Link's Awakening: Critical Consensus
Faithful modern-day remake of original Game Boy game charms reviewers despite underwhelming dungeon creator, frame rate issues
Nintendo's newest Zelda title isn't terribly new at all, as The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening for the Switch is a remake of the 1993 Game Boy title. While reviewers of the new remake have differing degrees of familiarity with the original release, they are overwhelmingly in agreement that it is an enjoyable and charming game.
GameSpot's Peter Brown said "the renewed presentation is easily the star of the show" in his 8 out of 10 review for GameSpot, praising the visual overhaul that gives all the game's denizens a glossy, rounded look.
"Having been transformed from little pixelated people to shiny, cartoony toys come to life, everyone in Link's Awakening brings newfound energy," Brown said. "It's equally true for monsters and bad guys as well. Game Boy games have retro appeal, but the remake casts aside ancient aesthetics for something entirely different that works on its own terms."
Vice's Patrick Klepek agreed in his unscored review, saying, "The game's tilt shift aesthetic, complete with blurring along the screen's edges, makes the world look and feel appropriately toy-like, as if you could just place your fingers onto the screen and pluck things out. It's absolutely gorgeous."
"For a game so focused on capturing scenes filled with joy and character, the performance issues frequently took me out of the illusion"Russ Frushtick
However, Klepek said that visual experience was dampened by "frustrating" frame rate issues, something he said he isn't particularly sensitive to in games.
"Even when Link is doing nothing more than walking from one screen to the next, lacking enormous enemies or taxing explosions that might understandably cause the underpowered Switch to buckle, Link's Awakening rarely achieves the smoothness its visuals demand," Klepek said.
Polygon's Russ Frushtick echoed that sentiment in an unscored review, saying, "For a game so focused on capturing scenes filled with joy and character, the performance issues frequently took me out of the illusion. They never made the game unplayable, but they definitely hindered the visual experience."
But there's more to games than graphics, and reviewers largely praised Link's Awakening's gameplay as well. Much of the game is exceedingly faithful to the original in terms of map layouts, characters, and puzzles, but there were some quality-of-life improvements made. For example, the Game Boy had just two action buttons, so the Switch's comparative cornucopia of inputs is used to make juggling equipment and other tasks easier.
Frushtick said the adherence to the original's action makes the new Link's Awakening an ideal introduction to the franchise.
"The first two Zelda games on NES were broad, directionless, and incredibly difficult for their time," Frushtick said. "Link's Awakening is more guided and, frankly, easier... if you're looking for a way to introduce Zelda to someone under the age of 10, it's a great thing. But for adults, the game may feel a bit lacking compared to the complex adventures of Breath of the Wild and A Link Between Worlds."
Brown noted in his review that the game seems to be intentional in taking a different path than the more epic, mainline Zelda titles, often to its benefit.
"It works, instead, as a fanciful side story, and it ultimately stands out for its playful attitude and moments of bittersweet melancholy."
"All these years later, this version is exactly what I had hoped for"Tom Phillips
Much of that attitude and melancholy is delivered through the colorful inhabitants of the mysterious Koholint Island, where Link spends most of the game marooned.
"Their identities and stories aren't all that deep, but your interactions and exchanges help shape the identity of the locale and brighten up your time spent outside of dark and dreary dungeons," Brown said.
The result is exactly what Eurogamer's Tom Phillips wanted, as could be guessed from the 'Essential' tag he bestowed upon the game.
"All these years later, this version is exactly what I had hoped for - a chance to play through a modern recreation of Koholint's original design, laid out exactly as it was and without any of its oddball charm being lost on the way," Phillips said. "It's an astonishing balancing act to see the remake's choice of new visual style - tactile terracotta buildings and model-like figures cast against bokeh-drenched backgrounds - so accurately preserve the original's quirks."
That's not to say Phillips -- or any of the reviewers who pulled out their site's top-end plaudits for the game -- loved everything they saw in Link's Awakening. One of the game's few new features, a build-your-own dungeon feature, left reviewers almost uniformly unimpressed.
IGN's Joe Skrebels called it "a lovely idea" in a 9.4 out of 10 review, but was not impressed by its lack of options and limited ability to share created dungeons (they can only be transferred by loading them onto an amiibo for someone else to copy it from).
"It's a curiosity," Skrebels said, "but won't be a compulsion."
USgamer's Nadia Oxford agreed in her 5 out of 5 review, saying, "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 each reviewer summarized their write-up in slightly different ways, the overriding sentiment was largely the same.
"The remake's charming graphics, epic soundtrack, and hugely welcome improvements to its control scheme... make it well worth Nintendo's asking price. It's a great game bestowed with great improvements," Oxford said in her conclusion. "It is, in a word, dreamy."