The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Available exclusively on Nintendo 3DS)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: November 22nd, 2013
Parent Talk: Parents rest easy, since the very first Zelda on the NES, the series has featured nothing but fantasy violence. The same is true here. This is the perfect game for children of all ages, from three year olds, to the children reaching ever so close to 40. It’s a wonderful game that everyone can enjoy.
Plays Like: Technically if you’ve played one Zelda you’ve played them all. You go around the overworld looking for dungeons, complete said dungeons, and eventually collect a certain number of relics to take on the ultimate evil. In this case there’s a very cool new gameplay mechanic introduced, and all the weapons are available right from the get-go, but the core mechanics the series is known for are still very much present.
Review Basis: Downloaded the game on the 22nd of November, and completed it on the 23rd. That’s normal for a hardcore Zelda fan like me, so don’t read anything into it. According to the 3DS’ activity log, I played 11 times for a total of 18 hours and 33 minutes.
Finally a return to form! I can’t tell you how happy I am to write this, but A Link Between Worlds finally goes back to basics and doesn’t treat the gamer like an idiot. Do you remember the first time you played the Zelda series? Well I sure do and at no point was there a character screaming in my ear every three seconds saying “Hey! Listen”. No, I was left alone, in some strange mysterious place. It was up to me to figure out where to go, what to do, and how much the green, blue, and red rupees were worth. I wasn’t given an explanation that item X did this or that, after having just collected my 96th one. Even if the rest of the game was complete garbage, this one element would justify the score, and yes I’m very serious. You have no idea how fresh the game feels without being told exactly where to go, and what to do every couple of seconds. It’s a godsend and for the love of everything holy in this world, the series NEEDS to continue down this path. Exploration is more rewarding, stumbling onto a strange new dungeon, or finally figuring out what a certain item does is about a thousand times more exhilarating when you’re the one who figured it out, not some programmer. The series must continue down this path moving forward.
Another element that is a welcome change is that of allowing the player to decide where and what to tackle next. After the first three dungeons the game opens up and allows you to rent every weapon (die and they go back to the shop, or purchase them and they stay with you forever), which would normally be a reward from a particular dungeon. From there you’re tasked with rescuing seven sages and that’s it, the rest is up to you. Rent all the weapons, and do as you please. It feels like a spin on the classic Mega Man series, or more precisely, how you used to be able to sequence break on the old Zelda games. The freedom offered is brilliant, because when you decide to play it again, and believe me you will, you can weigh the choice of getting an armor upgrade, or doing the dungeon which has a piece of Master Ore inside, which is used to upgrade your Master Sword. It’s amazing how such a simple choice unlocks a wealth of freedom and replay value.
Link’s ability to become a painting version of himself and walk alongside walls, and other objects could very well be the single biggest thing to hit Zelda since the introduction of world swapping. Think of it like Link gets sucked into the 3D background, and can move in 2D. It might seem like nothing more than a gimmick at first glance, but it dramatically and fundamentally changes gameplay for the better. Not only do you have to think about solving puzzles as you normally would, meaning how do I get here or there, how do I light that torch, or move this object to that location, but now you have to take into consideration the environment itself. You might have to move across a huge gab that in other Zelda games would require a special weapon, but since you already have all the weapons right away, what aren’t you seeing? All you need to do is to merge into the wall, and walk to safety a short distance away. It really does change your perception of how puzzles should be tackled and believe me, you’ll be stumped more than once. It’s such a simple concept that I can’t believe Nintendo didn’t think of this before, and now I can’t imagine playing another Zelda without it, because of just how fresh and excited the dungeons became.
Lorule is brilliant and is a fantastic throwback to the Dark World from A Link to the Past, but different at the same time. That’s another area that really took me for a loop. You see this game plays with your nostalgia. While Hyrule looks exactly as it did in A Link to the Past, it’s not the same. Time has changed the land somewhat, and the developers did a really outstanding job of taking what you think you know, and turning it on its head. Lorule goes one step further because it’s an entirely new area, although it is still based on Hyrule, so there remains a few connections here and there.
New players may not get the same feeling of nostalgia, but it doesn’t matter in the long run. The game is spectacular in its own right. Dungeons are typically only a few floors, but that doesn’t make them any less entertaining. Remember this is a portable videogame after all so even if a dungeon appears relatively simple, the new gameplay mechanics more than make up for sheer size. That said, there were a few dungeons that took me a while to figure out and complete. The same can also be said for the overall difficulty. New players will likely find the challenge just right, whereas long-time vets will probably be able to finish the whole game without coming close to death. Nintendo goes one step further here too, thanks to Hero Mode. Once you finish the game you can tackle this new and improved mode which makes enemies four times stronger than they were in the original version. If long-time fans can blast through that mode I’d be very surprised. So it’s this constant give and take Nintendo does that makes A Link Between Worlds so fantastic. It’s the perfect entry Zelda, while also perfectly catering to the most hardcore fans.
Speaking of those lifelong fans, there’s never been a Zelda sequel like this before. From the moment the title screen begins prepare to have goosebumps that won’t let up for hours. The orchestrated soundtrack is incredible, as are the graphics. This really is A Link to the Past’s world, feeling, and overall ambiance evolved to the current generation. It’s a sequel I could never imagine before actually playing it. I had so many nostalgic memories while playing through the game, yet all the changes really help make this something special. They help make this its own game, free from the chains of A Link to the Past, yet if you’re going to be chained to a game, that’s the one you want to be chained to. The look and sound are taken directly from ALttP, but everything has been modernized and redone in polygons. Hyrule looks and feels just as you remember it, albeit way nicer. Lorule is something else though, it’s stunning. They took the concept of the Dark World, and did something completely different; it’s literally a world falling apart. Almost all of the boss designs are inspired by A Link to the Past, although reworked, and it’s yet another way the game feels so familiar and different at the same time. When Link merges into a wall or even while running, there are slight little graphical tweaks here and there that may be missed by most, but do so much to bring the character to life. While moving around in 3D, he’ll look if he hears something, and while in 2D painting mode, his eyes actually move, and so does his animation as he moves around. It’s brilliant.
That’s all without talking about the 3D effect. If you’re playing this in 2D you’re doing a huge disservice to yourself. A Link Between Worlds features the single best use of 3D I have ever seen, Avatar included. Seriously, the way Nintendo wrapped puzzles around the 3D use is nothing short of shocking. Multi-layered depth, text that pops from the screen, and so much more. Honestly, I was left breathless on more than one occasion.
The audio effects are mostly from previous Zelda games, with a few new ones scattered here and there, but the soundtrack is in a league all of its own. Believe me, you need to hear it for yourself. The track arrangement is perfect, and I honestly cannot wait for the soundtrack to become available as this is a day one purchase for me.
I could go on and on about how there’s StreetPass battles you can do with Shadow Link, how there’s a sort of horde mode in a tower in Lorule, the fantastic map system on the lower screen, the simple but super effective and touching storyline, or the fact that you’ll want to replay this over and over again to see what the greatest sequence is to take when completing dungeons. Instead I’ll leave you with this, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is one of the very best Zelda games ever made, it’s my new favorite sequel to any videogame ever, and the very best portable game I’ve ever played. If you enjoy videogames at all, you need to experience this modern day masterpiece.
Final Score: 10/10