Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (Nintendo Switch)

Artwork of a boy in a tropical island environment, with a mountain capped by a purple-spotted egg in the background; the game's logo printed in the center

Nightmares and Dreamscapes

I’ll admit it—I’m not a big fan of Nintendo’s Zelda series, and in fact consider it, alongside Soulsborne, one of the most overrated videogame franchises of all time. There are certain entries in the series I liked, such as A Link to the Past on the Super NES, albeit mostly due to nostalgia, and I had decent memories of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy, although I actually didn’t care much for critical darlings such as Ocarina of Time and more recently, Breath of the Wild. I actually looked forward to playing the Switch remake of Link’s Awakening, and while it does have plenty positives, it often exemplifies what I dislike about the series.

The remake, like the Game Boy original, opens with series protagonist Link braving the stormy high seas on a derelict boat, when lightning strikes and he finds himself stranded on the enigmatic Koholint Island, under temporary care of a girl named Marin, who resembles Princess Zelda. Link goes on a quest across the isle to collect the eight musical instruments of the Siren and awaken the legendary Wind Fish to escape. While there are occasional positives in the plot such as a village populated by intelligent animals, the narrative doesn’t contribute a whole lot to the franchise’s mythos, and is unremarkable.

The translation doesn’t have any glaring spelling or grammar errors, is legible, and doesn’t give much indicator as to its Japanese roots, although there seems absolutely no reason, except alcohol, why anyone would think it natural for someone to taunt, “Annoyance! You are only getting in the way!” There are occasional dated expressions as well such as “by the by,” it seems really odd that people would proclaim, “Yahoo!” when doing yardwork, and there is occasional odd onomatopoeia. The localization certainly isn’t game-breaking by any means, but the translation staff could have definitely made some effort to make the text sound far more believable.

Luckily, the gameplay largely compensates, with Link primarily wielding a sword with which he can attack normally and execute a spinning assault, and a shield he can extend forth to defend against and occasionally deflect attacks. The player can also assign two tools to two of the letter buttons, and while things such as his dash have permanent button assignment once acquired, things such as his ability to jump after receiving a certain tool would have definitely benefited from button permanence, given that I found jumping particularly useful at many times throughout the quest.

The randomization of enemy drops is another potential turnoff for players, although I didn’t experience any monetary difficulties throughout the game, and there are occasional offsets to keeping his health high such as being able to bottle a fairy for recovery, and a special medicine that fully restores his hearts when he loses all. Rules present in other entries of the fabled franchise such as receiving additional hearts when defeating dungeon bosses, termed Nightmares in the remake, and being able to collect four heart pieces for supplemental health, play part too.

Link can use the various tools he acquires to both battle foes and solve the puzzles in dungeons, and except for needing to sometimes kill minibosses and enemies to uncover secrets like keys, combat is mostly optional, and scarcely a burden. Granted, there are points that left me somewhat stumped and relying on the internet to find out how to do things such as beat certain bosses, in particular the various phases of the final battle, but luckily, the endgame isn’t terribly drawn-out, the player doesn’t need to worry about a lousy camera, and the gameplay helps the remake more than hurts.

The remake’s control is more of a mixed bag, since while the player can get tips from tree phonebooths on how to advance, direction on where exactly to go next isn’t always clear-cut without using a walkthrough, and dungeons, despite being small compared to other Zeldas, can be time-consuming and require tons of backtracking. One major redeemer, though, is that whenever link does things such as acquiring a key or treasure, the game autosaves, handy given that many players could easily forget the ability to record progress anywhere. However, saving doesn’t always preserve Link’s current location, namely in dungeons, even though the images accompanying save files would indicate otherwise, and while interaction doesn’t break the game, it isn’t always perfect.

Undoubtedly the strongest aspect of the Link’s Awakening rerelease is its aural presentation, with a significant use of orchestration, and many tracks such as the various version of the traditional Zelda overworld theme sounding wonderful, with homages to other Nintendo titles such as the Super NES SimCity, given two variations of the “good approval rating” music from that particular game (which itself derives from Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance”). There are also some catchy jingles such as Mambo’s Mambo, which resembles “Tequila” by the Champs, and while the dungeon music is often too ambient, traces of the original Game Boy version’s digital instrumentation show, and Link’s screams and the near-death alarm can be annoying, the sound is well above average.

The Switch remake utilizes anime cutscenes during the game’s opening before the title screen and the ending credits, with the rest of the game using a top-down visual presentation that makes Link, his enemies, and the many nonplayer characters resemble chibi toy figurines, which somewhat clashes with the style of the aforementioned animated scenes. The environments do look good, with vibrant hues alongside plenty of polish, with little in the way of blurry textures or pixilation, although there is the occasional graphical slowdown and choppiness. In the end, the graphics don’t reach excellence.

Finally, a single playthrough is relatively short, somewhere from six to twelve hours, with side content such as acquiring all heart pieces, and a “hero mode” where the player’s health is restricted, although there isn’t the potential for much variation in future playthroughs, and things such as the ease of getting stuck mar the lasting appeal.

Overall, the Link’s Awakening Switch remake definitely has things going for its such as its solid top-down Zelda gameplay that doesn’t suffer from many of the pitfalls of the three-dimensional iterations of the franchise, not to mention the great aural presentation, but it does stumble with regards to the ease at times of getting stuck without referencing the internet, the minimalist storytelling, middling visuals, and lack of many reasons to go through again. It definitely improves over the Game Boy versions, but oftentimes exemplifies what’s wrong with the series, and is recommended only to true fans of the franchise.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy borrowed by the reviewer.

The Good:
+Good top-down Zelda gameplay.
+Great soundtrack.

The Bad:
-Easy to get stuck.
-Minimalist storytelling with lackluster localization.
-Middling graphical presentation.
-Not a lot of lasting appeal.

The Bottom Line:
An okay remake.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 7.5/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 4.0/10
Localization: 4.0/10
Music/Sound: 8.0/10
Graphics: 6.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 4.0/10
Difficulty: Inconsistent
Playing Time: 6-12 Hours

Overall: 5.5/10

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