The Nintendo Switch port of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening has been roundly praised by critics, including here at Polygon. But many reviews (including ours) mentioned its performance issues. After spending a day tackling the problem, even the folks at Digital Foundry are stumped as to what’s causing them.
Nearly every first-party Nintendo game prioritizes framerate, with games like Super Mario Odyssey and its peers locked at 60 frames per second (fps). As Polygon mentioned in its review, Link’s Awakening is a bit more pokey, dipping at times well below 30 fps. Digital Foundry actually hooked it up a frame counter, and found that frame-time — the amount of time it take the Switch to render a single image — crept as high as 33.3 ms.
And, to hear them tell it, they have no idea why.
It could be that the Switch’s graphics processing unit is performing additional functions normally reserved for the main processor, but exactly what those could be is unclear. One solution they did find was to use custom firmware to tinker with the Switch’s clock speeds. Using settings normally reserved for docked play, the team was able to achieve higher framerates, but only if they downgraded to the lower resolutions used for handheld play. Whether or not you want to put your Switch and its warranty at risk is up to you.
It does call to question why Nintendo’s normally high standards were lowered a tad, especially for such a major release. Unsubstantiated theories abound, including one which speculates that Link’s Awakening was designed specifically for the oft-rumored Nintendo Switch Pro hardware, but was shoved to an earlier release date to due to a Metroid Prime 4-sized hole in the release schedule.
Despite the performance issues, though, Link’s Awakening on Switch is a can’t-miss Zelda game. Hopefully a future patch will address some of these problems though.
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