Not many franchises survive over 25 years and deliver time and time again. Not every franchise however is The Legend of Zelda, a series that not only entertained, but inspired gamers for over two decades. One of the most treasured of Link’s adventures is none other than A Link to the Past, which debuted on the Super Nintendo over 20 years ago. Sure, it was top down and different what we have seen in the more recent entries of today, but the exploration was limitless and Nintendo’s legendary charm oozed through every pixel, cementing it forever as a classic.
In the age of remakes and reboots, Nintendo have done one better and produced a successor to the game, strapping Link in for a brand new adventure in a familiar world. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a game where quality and nostalgia shine, but is that enough for fans to cash in yet again? Let’s find out.
Those who expect to see a brand new Hyrule and stunning narrative are going to be slightly disappointed with A Link Between Worlds, as this game was marketed as a successor and serves as just that to a great degree. The Hyrule we knew in the SNES classic is a thing of generation’s past, with a new, young Link serving as antogonist to a journey full of charm and gentle dialogue.
Link begins his journey here by getting caught up in another evil plot by a sinister foe. This time, the bizarre, effeminate Yuga is causing the chaos, with a mission to turn seven sages (and anyone else of beauty) into pieces of his twisted art collection. While this plot sounds a bit basic, everything flows well and as the player progresses, our new protagonist’s motives become clear – delivering yet another satisfying dish to add to those already lengthy history books. Yuga is not the most deep Zelda boss we have seen to date, but the gimmickry works and despite the lack of layers he has as a character, I must say I grew rather fond of him towards the end.
As far as the rest of the cast go, there are more than two developed faces that we run into in this revamped locale. Ravio is the first of which, who is not shy about being a houseguest and comes loaded with humor as he serves items to our hero. Hilda, Zelda’s counterpart, is also a welcome addition, offering a more grounded change in terms of a guide. Sure, she isn’t the most intriguing guide we have seen in the franchise, but much like the rest of the cast, she serves her role well and has just enough mystery cloaked around her to entice the player to not skip those dialogue sequences. There are other characters that fit in place snugly, but to myself it was the little interactions that meant the most. Paying a couple a small amount of Rupees to hear a song, hearing an old woman snarl about chicken abuse, and several other encounters found within provide a ton of heart for an otherwise standard atmosphere in the Zelda universe, and entice the player to keep exploring as you never know what lies around the next corner.
It is that element that makes a Zelda game great, and A Link Between Worlds slightly sacrifices an interesting plot to Hyrule, allowing the player to discover the secrets of the path before them.
There are two different elements of core gameplay intertwining within this portable Zelda. The first is nearly the same engine we seen running within A Link to the Past, Minish Cap, or any other entry that featured the same perspective. You know, the top-down, up-down-left-right controls where the player simply walks from location to location, swiping enemies as they head off to the next dungeon. That familiar formula works well here, and comes off as polished as ever – with fluid “thought free” controls. The two screens do wonders to streamline the experience also, which we were teased a bit with the Ocarina remake back in 2011. Instead of floundering through menus to use an item, the player can access any blade or bow in their inventory with a quick swipe and drag. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to navigate Hyrule with so little stress and hesitation, as that lack of pausing allows you to focus all of your attention to what truly matters.
The other aspect is something brand new – the “merge” mechanic. Link can now walk right up to nearly any wall and merge with it, becoming a piece of living art. While movement is limited as “flat Link” to side to side motions, this opens up the already decently sized environment greatly and allows the player to hunt for secrets in an instant. There is rarely any battle mechanics incorporated with merging aside from evasion tactics, but that is not the intention Nintendo made with its inclusion. The purpose of going into that wall is to explore from another angle, and to solve puzzles utilizing a much more intuitive design mechanism. For example, if there is a crack in the wall but you can’t quite reach it, you first can find a comfy spot to merge that is at the same level, and then waddle on over – collecting any painted rupees along the way.
This makes for some brilliantly crafted puzzles that are sure to satisfy every single time you find the path you’re looking for. I am a bit odd with the whole Zelda franchise though. Instead of hunting dungeons to traverse through, I have always been the type that preferred to explore the world around me. Don’t get me wrong, the puzzles here are aplenty and they are all fantastic. I don’t want to sound like I am lessening my opinion of those for a minute. What I do want to say however is that this merge mechanic has changed everything in terms of exploration. The player can now go into so many different walls, even if it does not lead to anything in a very non-linear way this time around. Why? Because that freedom exists. Sure, there are rocks that can block you and you might have to pop out or find a smoother wall down the road, but a flat surface is around every corner – meaning you can play the game at your pace and discover all sorts of hidden secrets buried within.
The rupee is even more important as well, as the currency plays a large role in success as it has a greater purpose. No longer is the player collecting unnecessary funds, thanks to Ravio, the majestic dweller who is also a shopkeeper. For the first time, players have nearly every main weapon from the beginning due to a rental system in place. You need bombs to blow up a wall? How about an arrow to strike a distant target? A trek back to your house will give you all of those goods at a lower price than normal as you can now rent them. This isn’t as much of a free ride as it sounds, however. A death will drop your items instantly, and you will have to go all the way back to re-rent those coveted supplies. I would say it is an even trade off, and as you progress onward, these items can be bought and upgraded to perform much more satisfying results in combat.
Combat mechanics are much like the rest of the game and familiar enough, but there is a bit of a learning curve with specific items. Some weapons such as the ice wand have a timed delay but are useful due to their power on contact, while other weapons are all about speed with a trade-off of power. It is a balance we have seen for years now, and for nearly all Zelda fans out there, the variety and crispness to these tools will come as no surprise from a franchise that has paved the way in terms of delivery.
If I had to be picky at all and mention any negatives, it would be that the difficulty of this follow-up is a bit lighter. Now, it isn’t a cake walk, but I suffered very few deaths by just using common sense and alternating my inventory regularly. Merging, as I mentioned also can be a savior as well, allowing Link to scutter to safety around a large swarm. The boss battles act as a bit of a balance however, as each feature some decent puzzle mechanics to provide the challenge you may be looking for. Those who have spent 20 years speed-running older Zelda titles and trying to gain all of those hard to find heart containers will be happy to hear that this game is packed full of replay value, as the end of your story is just a beginning to a new journey that can be played at any approach due to the non-ordered dungeons and enjoyable little mini-games offered up by the friendly townsfolk.
This was big for me. When we first seen screenshots from A Link Between Worlds, I thought it looked like some 3D puzzle game from the SNES era. It is odd how not playing the game and seeing it actually in motion can deter an opinion, but to say that I was personally on the fence with the graphics is putting it lightly. My worries were over in seconds however, as the little round models look gorgeous and this may be the best looking Zelda to hit a portable period. All of the color comes of as crisp and the animations never miss a step, allowing the polish to shine through and the player to experience a living art piece at their fingertips. Merging may change the art style a bit, but it all fits in wonderfully with the narrative in place, and adds a bit more depth to the Hyrule we already know. I never play 3DS games in 3D by choice, but for this instance, it is wise to get the full impact and crank that slider to the max, as Nintendo’s subtle use for the gimmick does nothing but make this world feel larger and more spacious, with the character’s charms bursting off the screen.
As far as soundtrack goes, I really feel like this is a given. You know its good. We have a symphony that has been on tour for years thanks to demand, and tunes like the ones found within this entry are the reason why. Without its music, A Link Between Worlds would still break through as a gem, but the sweet melodies come together to punch the player with waves of warm feelings of nostalgia and comfort time and time again. This is the kind of music that you have to wear earphones to appreciate every beat, and the lack of looping or repetition through travel gives the player a smorgasbord of delight as they enter new locations on the map. The sound effects are equally as pleasing, with Link’s little groans and the sound of enemies bursting about down nearly every path you come across. Sure, it is a portable title, but no one seemed to inform the sound team as they delivered a product of console quality.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds may be the best portable entry in the franchise to date, and yes, I am including remakes with that. The world is vast and lively, and the new aesthetics do wonders to give a once explored world that has been picked dry a humble beginning. Some could say that a title like this is just for the old fans, the ones who spent hours with their giant console’s adapter heating their room as they bashed away at Octoroks into the AM. I would have to disagree however, as the new-found streamlining allows this to be a great starting point for a new generation – while still feeding the retro diehards all of the same content and gameplay they have devoured graciously for years. A Link Between Worlds comes off as a Link between generations, bringing everything full circle to create yet another unforgettable experience.
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