Courtesy of a cross-Pacific flight, I finally got around to starting Link’s Awakening. It’s still pretty novel, to be able to play on a console like the Switch on a plane when not fading in and out of consciousness while seeking a semblance of sleep or finishing N. K. Jemisin’s The City We Became (which is absolutely fantastic, by the way). We’ve come a long way from the days I’d bring my GameBoy Color on a plane and hope that those double-A batteries didn’t die before I could play a lot of, well, Zelda.
Guess things don’t change that much.
The Switch remake of Link’s Awakening is pretty much as faithful a recreation as I’d heard. The opening cutscene is the old slideshow animated; the dungeons are exactly the same, and that owl does still like to prattle on. The world map is now entirely seamless, no longer does Koholint Island unfold before you one screen at a time. Now it’s all there, with parts of the island visible but just out of reach and begging to be explored.
Contemporarily, when a The Legend of Zelda game that’s all about exploring is mentioned, the one that comes to mind is understandably Breath of The Wild. It’s the one with the enormous open world, where there’s nothing stopping you from immediately marching up to Ganon’s front door or, conversely, spending dozens of hours exploring under every rock. Hyrule, in the game, is beautifully rendered and breathes, well, wildness.
That’s so intrinsic to Zelda’s DNA. Link’s Awakening is a comparatively tiny game (remember: GameBoy games had to take up a magnitude less memory than the song that’s playing in my headphones right now), but it was still able to conjure up this beautiful island that captured my imagination as a kid. I’m not amazed by the fidelity of Koholint Island on the Switch, because I suppose in my mind that’s what it’s always looked like. As we get going on a new console generation and see games like The Matrix Awakens push the graphical envelope even further, it bears remembering just how much could be done with so little.