In 2019, Nintendo released its classic Game Boy game The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for Switch, and gave it the full remake treatment, with gorgeous, toylike 3D visuals replacing the minimal sprites of the 1993 original. But, as demonstrated by a new fan-made remaster, there’s another way to bring old games like this to modern hardware — one that retains the original look but is, in its way, just as impressive.
Link’s Awakening DX HD updates the game with widescreen and high frame-rate support, and a contiguous, smooth-scrolling landscape in place of the original game’s screen-by-screen presentation. Its game engine actually runs every screen of the original game simultaneously; as spotted by Digital Foundry’s John Linneman, you can use a slider in the options to zoom the view out to 1:1 pixel scale (or even one half or one third scale) and take in the whole of Koholint Island at once — all of it teeming with tiny, pixelated life scurrying to and fro. The game remains entirely playable in this view (if your monitor is big enough and your eyesight is up to it). Incredible.
This is truly amazing. Playing Link's Awakening at 1:1 pixel scale with 120 fps scrolling - you can zoom the map alllll the way out and the entire world is active.https://t.co/H1ZLpd3sqy pic.twitter.com/wVjqhzAVu6— John Linneman @dark1x.bsky.social (@dark1x) December 13, 2023
There are other improvements too, such as an autosave function, and a few small graphical enhancements. Once I finished marvelling at the zoomed-out island, I returned Link’s Awakening DX HD to its default game scale (around 5x magnification) and was struck by how smooth, lively, and crisp to control the game felt at 120 frames per second, the whole widescreen frame bustling with activity. It’s quite a different, more open experience than the original, despite being meticulously faithful to its gameplay and content.
Link’s Awakening DX HD is available for Windows PCs as a free, 24 MB download from itch.io — for now. Nintendo usually takes a dim view of fan-made projects and has them taken down on copyright grounds; given this is a free remake of a game Nintendo currently charges for access to via Switch Online (not counting the full-price remake), I don’t expect Link’s Awakening DX HD to be available for long. Its creator seems to have chosen to remain anonymous, perhaps for this reason.
Still, it’s a fascinating proof of concept for a different way to enhance retro games for the modern age, and well worth Zelda fans (and maybe Nintendo itself) checking out. Because at the end of the day, Link’s Awakening is a masterpiece.