The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is Still Secretly the Best Zelda

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is secretly the best Zelda game Nintendo has ever made. Considering the only ways to play it have been on Game Boy back in 1993 as well as a decent but imperfect Game Boy Color port in 1998 (who adds unskippable dialogue to a game?) that was rereleased on 3DS Virtual Console in 2013, you might not be aware of this fact. When you play the Nintendo Switch remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, though, you’ll almost certainly get to discover this essential truth for yourself, as based on an E3 2019 demo, it’s preserved perfectly.

Link’s Awakening continues the Nintendo trend of remaking an old property to look like it’s been made of some kind of crafting material, or in this case, plastic Happy Meal toys,” Yahtzee Croshaw reported from the show floor. “Very faithful to the original, even starting with a nice reproduction of the original Game Boy intro sequence.”

Link’s Awakening was actually a direct sequel to Super Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Having stabbed that pitchfork enthusiast Ganon directly in the face, rescuing both Hyrule and the mythical golden land in the process, Link heads out to sea in search of new adventures only to get shipwrecked in a storm. The animated scene depicting the wreck was remarkable at the time since it was the most vivid depiction of Link ever seen in an actual game rather than box and manual art. The game opens with Link waking up on the island of Koholint. Things only get weirder from there. How weird does it get if it’s weirder than a game where you have to steal triangles from a pig man living in a magic pyramid? Let’s just say you spend a lot of time playing a violin in front of a giant egg and revivifying dead supernatural roosters.

 

“Apparently there’s some new stuff but nothing that drastically alters the structure of the original,” explained Yahtzee after enjoying his demo of the game. “Some power ups, but also at some point the ability to jump, which I guess is to make getting around slightly more expedient.”

Come on, Yahtzee, everyone knows you get the jump-granting Roc’s Feather in the first dungeon of the game. Right? Everyone knows that? Philistines!

The ability to jump through peculiar side-scrolling dungeons full of goombas — just one of a few Mario enemies that show up in this game, including a sly cameo from Super Mario Bros. 2’s Wart — is just one of the many things that make Link’s Awakening so special in the sprawling Zelda canon. I’ve written about the game’s surreal philosophy before (but don’t click this link if you don’t want the story spoiled.) The story and especially the game’s cast imbue Link’s Awakening with a discomfiting soulfulness. This was intentional. Director Takashi Tezuka — best known for directing the original Legend of Zelda, the first four Super Mario Bros. games and the equally surreal Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island — cited David Lynch’s Twin Peaks as its primary inspiration.

 

“At the time, Twin Peaks was rather popular. The drama was all about a small number of characters in a small town,” Tezuka recalled during an Iwata Asks roundtable discussion in 2010. “I wanted to make something that, while it would be small enough in scope to easily understand, it would have deep and distinctive characteristics.”

Tezuka and the original development crew filled the game with off-beat humor, also like Lynch’s magnum opus. There are old men who will only talk to you if you call them on the phone, bipedal alligators obsessed with canned goods, and even some hilarious consequences if you shoplift from Koholint’s general goods store. It was, according to Tezuka, almost like a parody of previous Zelda games.

“When we say parody, I’m not sure where that word comes from because maybe there are translation issues,” Tezuka told Game Informer in 2016. “With Zelda games we usually plan them out, every detail is considered. With Link’s Awakening, we were working on that after our other work was done. Kind of like a club of people who loved Zelda and got together to make it. It has a different feeling for that reason.”

Get it? The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is the best. The Nintendo Switch remake will be out on September 20, 2019.

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Anthony John Agnello

Anthony John Agnello has worked full-time as a journalist and critic for over a decade with outlets like The A.V. Club, Edge Magazine, Joystiq, Engadget, and many, many others. Anthony first contributed to The Escapist in 2009, with In Defense of the Friend Code, an article about how we don't know where we're going if we don't know where we come from. How even what seems like the stupidest creation in the world comes from a human place; it's the work of one person reaching out to another.

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