In a recent Direct, Nintendo surprised a lot of people with confirmation that a long-rumored, new version of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is indeed headed to Switch. The reveal trailer didn't show viewers much about the game, aside from its art style, which has led to a number of questions:
Will Link's Awakening for Switch be a remaster or a full remake? Will it make big changes to the beloved classic?
It's my hope that Nintendo does make a few changes with this new release. While Link's Awakening was my first Zelda game, and I love it to this day, I'm not blind to ways that the original could be improved upon.
Faults like the game's button interface and limited character development are fine in its original or Virtual Console form, but if Nintendo is taking pains to spruce the game up overall, these kinds of problems should be fixed as well. Here are seven specific changes I would like to see when Link's Awakening comes to Switch.
The original release of Link's Awakening occurred at a time when developers didn't mind experimenting with mechanics and story lines, and the game's plot demonstrates that willingness. There is a strange dream world here, and there are no real villains, plus there are parallel characters like Chain Chomps and Goombas.
However, the plot of Link's Awakening does not feel fully developed. This is not too surprising, since early '90s games weren't exactly known for their in-depth storytelling, but the amount of material available in the game makes the Switch release a perfect opportunity to create an even more compelling narrative.
Take the Wind Fish itself, for example. Players never really find out how it's connected to the dream world, why it has the power to wake Link, and what relationship it has to the orchestral instruments he gathers during his journey. All of these areas could be elaborated in the new version.
An expanded narrative could also mean more development for the Nightmares or even the inclusion of a central villain. Dethl is a neat play on the dream idea, but it seems like it exists only to fit the overall motif without having any actual motivation — not even Ganondorf's typical desire to "take over the world."
Again, the plot works just fine for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color versions of the game, but leaving it alone for the Switch release could easily be seen as laziness disguised as being faithful to the source material.
The Button Interface
Our old friends, the giant grey brick and its colorful little sibling, didn’t have much to offer in the way of button combinations or expansive interface options. Still, they did the best they could with what was available, and it was good enough for several Zelda installments, including the original Link’s Awakening.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it was optimal though, as swapping between items and weapons was a bit of a nuisance, especially when having to choose between different songs for the ocarina. However, the Switch isn’t the Game Boy or Game Boy Color.
Nintendo's newest console has exponentially more input options, and opting to make the new version of Link’s Awakening a one-to-one port would be a serious mistake. That is, only being able to use two of the buttons to assign weapons would be a complete waste of the Switch’s abilities.
Hopefully, Nintendo will instead let players assign different items to all four face buttons, and potentially the shoulder buttons as well. It would create a much more user-friendly experience and solve the headache that was inventory management in the old Game Boy Zelda games.
Link’s Awakening introduced a couple of new items in the form of the Guardian Acorn and Piece of Power. The Acorn boosted Link’s defense for a short period of time, while the Power Piece provides a brief attack boost.
That’s lovely in theory, and sometimes, a Guardian Acorn is really all you need to power through a certain point. But there’s a problem with these little wonders: they’re everywhere, and every time you grab one, you get the same lengthy message that gives details on what you found and what it does. This happens regardless of if its your first time collecting the item or your five-hundredth.
Eventually, you’re avoiding these items as much as possible, desperately trying to make it through the Mysterious Forest, or whatever other small area you’re in, without getting held up by the Acorns and Shards every Moblin seems to be storing in their Moblin suit. Okay, so maybe it isn’t as bad as that.
However, it’s a nuisance born out of early game design that really doesn’t belong in contemporary games. Nothing takes you out of an experience faster than unavoidable, repetitive, and annoying text.
If there's one thing Zelda games usually get right, it's creating interesting NPCs, and Link's Awakening is no exception there. Whether it's the doting Madame MeowMeow or the absentminded Tarin, Koholint Island's quirky characters stick with you even though they don't say a whole lot. That said, they could certainly be expanded upon in the Switch version.
For example, Marin feels fairly generic — she sings a song, talks about the song she sings, and likes chickens. It seems only right that she should get a bit more development in Link's Awakening for Switch, if only to explain how she came by this obviously powerful and sacred song of hers.
All of the other bizarre and lovable characters should get some additional attention too. Breath of the Wild's NPCs each had their own stories and, while they may have had less interesting personalities overall, they were more developed due to their increased interactions with Link. Giving the same treatment to characters like Papahl and Crazy Tracy would make Link's Awakening a lot deeper and more enjoyable.
It would also serve to make Koholint Island feel more like a real place — a place that Link wouldn't want to leave. For new players approaching the game without the rosy hue of nostalgia, it might be difficult to get invested without more elaborated NPCs.
And while we're at it, let's hope we get some bigger text boxes too. That would make sure that the moments created by the NPCs get all the emphasis that they need.
Early Zelda games introduced gamers to fantastic new worlds, full of adventure, danger, magic, and puzzles. The series' overworld theme is one of the most recognizable pieces of video game music around, and there’s no denying that it added a lot to the atmosphere and made the games more enjoyable for many players.
There’s also no denying that, after a while, it gets a little old. This is more true in Link’s Awakening than, say, Link to the Past, because the latter, at least, changed things up from time to time — Death Mountain and the Dark World, for instance.
Koholint Island is a big place, which means that players hear the overworld theme, on loop, a lot when playing through the original version. Hopefully, some new tracks will be added to the Switch release. There are some perfect opportunities to create excellent pieces here, music that blends with the various distinct areas on the island — the beach, Tal Tal Heights, Gopongo Swamp, and Ukuku Prairie.
Even if Link’s Awakening for Switch ends up being more of a remaster than a remake, simply adding in a new soundtrack, to improve immersion and make every area as complete as possible, would go far in creating a new experience and justifying the game's existence.
More Stuff to Do
One of the aspects that might make going back to traditional Zelda games difficult is the relatively limited number of things to do in these game. Like most early Zelda titles, the original Link's Awakening has only a few optional side quests to complete.
Amongst these side quests is the much-loved trading game. Here you start with an item that you give to an NPC in exchange for an item that another NPC needs. This continues until you get a rare item, but it isn't strictly necessary in Link's Awakening, which makes the reward for the quest not very memorable
The other primary side quest is seashell collecting, which does result in a powered-up sword like in the Oracle games. These two side quests are the extent of the optional content in Link's Awakening.
While it isn't completely fair to draw comparisons to Breath of the Wild, as this game was, of course, not a massive, open world game, most of the other games that followed Link's Awakening included a variety of optional tasks to complete. These side quests, such as the ring system in the Oracle games and filling out the Bomber's Notebook in Majora's Mask, gave players reasons to explore every last inch of those games.
With the variety of characters on the island of Link's Awakening, there’s a wealth of potential quest opportunities. This could include finding specific places and objects for Ulrira, a wider range of food quests for Papahl, or even tasks for the residents of the Animal Village (so they, y’know, actually have a reason to exist).
The traditional Zelda experience is all about the dungeons, and it’s the one thing most people criticized about Breath of the Wild. That being said, the dungeons in Link’s Awakening are fairly short compared to what’s on offer in later entries.
The puzzles are devious as ever, but all total, you’re looking at a roughly 14-hour experience. That’s substantially shorter than all the Zelda games since Ocarina of Time except Link Between Worlds.
That wouldn’t be a big deal, except Link Between Worlds was $40 at launch, and it quickly made it to the Nintendo Selects line. Chances are, Link’s Awakening for Switch will be $50 or $60, like any top-tier release, so there really needs to be more for players to sink their teeth into.
Fortunately, there is a precedent for this, as the Game Boy Color version brought a new dungeon to the game. While it was, admittedly, a short one, it still shows how easy it is to include new elements without breaking the game’s flow overall.
Even expanding existing dungeons, or adding new puzzles, would be a good idea. This would give longtime fans a reason to purchase Link's Awakening for Switch beyond its aesthetic upgrade.
Most of these upgrades are to be expected from modern games, including modern Zelda games. Link's Awakening is a classic in its own right, but we've both become spoiled from high-quality offerings in the franchise and more selective about how we spend our money.
Respecting a classic's origins is one thing, but hopefully, Nintendo takes the time and effort to really do the game justice and help it thrive on the Switch.