Zelda: Link’s Awakening on Game Boy vs Switch – What Are the Differences?

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening on Game Boy vs Switch

Zelda: Link’s Awakening on Game Boy vs Switch – What Are the Differences?

One of the most welcome surprises of the Nintendo Switch’s 2019 release calendar was the ground-up remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. The original Link’s Awakening for Game Boy is one of the fan-favorite entries in the series, brilliantly taking the formula of A Link to the Past on SNES and shrinking it down for its own unique adventure on-the-go. The game was so successful that it even got a remaster in the release of Link’s Awakening DX for the Game Boy Color and would also help spawn two other much-loved games in the series: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons.

The Switch remake of Link’s Awakening mostly retains all of the updates that the Game Boy Color re-release makes over the original, including the addition of the Color Dungeon, but it does so with a complete visual overhaul and the benefit of having plenty more face buttons available than the Game Boy or Game Boy Color’s 2 buttons and d-pad. Additionally, the Switch remake features more collectibles for Link to find (specifically, Seashells and Heart Pieces) and removes some of the additional benefit that certain items have in the original release. And while some of the content of the Game Boy original is cut in the Switch remake, it adds in so much more in the place of the lost features.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening on Game Boy vs Switch

Aside from releasing more than 25 years apart and one being a complete ground-up remake of the other, the different versions of Link’s Awakening actually share quite a bit in common. While the original Game Boy release and the Game Boy Color version Link’s Awakening DX are identical except for DX‘s addition of the Color Dungeon and a few other slight changes. The 2019 Switch release of Link’s Awakening is the same classic game that fans remember, only now with a new coat of paint and the removal of one side quest in favor of several new side activities and distractions from the main quest.

CharacteristicLink’s AwakeningLink’s Awakening DXLink’s Awakening (2019)
Release DateAugust 6, 1993December 15, 1998September 20, 2019
Release PlatformGame BoyGame Boy ColorNintendo Switch
Graphic Style2D, Black & White2D, Color2D-3D
Number of Dungeons91010
Number of Seashells262650
Number of Heart Pieces121232
Photo Side Quest
Dampe’s Dungeon Building
Total Sales3.83 million units2.22 million units6.46 million units
Review Aggregate ScoreN/AN/A87

Here are 5 must-know facts about Link’s Awakening on the Game Boy vs on the Switch:

  • The most obvious upgrade in the 2019 remake of Link’s Awakening is its complete visual overhaul, utilizing a similar overhead 2D perspective as the original but with 3D character models and environmental assets. This gives the game the appearance of a toybox come to life.
  • The Switch remake also adds in a plethora of quality of life features not present in the original or Game Boy Color re-release. Link can now attack diagonally, several key items have permanent face button assignments (meaning players no longer have to switch back and forth in menus) and there are now bottles for carrying faeries and potions.
  • Aside from removing the photography side quest from the Game Boy versions of the game, the Switch remake only adds new features and does not take away anything from the classic experience. The core content of the game is identical to Link’s Awakening DX.
  • Players with the Nintendo Switch Online service have access to the Game Boy classic game collection at the regular subscription tier, meaning that it’s posisble to play both the original and the remake on one console.
  • The Switch remake of Link’s Awakening is far and away the best-selling version of the game, highlighting how much of a fan-favorite title it is as well as how open fans are to remakes of classic Zelda games.

Both the original and the Game Boy Color re-release of Link’s Awakening use the same visuals and character models, with the only difference being that one uses the Game Boy Color’s limited ability to process color visuals over the original’s black and white. Conversely, the 2019 Switch remake of Link’s Awakening uses the 2D-3D visual style popular among several newer retro-throwback series (such as Octopath Traveler or Bravely Default) to retain the original’s perspective but use 3D character models, environmental assets, and dynamic lighting and shadow. Not only does the 2019 release of Link’s Awakening stand as the best-looking of the bunch, but it also provides a compelling visual template to use in other classic Zelda remakes.

The closest comparison between the original Link’s Awakening and its Switch remake is the Game Boy Color’s Link’s Awakening DX, since both contain the new Color Dungeon. However, simply saying that the remake is identical to the original would be doing it a disservice as it adds in several new features to make it what many consider the definitive version of one of the series’ best games. In addition to its visual overhaul, players now have access to more face buttons over the original, with several important items (the Power Bracelet, Shield, Sword, etc.) having their own dedicated button, removing the need to micromanage the inventory as was necessary in the original.

Further, several dungeons that require backtracking after beating the boss now have quick exits for Link to utilize, there are 4 Bottles to collect that Link can store potions and faeries in, and there are 32 Pieces of Heart to collect over the original’s 12. Perhaps the most surprising addition is the Dampe side quest, which introduces a brand-new dungeon-building function that allows players to build and then explore their own custom dungeons. In effect, it’s as close as players have to a Legend of Zelda Maker game akin to the Mario Maker series.

Aside from the additions and the visual overhaul, though, the 2019 remake of Link’s Awakening is remarkable for how it so sufficiently captures the spirit and fun of the original. Link’s Awakening is a classic 2D game in the Zelda series and one that many fans list high up on their all-time favorites. The remake goes to great lengths to preserve the same essential qualities of the original while adding in features made possible by it releasing on more powerful technology. The result is that the remake of Link’s Awakening on Switch is quite possibly the best version of the game available.

One of the benefits of having a subscription to the Nintendo Switch Online service is being able to access several different classic game collections on the Switch via the service. With even just a standard subscription tier, players have NES, SNES, and Game Boy/Game Boy Color game collections available to them. This means that, should a player have a copy of Link’s Awakening for Switch, they can also play the original version via Switch Online and test the differences for themselves. The Switch has one of the best and most complete libraries of Legend of Zelda games via retail releases and Switch Online, and thankfully Link’s Awakening is included.

Bottom Line

The Switch remake of Link’s Awakening is a reminder of a bygone era of The Legend of Zelda series. Both Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom chart a bold new path forward for the series, but Link’s Awakening is a reminder of the core fundamentals of the brilliant action-adventure gameplay that made lifelong fans of the series all those years ago. Nintendo’s decision to remake this classic Zelda adventure provides proof positive that more remakes aren’t just a good idea, they’re practically necessary to remind people of the distinct eras of the series. And, being able to play both the original and the remake (something that I’d recommend doing back-to-back just to get a sense of how great the original is and how well the remake is done) is the icing on the cake for Switch owners.

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