Returning to Koholint Island
Nintendo’s weirdest Zelda title comes to Switch in 2019
Today’s Nintendo Direct presentation included the surprise announcement that The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening will making its way to the Nintendo Switch sometime in 2019. The ability to simply play this game on a modern console would have been exciting news for many. But Nintendo weren’t satisfied to simply put smiles on Zelda fans’ faces; they were apparently determined to completely blow our minds. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening looks to be a comprehensive, from-scratch remake of the game, developed from the ground up for Nintendo Switch.
There’s a lot to like about this announcement, of course, especially if you’re a Zelda fan in general. But as I was watching the Nintendo Direct presentation, a startling fact occurred to me: a ton of people — even longtime Nintendo fans — have never played Link’s Awakening. Not only that, but I personally know many younger gamers (“younger”, in this context, referring to anyone who hasn’t yet hit their mid-thirties) for whom Breath of the Wild was their very first Zelda experience.
In that context, this announcement takes on a whole new meaning. So, just in case you’re wondering what’s so special about this Zelda adventure in particular, let’s take a closer look.
Mystery of the Wind Fish
The origin story of Link’s Awakening is almost as important as anything else about it. For one thing, Nintendo never set out to create this specific game in the beginning — in fact, Link’s Awakening actually began life as a Game Boy port of the SNES title, A Link to the Past. As its development progressed, it evolved into something else entirely — still Zelda at heart, but also fundamentally different. It was as if an entirely new branch of the Zelda evolutionary tree had sprouted. For one thing, this was one of the few games in the series that didn’t take place in Hyrule and didn’t feature Ganon as chief antagonist.
The setting was, for lack of a better word, weird. Link’s adventure takes place in a faraway land called Koholint Island. We are told that Link has left Hyrule to explore distant countries, but it doesn’t take long before Link — and the player themselves — begin to question whether or not Koholint Island is actually a real, physical place. Perhaps it’s all an illusion: a dream, or even worse, a hallucination. Is Link conjuring this exotic world from the safety of his bed all the way back in Kakariko Village? Or is he actually stranded somewhere in the wilds, passed out under an oppressive sun, his mind crafting a vivid and surreal landscape around him as his life slips away? Who knows. The answer, it would seem, can be found if only he’d find the fabled Wind Fish — an apparently mighty being dwelling within an enormous egg atop Mt. Tamaranch.
Memories from other worlds
The enigmatic plot — crafted by none other than Yoshiaki Koizumi — not only supplied endless motivation to explore this strange, new world, but it also provided for all sorts of other odd shenanigans. For example, Link’s ability to jump was not only novel for an overhead-view Zelda title, but it also meant that Nintendo were able to introduce brief side-scrolling platformer levels (somewhat like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, although the resemblance is fairly superficial). The inclusion of Goombas from the Super Mario Bros. series only contribute to the overall strangeness and unease — but they’re also a genuinely clever addition, because they reference the broader question about the true nature of the world. There are several other non-Zelda references in the game to look out for, too.
As you progress through Link’s Awakening, you’ll start to wonder just how deep the rabbit hole goes. Various characters will begin to break the fourth-wall by directly referencing game mechanics (they will express even express confusion about these references as they are making them). You’ll even have the ability to steal from item shops (though there are consequences for doing so). Nintendo experimented with the Zelda formula in a number of other ways, too — for example, there are numerous activities across the game that don’t relate directly to advancing the main plot (including side-quest-style activities, fishing, learning songs for your ocarina, and even collecting images that you could physically bring into the real world by connecting to a Game Boy Printer).
My own experience with Link’s Awakening is a little unusual, too. I never played the original black-and-white Game Boy release. I actually picked up Link’s Awakening DX on the Game Boy Color when it was released in Australia in 1999. So, by the time I played it, I was already quite late to the party (the original Game Boy release was back in 1993). In some respects, I don’t think I fully appreciated the experience at the time, perhaps because Ocarina of Time was still fresh in my mind (and, in 1999, it was still very much a state-of-the-art video game in most respects). So, I’m very eager to re-visit it. I’m also looking forward to seeing what changes Nintendo have made to the game beyond the obvious visual upgrade. It seems likely that we’ll see reinterpretations of classic sequences and, perhaps, some entirely new and unexpected content as well.
There were plenty of great announcements in today’s Nintendo Direct, but seeing this gorgeous new version of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening has me very excited indeed. This is an utterly remarkable Zelda game in its own right, and seeing it so lovingly re-created for the modern era is truly wonderful. And as great as it will be to re-acquaint myself with this classic, I’m keen to see how gamers who never experienced the original will react to this legendary title when it debuts on the Switch in 2019.