You can tell a serious video gamer from a faker by asking them to name the main character in the ‘Zelda’ series of video games. Those who aren’t at expert level will look at you as if it’s a trick question, and say ‘Zelda.’ Those of us who have been playing games for a lot longer (and, we suspect, with a lot more of our spare time) know full well that the character is called Link – and Link is a bonafide video game legend. We’re absolutely thrilled to say that Link (and the whole ‘Zelda’ universe) is back on the Nintendo Switch as of this month.
If you remember the Game Boy – or you’re a retro gaming fan and have picked a Game Boy up just find out how your parents used to play video games – you’ll probably get a warm, fuzzy feeling whenever you think about ‘The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.’ The 1993 game was the very first ‘Zelda’ game to be released in handheld format, and is seen by most reviewers as one of the best Game Boy games ever released. When it got a coat of fresh paint and a re-release for the Game Boy Color in 1998, respected review website IGN gave it a perfect score.
Now, it’s coming back yet again. We’re in a new era of gaming, and Nintendo has decided that the time is right to recreate the game a third time. ‘The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’ will be released for the Nintendo Switch on September 20th. So what is it that keeps us coming back to this 33-year-old classic character?
Zelda games date back to almost the beginning of home video consoles. There’s a full timeline of Zelda games online at this link, but discussing the entire franchise would take us all day. This Switch version of the game is the 25th Zelda game in total, and the sixth in the past five years. Most franchises in their fourth decade of operation would probably be slowing down. Zelda appears to be speeding up. Even with this new release imminent, we already know that there’s another game – a sequel to 2017’s ‘Breath Of The Wild,’ due for release in 2020.
Such has been the success of Zelda that Link, the Princess, and several of the other characters have crossed over into various different mediums. There was a short-lived TV series based on Zelda in 1989. A Zelda-themed version of monopoly was issued in 2014. A mobile slots game called ‘The Legend of Link’ was launched in 2017. As there’s no official branding on it, we can’t be sure that the mobile slots game is actually a licensed product, but even if it isn’t, it demonstrates the level of affection and nostalgia that comes with Zelda games. Very few video games have crossed over into the strictly-adult world of mobile slots. Lara Croft is one (Lara Croft: Temples and Tombs being one of the better video-game themed mobile slots we’re aware of). Super Mario is another. That’s the kind of company this game series keeps.
As for what makes it so special? It’s the sheer quality of the games. The genre isn’t particularly special, and the stories aren’t especially original. You could argue that games like ‘Final Fantasy’ have taken inspiration from Zelda and gone much further with the same idea. It’s simply the playing experience which keeps players coming back for more. As we said earlier, the original Game Boy version of ‘The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’ was seen as near perfection. ‘Ocarina of Time’ for the N64 scored perfect grades when it was released in 1998. ‘Breath of the Wild’ did the same again two years ago. Zelda games seem to bring the very best out of Nintendo.
We don’t have to worry about whether this new Switch game will live up to the same quality standards, because it’s simply a revival of the much older original. But have Nintendo added anything extra to it?
The Modern Age
For the main part, this third incarnation of the game sticks close to what made it successful from the beginning. It’s a top-down game which has the occasional side-scrolling sections. If you were particularly attached to ‘the color dungeon’ from the Game Boy Color version of the game – which was designed specifically to show off the device’s color display – you’ll be pleased to know it’s in here, too. There are, however, a few minor adjustments to reflect that times have changed since this particular chapter of the Link saga last got an airing.
The major changes are all in the game’s combat sections. For a start, Link always has his shield and sword equipped, along with any upgrades. This means additional items can be equipped to action buttons – something which was raised as one of the very few criticisms of the original. There’s also a 20 heart limit as opposed to the original 14.
Many minigames that players will remember well – for example the claw minigame – have also had a tweak to make the physics more realistic. Rooms from dungeons that players have completed can be collected, and then used to build new dungeons of your own if you so desire. That gives the game a sandbox-like feel which would have been completely impossible when making games back in the 1980s. Once you’ve built your own dungeon, you can battle through it as a time attack, and win special rewards that can’t be obtained elsewhere in the game.
The addition of a ‘build your own dungeon’ mode feels like a way to allow players to get more game-time out of the game. After all, this is a 30-plus-year-old game. It doesn’t have the hours of gameplay that we now expect from new releases, because software and hardware devices of the 1980s and 1990s simply didn’t have the capacity to allow for games of that length. You won’t find this version of ‘The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’ any more challenging or time-consuming than you did when you were a child – but it’s bound to give you a deep, warm, sense of nostalgia. We suspect that’s the entire point of it.
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