Monday, March 9, 2020

Zelda: Link’s Awakening Switch Remake - My Review

Here is my rather late review of the Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake for the Switch.

I originally intended to buy the game last year, but financial constraints made it a bit difficult. I didn’t even have the Switch to play it on, which means that to play the game I had to invest in both the console and the cartridge

The opportunity to play the game finally presented itself, when my sons all decided they wanted to pool their Japanese New Year Money to buy a Switch. My son is a Pokemon enthusiast, and he had been wanting to get the latest Shield from the Shield and Sword series. Even after pooling all their resources, they still didn’t have enough. So I decided to take the plunge and tell them that I’d help pay for the Switch, but that I also had rights to it. It was a done deal, and not only did I help buy the Switch and Pokemon Shield game for them, for them, I also seized the opportunity to buy the Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake!!!

I was so happy!

There was only one reason I wanted to buy a Switch; to play this game.

Fast-forward two months later, I’ve managed to clear the game at least three times, each with a different goal in mind.

For my trial run on any game, I always play the game one time through. Always on my first try, I don’t really concentrate on collecting every single item or how many lives I lose; just a play-through to the end of the game to see what’s in the game, what it feels like, etc.

For my second , I always concentrate on finding everything there is to find, doing everything there is to do. This is where I take my time to make sure I find every item, visit every spot, talk to every character in the game.

Finally, the third time I play I game is always the end-all, be-all speed run. This is where I play the game collecting every last item, being careful not to lose lives etc. In particular, the Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening has a slightly different ending for players who take care not to lose lives. In this regard, the Switch remake did not disappoint!

So now, I think I’m ready to give my review of this game.

I want to cover the good before I touch on the bad. And don’t get me wrong, the “bad” is really just me nitpicking. The game was an improvement all-round.

The Good

Beautiful Anime Cutscenes
The remake is surprisingly delightful! First off, I like the opening scene which was done in anime style. The opening and ending scenes were done this way, and the programmers connected the anime with the actual game seamlessly.

Shiny New Graphics, Same Classic Feel
One of the first things I noticed was that, even though the game was rendered in better graphics, it still felt like I was playing it on the Game Boy. I was half-expecting it to be a carbon copy of the original Game Boy game, and in a lot of ways, the original game is preserved. If you played this game before, the Switch version almost feels as if you’re playing the exact same game, only rendered in better graphics. For the first few scenes it feels that way. But then, there are things here and there that let you know that this could almost be an entirely new game that stands on its own. There are lots of new sights and sounds that weren’t there before.

As with the Game Boy edition, the game is played with an overhead perspective, however in the new edition, graphics are rendered in a 2 1/2 D setting, so the feel of the game isn’t exactly the same. The angle changes only slightly at some parts of the game, but it’s for the most part fixed, unlike 3D games like Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy. I think this is a good thing as it helps preserve the feeling of the original game.

A big move away from the GameBoy game is the seamless transitions between screens. Originally, the entire world was divided into a 16x16 map grid, and one could only see one screen at a time. The screen transitions between each grid were rather abrupt. But on the Switch, the map was consolidated at different points in the game for seamless play.

Better Controls
One of the first things players will notice in the controls is that they aren’t exactly the same, and in a very good way. On the original Game Boy, the player had to juggle 8 items, including the shield and the sword, on just two buttons, which meant bringing up the item screen quite often during gameplay, often many times within a minute. On the Switch edition, the sword and shield are fixed, and this alone cuts bringing up the item screen by a lot. The player can still assign items to two buttons as in the older game, but s/he doesn’t have to do it as often.

Old Foes, New Challenges
A big difference between the Game Boy and Switch remake are that a lot of the enemies, including bosses, behave differently. Many offer new attacks and have different weak points than on the original game. I welcome this change because new challenges that have to be handled differently keeps the game fresh and new; playing the exact same Game Boy game only rendered in better graphics would be rather boring and dull in my opinion. I know this game; I have it memorized backwards and forwards. However I’m finding that I can’t just turn off my brain and breeze through it thoughtlessly. Though the game is old, this new edition is new and different, and I find I’m a 15yo again exploring uncharted territory.

Graphical Improvements
Being almost 3D and in color, the graphics are fresh, new and beautiful to look at. All of the houses, dungeons and characters so far are recognizable, but their new renditions feel entirely new. I like the graphical details that were added to spice the game up. The trees, grass and ground are all shiny, the water is transparent and the surface of the water is realistic and seems to behave as large bodies of water should, with splashes and ripples. In the original game, link had to dive and search around for sunken items and hidden passage ways in the water; on the Switch, the player can see sunken items and underground tunnels because the water is transparent. The desert feels smoldering and hot due to the orange light, mirage effect on the screen, and the mysterious forest feels mysterious due to its low-lighting and newly introduced haze.

Newer, Better Mini-Games and Side-Quests
I’ve already mentioned some of the new features, including new controls, seamless moving between areas and new enemy behavior, but one of my most favorite changes to the game are the modifications to all of the mini-games and side-quests. You no longer just play the trendy claw game; there are now moving platforms on which items are placed, and the items can be “dropped” by the claw if not picked up properly. You no longer just get the Yoshi Doll for Papahl’s wife; there are a number of Mario characters you can collect, adding replay value to the Trendy Game!

You no longer just fish at the fish pond; every time you see a new kind of fish in the game, they appear in the pond! There are more items you can get here as you come back and play throughout the game. Not to mention, the more you play, the more styles of lures you unlock! I tell you, I’ve spent entire play sessions just playing this mini-game! 

But that’s not all! The raft ride has two modes, one in which you can play to get rich by collecting as much as you can, and another in which you beat your best record; both modes offer very good prizes! And, as if that weren’t enough, you can use the Roc’s Feather and Hook Shot within the raft ride game to get to places!!! And that’s not even talking about the increased heart pieces and shells to find.

Newer, Better Sounds
The Switch edition of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was an improvement, visually as well audibly. The game developers went all out in sprucing up the original Game Boy soundtrack. Real instruments replace the original 4-bit music (not that the original sound track wasn’t good on its own), and some sections repeat with variation. While the dungeon themes were mostly preserved, in some cases new themes were introduced where the music would get repetitive in the original. In the 4th dungeon, Angler’s Tunnel, for example, the theme was nothing more than the cave theme sped-up, so the new Switch version includes an almost entirely new theme, with a nod to the original 4-bit music. And that’s one thing I really like about what the game developers did for the music; in places here and there, one can hear cameos of the original 4-bit Game Boy music.

One thing I really liked was how certain themes were altered slightly to fit the scene. For example, the item finding theme was different depending on the item; it sounds different when you open a chest, find a seashell, a piece of heart and other items. I’m not sure how many players noticed, but the overworld theme is rendered in ocarinas or recorders for the short time Marin is following you around. And though the mini-game theme is the same at every game, it sounds slightly different at each game.

Another thing I liked was how the game developers added new sound elements to enhance the game. It goes without saying that newer, better sounds will be used for common actions, such as swishing your sword, banging your shield on things, splashing in the water, etc. but new elements that weren’t in the original game were added as well. For example, when you’re in the Mysterious Forest, the players can hear a Japanese tsuzumi drum when the raccoon bangs on its stomach. Only those familiar with Japanese culture might understand this cultural reference.

Additional Items and Features
I like the new features that weren’t included in the game before. You now have bottles to put fairies in. The map screen features the option to put down pins on the map to remind you of things. You can now choose what warp you want to go to, and Mambo’s Song allows you to warp anywhere, not just Mambo’s Pond. There’s an interesting new feature; a character named “Dampe” allows you to create and play through your own dungeons. Additionally, there are challenges that award you with decent items if you complete them.

I’ve talked a great deal of all the positives, so now I’m going to get into what I consider negatives.

The Bad

Left Out of the Game
Here and there, some features, some major, others minor, were left out of the game. For example, the opening storm scene was amazing. I really liked the anime sequence with Link. The only thing is, the musical theme for this scene was completely eliminated. Such an amazing opening sequence, only for it not to have the original opening music accompany was rather disappointing.

The ability to wield the mushroom as a weapon was left out. When you find a mushroom to give to the witch, you can’t assign it to a button. In the original game, he giant Buzz Blob in the Color Dungeon, as well as the first incarnation of the final boss were vulnerable to it.

This isn’t too big of a deal, when the monkeys built the bridge, what usually happened was they would leave a stick behind for Link to pick up; on the Switch, one of the monkeys just gives it to you.

An “OK” New Feature
Dampe’s Shack is a fun feature that allows you create and play through your own dungeons. It has some challenges that have you create dungeons with certain parameters. While I actually really like this feature, I do have a few complaints. First off, there is only so much you can customize; you have to work with rooms that have been pre-made. You can’t alter any of the enemies that appear, what chests are in the room and what items can be found. All the exits and what triggers the doors has been determined in each room. So pretty much it’s just putting rooms next to each other.

One of the things that is frustrating about this feature are the staircases. In order to place a room with a staircase, there has to be a corresponding room with another staircase; the game will generate a connection between rooms, and you can’t choose which one it is. To complicate matters, there’s no real way choose what staircases connect. If you have more than one pair of rooms with staircases, the paths that were hoping for may or may not happen. Or, if two rooms connected, and you liked the connection, this connection may be altered by placing an additional pair of rooms in. There’s no real way to change what staircases connect to which ones, you just have to place and hope for the best. Or if there is, I haven’t figured it out yet.

 It would be nice to be able to assign the staircase connections manually...

Sounds Lackluster at Places
Don’t get me wrong, I’m in love with this game’s soundtrack. I love the new, realistic renditions of the old music. However, I feel that some of the music could have been handled differently. At places where I expected emphasis, it feels kind of dull. For example, when opening some of the dungeons, including the very first dungeon, the iconic Zelda secret chime just doesn’t have the heavy ring it should when you finally, after long-last manage to unlock a door you’ve been trying to get open.

During my first run, when I finally opened the Tail Cave, I was expecting to hear a grandiose arrangement of the chime in something like tubular bells, but I was disappointed to hear it rendered in a dull, goofy, cartoony sound patch. And it’s used again at other major points, such as when you open the entrance Key Cavern. Like, where there should be climax, there’s just lull.

I think that certain sounds and pieces could have been done better. For example, Kanalet Castle's theme was rather unimpressive to me. In the original game, the piece was in a low register, giving it a rather creepy quality. On the Switch, the piece is written higher, and, again, sounds rather dull.

Some Sequences Were Changed
Perhaps it's because the programmers weren't that into the game, so they weren't paying attention to detail, but some of the ways in which things happen in the game were changed.

On the original game, after defeating a dungeon boss, the music stops, and the victory music doesn't play until you collect the resulting heart container, after which the player can hear anticipation music before collecting the instrument of the sirens.

On the Switch remake, the victory music plays right after defeating the boss, immediately followed by the anticipation music. Collecting the resulting heart container merely yields the "item found" music.

This new sequence isn't "bad," but I feel the original sequence caused a bit of eerie tension by cutting off the music after defeating the boss, and staying silent until the heart container was collected. This tension is lost in the original. Defeating a major boss is a key point in the game, and I feel that where there should be emphasis and climax here, the experience is a rather dull let-down.

Lego Graphics
This is the part where I criticize the graphics. Again, for an upgrade from a black-and-white 8-bit game, the game does not fail to impress, however, I do feel the graphics can be rather... toy-like... which... is OK I suppose... On the one hand, after a while, I’m totally absorbed into the game and I forget about it. However, at times the game does feel almost as if I’m looking at one of those toy dioramas made out of legos or otherwise. Sometimes the ground, trees and water are too shiny and it looks like I’m playing in a toy world. At times the ground looks like shiny plastic when it should be more “earthy.” I feel developers could have made the game seem more real and believable if the textures weren’t so shiny and reflective.

I Absolutely LOVE This Game!!!
After reading all the negatives, you might think I hate this game, but quite the opposite. As I said earlier, any negative thing I had to say about this game is really just nitpicking. On the whole, I really, really, REALLY love this remake. With it’s fresh new graphics, re-imagining of the characters, new approaches to old challenges, Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the Switch really does feel like an entirely new game. I’m very happy with my purchase. I hope a similar remake for Zelda: A Link to the Past is in the works.

Related Posts:

External Link: Boss Comparisons
This video comparing boss battles between the original Zelda: Link's Awakening and the Switch remake is very revealing. This is how I found out the mushroom can be used to hurt certain bosses. Did you know, you can use the Ballad of the Windfish to force the spiders in the Catfish's Maw to open their eyes? When they named it "The Song of Awakening" they weren't kidding!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

CORONAVIRUS: American Long-Term Residents Fare Better in Japan

There is a world-wide panic due to the spread of the coronavirus.

In Japan, where I currently live as an English teacher, Prime Minister Abe has recently ordered all public schools to close in attempts to prevent a mass contagion.

I work at a private school network, so following these orders is optional; I'm asked to continue coming into work. Parents are being told school is open but they're not obliged to bring their kids to school.

Some parents don't have a choice; they work and the kids can't stay at home.

Where I work, schools are taking precautions, asking children and visitors to first disinfect their hands with an alcohol-based solution.

All major events like assemblies and year-end recitals have been cancelled, which means the children go to their classes, consisting of about 30 students each, prepare for and take their final exams and go straight home.

The teachers have worked very hard for their classes for their year-end recital, so at least where I work, each class is going to perform their work in the auditorium separately, involving only their families. (Usually it's one huge recital where parents watch a recital for all classes in a grade.)

After their recitals, school is out until April, or until further notice; we still don't know how it's going to look next year.

There will be no graduation ceremonies at our schools.

Across Japan, 6th graders, middle and high schoolers in their last year won't have graduation ceremonies, which is kind of sad since this is supposed to be a huge "good-bye" before many children go on to different schools.

And, as if the government panicking weren't that bad, the natives are panicking as well.

Somebody started the rumor that toilet paper would run out "because all toilet paper comes from China", so Japanese citizens are in a frenzy trying to buy up all the toilet paper they can.

Wherever you go, hardware and supply stores, grocery stores, convenience stores, etc., all toilet paper racks are empty.

Even though it's really all for nought; there is actually plenty of toilet paper to go around.

The whole thing actually quite ridiculous.

 Store worker places sold-out notices for customers on toilet paper racks

So yeah, things are pretty sad in Japan right now.

But I was surprised to read on Facebook, that, according to one of my old professors with whom I keep in touch with, American universities are asking their foreign exchange students in Japan to come home "because of the coronavirus."

I understand people are panicking, but this is actually pretty stupid advice that hasn't been thought through.


Anyone in Japan staying long-term, be it students, workers or expats, are better off staying in Japan where they have access to universal health care.

Coronavirus cases have already been cited in the United States, however in the United States, coronavirus patients better be prepared to pay an arm and a leg.

One US resident apparently racked up a $3,200 bill for suspected coronavirus treatment. (Read article here.)

The virus test alone costs $1,261, if this report is correct.

A friend on Facebook has pointed out that for that much money, you can travel to Korea, stay a few days, GET TESTED and come back.

So yeah.

For any Americans reading this staying in Japan long-term, or any country where you have access to universal health care, do NOT go home.

You're better off staying in Japan where your bills are covered by the system.