Just when I thought it wasn’t possible to be any more charmed by a Zelda game following the incredible rhythm adventure of Cadence of Hyrule, along came the utterly delightful and adorable remake of the 1993 Game Boy classic Link’s Awakening. Despite having never played the original and lacking any semblance of nostalgia, I was immediately in love with this iteration of Hyrule’s greatest hero. With each swing of my sword and lovable hop, I was somehow still transported to feeling like the 8 year old I was when the original was released.
Both the look and feel of the game are key for providing this sort of de-aging stimuli in the brain. One of the greatest strengths of Link’s Awakening is the claymation aesthetic throughout. You feel like a kid because you’re essentially playing a stop-motion cartoon come to life, giving off that “how’d they do that” feeling I probably hadn’t felt since the jump from the 16-bit to the 32-bit era. This is greatly aided by the relatively low challenge level of the game, which provides a wonderful sense of accomplishment every time you solve one of the less not quite so complicated puzzles or best another dungeon boss. Wrap all this up in a sweeping orchestral score and you will be puffing out your chest just like Link as you uncover the wonders of Koholint Island.
Even my attention span felt like it was back to childhood levels. I found myself repeatedly doing random things instead of focusing on the main storyline. Every field of grass or pile of rocks was another opportunity to play around and extend my adventure. I even noticed that I would just randomly swing my sword or jump unnecessarily because it felt so good and freeing to do so. If not for having won each of the different claw machine objects thanks to my preternaturally amazing crane game instincts, I’d likely still be stuck in that shack, paying rupee after rupee to the claw machine gods. It was probably the least serious I’ve taken a game in quite some time, and my experience was far better for it.
Perhaps most importantly, the game also massively benefits from feeling like it was lovingly designed by a child. Thanks to some dreamlike weirdness and a welcome but odd incorporation of characters from numerous other Nintendo titles ranging from Super Mario to Kirby, the game comes across like what’d you’d get by asking an early 90’s kid for an idea for a game and then watching him mash together all his favorites for one wild ride that’d make you question whether your lunch was laced with psychedelics. Just try not to smile when you’re bouncing off a goomba’s head during one of the many endearing side-scrolling sections.
Aside from making me feel like a kid, Link’s Awakening also made me extremely excited for the day that I get to share my love of video games with my kids. Every aspect of the game just seemed perfect for inspiring that sense of wonder and awe in games for the next generation that mine had. Its blend of simple yet fun puzzles and a modestly sized open world are a fitting way to show kids just what games are capable of without overwhelming them. And, in those moments where my future offspring finally experience the wonder of Link’s Awakening, I’ll be both proud and envious of those lucky little suckers.