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The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is endearing and wonderfully weird

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was my first Zelda game. I remember Koholint Island as a weird and wonderful place populated by familiar faces from other Nintendo franchises. I instantly fell in love with the series.

There was one problem, though. My preowned cartridge’s battery died soon thereafter. So as a young boy eating up too many AA batteries, I played the opening hours a lot. I didn’t beat the game at the time because of this inconvenience, but I later rectified that childhood travesty on Nintendo 3DS with Link’s Awakening DX. Given my history with Link’s Awakening, it’s fitting that my 20-minute E3 2019 hands-on demo with the Nintendo Switch remake started from the very beginning.

You probably already know this, but Link’s Awakening is visually marvelous on Switch. Link’s adorable design resembles a toy doll, and the world is bright, colorful, and inviting. The isometric camera perspective is close-in, so you can take in the charming sights of Koholint Island.

Sadly, the fresh art style was undercut by performance issues. I only had the chance to play in console mode, but the framerate — especially when faced with enemies — frequently dipped. The stuttering animations made Link’s movements look robotic at times. Performance miscues didn’t ruin my experience, but let’s hope Nintendo is able to make Link’s Awakening run smoother for the September launch.

Get weird, Nintendo

As an authentic remake, Link’s Awakening‘s gameplay may feel jarring to those used to modern Zelda games. The tried-and-true dungeon loop featured in nearly every Zelda game pre-Breath of the Wild is here, but it’s much less guided than recent top-down Zelda games. It’s a bizarre game — weird Nintendo at its finest.

After grabbing your sword at the beach, you have to head to the Mysterious Forest to speak with a raccoon about a mushroom. Without previous knowledge, it might take some time to know where to go. Once you locate the patch, it’s you’ll meet up with a witch. She brews the mushroom in her cauldron and hands over the concoction: Magic Powder. Throwing a handful of the Magic Powder at the raccoon turns him back into a man. Why? Who knows.

This weirdness is why I’ve loved Link’s Awakening for two-plus decades. At face value, the moving parts are disjointed, but they inexplicably come together.

Outside of framerate issues, the combat was fun. Nintendo smartly mapped the shield to the right trigger, which frees you up to equip two items to the face buttons. Deflecting javelin throws from Moblins and slashing them with my sword in the Mysterious Forest felt great.

Though I didn’t go beyond the start of the first dungeon, Link’s Awakening is a nearly 1:1 remake. As such, you’ll likely happen upon lots of dead ends. Paths are blocked all over Koholint Island. Sometimes it’s boulders that need to be lifted with the Power Bracelet, other times it’s holes that need to be leaped over with Roc’s Feather (neither of which I acquired during the demo). Narrow pathways can be easily overlooked, so you have to pay close attention to your surroundings.

The map might be your best friend, and keep you from walking in circles. The remake lets you mark heart pieces on the map so you can easily find your way back later on after securing whatever item you needed.

I stumbled across a new house in the remake that seems to track and hold collectibles hailing from Super Mario Bros. (like Shy Guy and Boo). If anything, Nintendo has leaned more into Link’s Awakening’s wacky crossover elements with the remake.

Link’s Awakening will even have a dungeon building tool called Chamber Dungeons. Level tiles from completed dungeons can be found throughout Koholint Island. If you bring the pieces to the gravedigger Dampé, you can create a mix and match dungeon to run through for rewards. Dampé hails from Ocarina of Time, so it’s odd to see him here. His presence makes me wonder if anyone else will appear.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening launches September 20 on Nintendo Switch. The endearing art style feels like a perfect fit for Koholint Island. I wouldn’t worry much at all about the performance issues in the E3 demo. There’s a better chance of Super Mario Bros. releasing on PlayStation 4 than Link’s Awakening not living up to Nintendo’s rigorous standards.

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