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The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening Totally Holds Up (and Then Some)

Nintendo has always had a knack for introducing its classic games to new audiences. Whether it's a Virtual Console port of a Nintendo 64 game, a remastering a la Star Fox 64 3D or The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D, or a total reimagining like Kid Icarus: Uprising, the Big N is no stranger to prettying up and re-releasing its catalog.

We weren't at all surprised to learn that Nintendo was remaking Game Boy classic The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening for the Nintendo Switch. Hot off the heels of Breath of the Wild's critical and commercial success, it certainly made sense to roll with another Zelda game as quickly as possible. Sure, there are other options in the Zelda franchise when it comes to a full-on remake, but Link's Awakening was core to Nintendo's first foray into handheld gaming. It'd only make sense the game would highlight the launch of the Nintendo Switch Lite, a dedicated handheld version of the console.

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Highlight it does, successfully conjuring any and all nostalgia for the original game and mixing it with gorgeous toylike terrariums to create a perfectly tuned, core Zelda experience. This is the original formula in peak form, and it goes a long way to prove that Link's Awakening holds up in 2019, among even the most complicated adventure games.

Each corner of Koholint Island has been masterfully recreated in this new style, finding itself somewhere between the look and feel of A Link to the Past and A Link Between Worlds. The world is bursting with character as Link meets the island locals, heads out on fetch quests and completes dungeons, all in an effort to wake the Windfish at the peak of the island's Mt. Tamaranch.

While more recent top-down Zelda titles have opted for unique ways to ease new players into the world, Link's Awakening has a minimal amount of hand-holding. In some cases, this can be mildly frustrating, like when you're deep in a dungeon and run out of Small Keys, only to find one hidden in a wall at the corner of a room halfway across the dungeon map. But it's in this mystery and these moments of discovery that make Link's Awakening something special -- not infuriating.

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These discoverable moments are littered throughout the entire game, coupled together by one-liners from the game's cast or hinted at via spooky owl statues or telephone huts. Even those who played the original game might find themselves lost at times, only to be met with an "a-ha!" when a puzzle is finally sorted. It helps that the gameplay in Link's Awakening is ever-evolving, and new gameplay mechanics and weapons will come into your possession throughout.

Things like the Pegasus Boots and Roc's Feather help Link to jump, adding an entirely new layer of gameplay and unlocking additional paths to explore in the overworld. Even the mainstays like the bow and arrow or hook-shot extend the life of the game's dungeons and make each accomplishment feel that much more celebratory.

The traditional Zelda gameplay is great, but there are also inventive boss battles and platforming segments throughout Link's Awakening, which truly lend to the game's theme of feeling like some sort of fever dream. Seriously, there are even Nintendo references all over the place, including a Yoshi doll, characters based on Mario and Kirby and even enemies like Goomba, Boo and Shy Guy.

In this sense, Link's Awakening feels more like a Nintendo greatest hits than anything else, something fans will know from the original game but may have forgotten. Well, prepare to be just as wonderfully taken aback as the first time.

Everything that made the original what it was is back here in full form, so it comes as a bit of a disappointment that Link's Awakening suffers from a number of technical issues, including frame rate drops and slowdown. For a game that feels less technically-demanding than a Super Mario Odyssey or Breath of the Wild, it's unfortunate that it's a little rough around the edges. Fortunately, these issues don't seem to be incredibly frequent, and didn't cause too much of an issue during this play-through.

As far as new content goes, there isn't too much extra in Link's Awakening, something to be expected from what was billed as a remake, not necessarily a full reimagining. Of course, the remake brings with it a number of quality of life improvements not present in the original. Thankfully, plenty of Zelda games have come out since 1993, and many of them have had things like a manageable inventory, a map with icons or the ability to store a fairy in a bottle. You can also save from anywhere! Thank goodness.

There's also the new dungeon builder, thanks to Dampe's Shack, a new addition to the Link's Awakening overworld. As you play through a number of challenges, you'll be awarded with Dungeon Stones, which can be sewn together to create custom dungeons. Don't expect Super Mario Maker-level sharing here, though, as you can only drop a dungeon to your friends by using a Zelda amiibo. It's a weird, kind of featureless and taxing "Zelda Maker," but it's a nice enough proof of concept.

As an overall package, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening should satisfy longtime fans looking to revisit the classic Zelda formula. It's also a great first Zelda for new fans, one with a captivating story, colorful characters and plenty of crevices to explore.

As a $60 package, however, it feels a little barebones and doesn't really do enough to differentiate itself above its acclaimed friends in the Nintendo Switch lineup. That being said, this is a game that should absolutely be experienced by any fan of the series, and with that, it's an easy recommendation.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is now available on Nintendo Switch.

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