that's lost to time for them.
Everything that made the original is here, but all of it is still brilliant. The foreboding dialogue from your mysterious owl friend, the quirky cast of Koholint Island, and the excellent puzzle and dungeon design. I barely spent time in the Tail Dungeon due to my time limit, but the rooms I saw were just as I remembered.
It's odd, seeing something you know so well get a new look. But the new look only builds upon what's there, even accentuating the dreamlike nature of it. I was hesitant, but now I'm eager to return to Koholint and wake the Wind Fish all over again. It's like playing the game as you've held it in your mind, rather than what it actually still is, and an achingly loving homage to a game that shouldn't be forgotten once the cart batteries go bad. It will be out September 20 on Nintendo Switch.