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The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (2019) review
by Pandsu

The original Link's Awakening on Game Boy has always been one of my absolute favorite games, so naturally I was pretty hyped for the remake. And for the most part, that hype was justified.
The game is still a ton of fun and has some of the best dungeon designs that are less linear than those seen in other Zelda games and have a few really clever gimmicks. The story, world building and atmosphere is also very unique, with the existential dread of this world's nature and fate looming over the player at all times, while light-hearted and silly things are happening left and right, complete with weird references to other Nintendo franchises, all culminating in an intense, melancholic and fairly ambiguous ending that sticks with you for a while.

This remake in particular comes with a lot of quality-of-life improvements. One of the biggest issues with the original was the constant pausing and item-swapping, required mostly due to the Game Boy only having two buttons and a few design oversights on Nintendo's part. These issues have been fixed by mapping certain abilities to the many more buttons available on the Switch.
Besides that the game's old, simple pixel-art aesthetic has been replaced with a miniature, diorama-like appearance that took some people off-guard, which I however find incredibly charming as it looks great for the system while retaining the kind of "tiny world in your pocket" feel of the old one.

That, however, is about it when it comes to what I can praise this remake for.

It's still really good, don't get me wrong, and if you've never played any version of this game before, I'd probably recommend this one above the others, but as a remake that is sold at full price in 2019, I feel like this one's been on the low-effort end.
When Nintendo first re-released this game in the DX-version on Game Boy Color, they didn't just colorize the visuals, but added a few extra things; mainly a new dungeon that made full use of the color graphics and a new character, a mouse photographer, that would show up at specific points in the game to take some pictures that showed Link and some other characters in more detail than ever before and put them into some cute situations.
Sure, the photographing mouse was definitely a ploy to market the Game Boy Printer, which let you print tiny, black-and-white stickers to put on your school bag or fridge at home, but it also added something new to discover and collect for those who've already played the original. And it's something I would have liked to see adapted, and expanded, in this new one.

Unfortunately however, while the Color Dungeon is still in the game, this photo feature has been completely removed and replaced with the one major new feature of this remake, a Dungeon Maker mini-game featuring Dampe of Ocarina of Time fame.
This new feature, while it looks at first sight to be Mario-Maker-esque, isn't really worth playing, as all it does is let you string together rooms taken from dungeons you have already beaten, to create new dungeons, just without any of the clever design or reward. There's nothing new or interesting here and I only gave this feature a brief look.

It's generally become kind of annoying how bare-bones and minimal Nintendo's remakes and re-releases have become. When they re-released the Super Mario Bros. games on the Super Nintendo, they gave them a new presentation, some other small changes, and packaged four games together at the price of one while also adding a save-feature and allowing you to pick from two control schemes.

When Link's Awakening was re-released it got the additions mentioned above. Most of the Mario re-releases on Game Boy Advance had a lot of original content and added features. A Link to the Past's GBA port had a whole new multiplayer mini-game and a new, challenging dungeon added. When they re-released Ocarina of Time as a free pack-in bonus with The Wind Waker, even that one got Master Quest added as an extra little treat.
Super Mario 64 DS had new mini-games and three new playable characters.

It showed that they wanted to give people a good reason to buy these games again and replay them, even if they already owned the originals.
But when The Wind Waker HD came out, not only did they not go back to add the dungeons that had to be cut from the original due to time constraints, they didn't bother to really add anything new either. The same goes for Twilight Princess HD. And the 3DS ports of the N64 games are also largely the same  with barely anything new to speak of.

And, unfortunately, the same also goes for Link's Awakening on Switch.
For a full-price game I would have at least expected one new dungeon, but we only got the aforementioned quality-of-life fixes and that pointless dungeon maker.

I also don't think that the presentation was all that great, either. I said already that I like the art style of this game, which I do, but when it comes to the way they used it, I would have expected more. My issue is that they have basically kept everything just about 1:1, only translating it from 2D sprites and tiles into 3D models. That means if map graphics repeated on the Game Boy, they still do now even though there is absolutely no reason for them to do so. Everything is pretty much exactly in the place you found it in decades ago and looks like they just adapted each tile individually instead of remaking the maps with the strengths of the current tech in mind.
On top of that, the game suffers from an unstable frame-rate. By no means is it horribly bad or unplayable, but the game does not look very demanding and this is just another way in which this game seems rushed and somewhat carelessly made.

The D-Pad of the Switch also remains completely unused, which doesn't make any sense to me. Link's movement is restricted to a digital 8-way movement, as if he was controlled by a D-Pad, but you can only do so with the left Analog Stick, which feels unnatural and weird. Not giving me the option to then actually use the D-Pad for this digital movement is baffling. And then they didn't even map any items or anything else to the D-Pad either so it really makes no sense.

The music is also kind of a mixed bag. The original's great, dungeon-specific compositions are still here, remade into a more modern sound and some of this new OST sounds pretty awesome, but there are quite a few dungeon tracks that have been completely robbed of their atmosphere and energy. Generally, the music too feels like a pretty bare-minimum adaptation that didn't take much thought or care. I've heard much better from unpaid fans.

So, to wrap this up, I still recommend this game. I played through it and had a lot of fun, simply because the original game was so great and this is that game, just polished up to keep the annoying bits to a minimum. But that "keeping to a minimum" thing is also the remake's biggest issue, because the additions and the effort have also been kept to said minimum and I wish we could expect better from Nintendo, but at this point I can't say I was surprised.
«Sit back and relax»

Other reviews11

Great game
Most cryptic game I've ever played. Cute graphics, clever dungeons and boss fights... except those; you will find yourself doing research to find something in the game, to make progress.
«Blew my mind»
Could this be my favorite 2D Zelda?
Incredible game, fun and sweet and if you didn’t get your dungeon fix from BOTW, this’ll do it for ya. 
Really dig the enhanced graphics. The game is incredibly easy but then has a few challenging dungeons that make it so frustrating to play. There is something so nice about playing a classic Zelda game, but also without anything that truly differentiates it, it feels a little pointless going through the motions. 
Pretty good Zelda
«Can’t stop playing»
«Constantly dying and enjoy it»

+ Awesome unique art style that fits game well
+ Quality of life changes (Item mapping! Scrolling screen!)
+ Compact yet expansive overall experience
+ Fully commits to it's unique story and world
+ Dense map design and clever dungeon design

- Frame rate inconsistency
- Dungeon builder stops far short of it's potential
- Rigid adherence to original map and movement
- Value not entirely there; game feels limited today
My first real impression with Link's Awakening was 8 or 7 years ago in a videogame music podcast, I like a lot and even love some Zelda games but I'm not the biggest fan but there remain a few that I haven't played yet, mostly the 2D ones, so when I heard about this game I didn't give it much thought, only the fact that someone in that podcast spoiled to me ending and some "character arcs". Back to 2019, I played the game with the knowledge of what will come, so at first, I wasn't that into, but when I rapidly advanced through the world map I surely was immersed in this Koholint Island world. Link's Awakening smells a lot like classic Zelda, after beating BOTW it was a little hard and sometimes annoying get back into the classic style puzzles and linear story structure, but that cynicism disappeared the more I played, because there is a lot of heart and craft to this game that it's hard to imagine someone, not liking it. The music is spot on, with some orchestral feel or 8 bit sound or even a mix of both. The art style and graphics are so charming that it makes you feel you're a 5-year-old kid playing with your toys. It has a good sensation of nostalgia, and I don't mean it because it's a remake (of a game that I've never played, mind you), but because the themes in the story and the mood of the ambient, to me it felt like a coming of age story or like a summer trip to a new place where you make new friends but you never see again, that kind of nostalgia. There are some issues with this game, the majority are minor, things like uneven framerates here and there or passing issues, but my biggest complaint may be the dungeon design; the difficulty is pretty horizontal at least for the first dungeons but things go really vertical at the 4th onwards, and mostly its because you have to do a lot of backtracking, maybe it would be a lower issue (but still an issue) if not for the hero difficulty (it's the hard mode for the ones that are not familiar), which more than challenging I think it's annoying, the enemies do double damage but the combat is not polished enough so at times it was so frustrating to go back from point Z to point A and go around every room in the dungeon and dodge every hazard on the way, sometimes it was better to just die and start in the dungeon's entrance, but I'm not dying and neither Link so we breakthrough just because is our duty and we're heroes. Aside from that, I have a great time uncovering every puzzle in there. The appeal of this remake aside from the obvious graphic overhaul it's that is allegedly a well-crafted emulation true to the original game (mostly the game boy color version which came after) and for that, its easy to see how this is a timeless game and I will never forget the beauty of its simple yet likable design, choices and characters, and most likely I will never forget Marin.
«That ending!»