Many Zelda fans count the original The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening among their favorite games in the franchise despite it releasing exclusively as a low-fidelity GameBoy title. While the excellent dungeon and world design do contribute to the game's acclaim, a lot of what makes Link's Awakening special comes from the oddball charm it exhibits that sets it apart from other Zelda games.
The new, higher-fidelity remaster doesn't only highlight that charm but rather gracefully accentuates it. With the improved graphics, unique art style, and expanded audience, the new Link's Awakening, which has sold well so far, introduces modern gamers to a world of Zelda that many of them have never experienced before.
The original Link's Awakening released in 1993 on the original GameBoy with a color version a few years later on the updated GameBoy Color. The game came on the heels of the third Zelda game, A Link to the Past, which released on the Super Nintendo and finally helped Nintendo solidify their goals for the franchise as an open-world puzzler. Link's Awakening aimed to capture that feeling of the A Link to the Past, but since it wouldn't release on a mainline Nintendo console, it did what a lot of GameBoy entries in popular franchises did at the time. It got weird.
Link's Awakening makes a lot of strange departures from the Zelda lore that that sets it apart more than a little. For starters, the game does not take place in Hyrule, nor does it contain references to Hyrule. The game also does not feature the titular character Princess Zelda, nor does its plot include Ganon. In fact, Link's Awakening doesn't contain any characters or towns from the mainline Zelda franchise. The only other game that features this much of a departure, Majora's Mask, still at least contains alternate versions of characters and races from other games. Almost everything in Link's Awakening's world is unique.
In '93, this unique take on the Zelda formula didn't make as big of an impact because the series had still yet to find consistent footing. A lot of the Zelda franchise staples wouldn't come about or become solidified until 1998's Ocarina of Time. Folks didn't know that the world set up in A Link to the Past would become the core of the franchise.
Now, with over 25 years and over 15 Zelda titles, Nintendo has established the main characters, themes, locations, and references of the franchise, all of which continue to repeat themselves in various ways in each title. Folks playing Link's Awakening for the first time in 2019 will find something that resembles Zelda only in structure, but otherwise feels like a hyper-polished fan-made take on the classic Zelda formula (though Link's Awakening has plenty of Zelda references sprinkled in).
Because the developers of Link's Awakening didn't have to yet adhere to franchise staples, they had the opportunity to get creative with the characters and references they added to the game. The most obvious example comes in the form of numerous direct references to Nintendo's Mario games which almost imply that the games take place in the same universe. The game features chain chomps, goombas, piranha plants, a yoshi doll, and even paintings of Princess Peach.
Folks who played the original game always cracked a smile at these reference. Mario had existed for almost ten years at that point, and so seeing these elements pop up in Zelda definitely gave it a unique charm back then. However, after all of this time, Mario and Zelda have become two totally separate franchises that have gone in different directions. Any connections between the two have come as slight nods that would probably go over the heads of casual players. But when players boot up the visually improved Link's Awakening on Switch and step into a side-scrolling section of a dungeon that forces them to jump over goombas and slash piranha plants, they will have a much more excited and surprised reaction.
Without this remaster, many gamers would never have given Link's Awakening a try. Now, players will pick it up and experience a Zelda game on the same console on which they played Breath of the Wild and see what else Zelda can do. This bodes well for the series because while the console titles have done a great job of furthering the franchise through a direct lineage, the handheld titles have always continued the strange top-down Zelda experiments of the franchise's past. With the release of the Link's Awakening remaster, Nintendo is showing fans that two versions of the franchise can exist simultaneously on the same console while at the same time illustrating how charming Zelda can be when it gets weird.
Hopefully, this will only mean a greater number of varying styles of mainline Zelda games going forward. Mario games have done this kind of thing for a while now with New Super Mario titles helping to fill that gaps between mainline entries in the series like Super Mario Odyssey. Hopefully Nintendo will build something original in the style of Link's Awakening to bridge the gap between Breath of the Wild 2 and whatever comes after it.
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is now available on Switch.