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Essentially everyone agrees that the new Link’s Awakening remake on the Switch is a fantastic game, but that’s no surprise. The original Game Boy version is among the most beloved Zelda titles ever. However, many reviewers and players have commented on the game’s noticeable performance issues. After an exhaustive analysis with overclocked Switch hardware, the experts at Digital Foundry are still mostly stumped.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening launched in 1993 on the original Game Boy. Because of the bizarre and incomprehensible timeline in the Zelda universe, the events of this game happen after 1998’s Ocarina of Time. The entire game takes place on the small island of Koholint. There’s still plenty to do on the island, and the Switch struggles to keep up at times. You may walk into a new area or happen upon a few monsters, and the frame rate drops like a rock.
The Switch has a Tegra X1 ARM chip inside, which is modest compared with most game consoles. Digital Foundry experts tinkered with the Switch’s clock speed and found that some of the performance hitches were consistent and others were not. When it happens, the game usually recovers after a few seconds, even when the scene hasn’t changed. Even simple scenes where there isn’t much to render seem to hit the GPU unusually hard. Increasing the CPU clock doesn’t help, but increasing the GPU clock does.
The analysis doesn’t point to any particular issue that would explain the performance hiccups, but there are a few possibilities. The game itself is rather small at 5.5GB. It doesn’t seem to matter if you’re running it from internal or external storage, but it’s possible some parts of the game like light or shadow maps are calculated by the GPU as you play.
This is all very perplexing because Nintendo usually puts a great deal of effort into optimizing frame rates. For example, Super Mario Odyssey is locked to 60fps. Meanwhile, graphically intensive games like Wolfenstein II and Hellblade can stay at 30fps. Link’s Awakening, which is much simpler, sometimes falls from 60 to 30fps.
It’s possible updates to the game will address these baffling performance issues, but a more powerful Switch console would solve the problems, too. There have been rumors of a “Pro” edition of the console, but so far we’ve only seen the Switch Lite. In the meantime, Link’s Awakening is still a great experience overall.