Upfront, I want to just state something to add a little bit of background to where I am at as a person who “casually” enjoys video games: The Binding of Issac has ruined gaming for me forever.
I can’t stop playing it. It has become a genuine problem.
I bought the game a few years ago when I finally managed to get my hands on a cheap Wii-U. I’d seen a few “Let’s Plays” and enjoyed what I’d seen, and wanted to get my hands on it. I was intrigued by the dungeon crawling, the whole “roguelike” thing and the amazing way the power-ups are random and can be stacked to create all kinds of exciting combinations. It was love at first sight.
Except now I am obsessed. When BoI finally came out for the 3DS, I bought it again. When it arrived on the Switch, I once again splashed out on yet another version of the game that, by now, had taken up 1000s of hours of my attention.
I’m no expert at the game, but I love the crap out of it. Here is the problem though; I’ve not given my attention to any other game in my collection. Those games sit there and gather dust, yearning for my time, but I ignore their pleas. Sod ‘em. I can pick up BoI and dive in for about an hour, have a proper good time, and then plop it down again. It was addictive. It was a quick hit of something that brought me a lot of satisfaction, and no other game could compete.
All my DS and 3DS games don’t get my love any more. There are scores of Switch games I’ve bought, spent good money on, and yet can’t face picking up to play. To be fair, I don’t know why I bought “L.A Noire” knowing full well I didn’t want to engage in its plot and game mechanics. It felt a game I had to get for the Switch just so I could feel I had a few “mature” titles in my collection.
Also, please spare a thought for “Doom”, which currently sits on a shelf begging for engagement. It’s a pretty brilliant FPS that I can’t believe they crammed on the Switch, and I’ve had fun with it… BUT. IT’S. NOT. BINDING. OF. ISAAC.
Here is the thing: I don’t think I would love BoI as much as I do were it not for one game from my childhood that changed my view of gaming forever… “Link’s Awakening”.
There are countless essays and YouTube videos on this Game Boy title, but if you know nothing else about the game, just know it’s a classic game as important as (insert some important game here) and of course (Some other game, I dunno. Put your own in).
The Binding of Isaac is what happens if you took a traditional top down “Legend of Zelda” game and boiled it down to a thick, sweet, powerful reduction of the original dungeon crawling concept. It’s a shot of vodka to Zelda’s pint of frothy ale.
“Link’s Awakening” was a game I coveted as much as I had coveted a Game Boy back in the very early 1990s.
I remember getting to play on my friend’s Game Boy, and give “Link’s Awakening” a proper seeing to. I didn’t have a home console growing up, and desperately wanted a Game Boy, but my idea of gaming was limited; it was puzzle games, fighting games or platformers. Three genres I am awful at and uninterested in.
“Link’s Awakening” was my first introduction into action RPGs (sod turn-based RPGs; they suck and I hate them and YOU for liking them), and I was gobsmacked by the adventure, the humour, the story and (surprisingly) the emotion of the game.
I didn’t know how it stood next to the other games in the series, but for me it was a beautiful, engaging and immensely fun title. To cut a long story short, I’ve played “Link’s Awakening” many, many times over the years. I even picked it up on the Wii-U for a fiver a few years ago, and dove back in.
“LA” (I’m getting tired of typing out the whole title) is like picking up your favourite book and giving it a re-read. Sure, you know the plot now, the twists aren’t surprising, and maybe you’ve grown out of it, but it’s just as comforting to play as it ever was. It’s a joyous game that does SO much with what little it had to play with back in the 1990s… Which brings us, finally, back to the all new, star spangled, fancy pants 2019 remake. It took long enough!
I hungrily raced out on the day the game was released (I’m not buying digital - sod off, mate!) and couldn’t wait to return to Koholint Island once again.
I will say this though. £50 quid?? Look, I know how much it costs to make games and such, I get all that, but this felt quite a steep price to me. The game is brilliant. It’s beautiful. We know all this.
But it’s a relatively short experience and the “Make Your Own Dungeon” thing is not going to engage anyone for long enough to make it a feature worth the asking price. It’s in a different postcode to “Mario Maker” by a few counties.
Also, you can grab “Breath of the Wild”, “Mario Odyssey” or “Mario Kart 8 Delux Super Awesome Edition” for about the same price. It’s a tough one, but if you want to “skip to the end” then I would recommend buying “LA” when it drops in price or goes for a song in a sale.
Then this game will be a hard 100% recommendation.
It feel pretty reductive to review a game that has been reviewed and analysed for close to 2 decades, especially when this version of the game is basically nothing but a very adorable paint job.
“Link’s Awakening” really shouldn’t be as awesome as it is, but it managed to cram the experience of “Link to the Past” into a handheld experience that, in my opinion, bettered the SNES classic.
It’s not that I think “LA” is the better game, but I think it oozes humour and charm in ways that “LttP” (and a lot of the following titles) didn’t. It’s odd, it’s unsettling, it’s bittersweet and at times genuinely funny. If “LttP” is, say, “Ocarina of Time”, then “LA” is “Majora’s Mask”.
Thankfully all of it’s unique charm has been captured perfectly by this remaster. The original title was never short of brilliant visuals, but the remaster beautifully achieves the vision that was probably in the back of the mind of the creators all those years ago. The art style in this version is close to that of “A Link Between Worlds”, that found the perfect middle ground between its home console iterations and the cartoony slant “Wind Waker/Spirit Tracks/Phantom Hourglass”.
“LA” is definitely more candy-coloured, and the art pops off the screen like an exploding sweet shop. It’s a feast for the eyes… bar one thing… one thing I both adore and really hate. It’s that “tilt shift” thing that makes the image you are looking at look like a tiny toy town.
It’s what your mate does with his Instagram pictures to make it look like his day out to Hull was exciting because he made a church look like it's in a tiny mini toy village. It’s that thing that “3D Dot Game Heroes” did as well. The thing is, it looks great, and it's a great way to make your game look precious, but after a few hours gameplay, it can really mess with your eyes.
Personally speaking, sometimes the blur effect became an eye ache, especially in the heat of battle, because you feel like your vision of play is compromised.
If you know “LA” well, there will be very few surprises here. The odd line of dialogue may be changed, and you may enjoy looking for the added sea shells, but any old hand at this game will breeze through it quickly. New players will hopefully find the experience surprisingly novel, even compared to its modern contemporaries.
It makes you feel smart, leaves you smiling, it all works like a meticulously-made Swiss watch. For better for worse, there are few surprises to be had, and it remains pure to it’s source material (yes, even the DX version which allows you to visit the special Colour Dungeon which was added to the Game Boy Color re-release!).
So yes. I love this game. I adore it. But I will end on a little annoyance that, for whatever reason, gets to me.
I don’t want this to sound like a negative review, because it’s not. It’s a well made, gorgeous to look at, clever, adorable Zelda game that you should get your hands on as soon as you realistically can (remember the sales).
The drawback to me is the simple difference between playing “Link’s Awakening” with an analogue stick and playing it with a D pad. Playing the original game with the D pad, you can feel how tightly it all performs. You can stop on a dime, control those jumps, dart around villains and swipe with your sword with just the rock of your thumb on the D pad... but with the analogue stick everything feels a little… slow?
It’s hard to describe, but it’s just not as satisfactory an experience. There is a little too much travel on the movement of the stick that makes those micro movement decisions a little harder to pull off. Jumping feels a little awkward, and moving around obstacles and monsters doesn’t feel as nifty.
Maybe it’s my familiarity with the original game, but playing the game with the stick doesn’t have that tight sense of control. With all that said, having a lot of buttons begging to be used on the Switch does make for a smoother, sleeker experience.
“LA” did have a problem with its ambition at times, and that often came down to the weapons and storage systems. To solve puzzles or beat baddies, you often had to pause the game to swap out a bomb for a hook-shot, or dump the running boots to get out your shield. It wasn’t the worst thing ever, but you definitely noticed the bumps in the road.
On the Switch, everything works brilliantly and simply. Shield and Running shoes get shoved on to the shoulder buttons, action and attack on the A and B, and you can swap out the rest on the X and Y. To be fair, that is more than enough to keep you swimming through the action, and makes for a very satisfying experience. If anything, it may mean you speed to the game too conveniently, but that’s hardly a complaint.
“Link’s Awakening” is an important game to me. It changed how I saw gaming, it made me fall in love with the world of Hyrule and Link, and I still believe it stands up well to a lot of modern titles. If you have never played this game and always wanted to give it a bash, then this is the very best place to start. For us Awakeningheads, it’s like going home, but in a good way.
Not like when I go back home and think “Ah balls, they turned that church into a Weatherspoons”.
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