The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for Nintendo 3DS
Pros: Charming graphics and music, fantastic new mechanics, great dungeon designs
Cons: Too Short
When it comes to the Zelda series I generally go back and forth between Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past as the best installments. When I was younger this was one of my favorite video game franchises, but I’ve soured on it a little because many of the modern installments have not lived up to Zelda’s former glory. I was quite surprised when Nintendo announced that they were developing a sequel to A Link to the Past for the 3DS handheld system. I went in expecting to be disappointed based off past experiences, but I found it to be the best Zelda game released in a very long time. It also turned out to be one of my picks for game of the year in 2013.
A Link Between Worlds takes place in the same world as A Link to the Past, but begins its story several generations later. This incarnation of everyone’s favorite elven Nintendo mascot Link works as a blacksmith apprentice. The game begins as you’re tasked with the delivery of a sword to Hyrule Castle. A new antagonist named Yuga suddenly appears out of no where and transforms one of the legendary sages into a painting. He seals the castle behind a dark barrier, and it’s up to Link to once again track down the magical pendants that can release the master sword so that our all too likely protagonist can rescue Zelda and defeat Yuga. This quest eventually takes Link as far as Lorule; a mirrored version of Hyrule. Surprisingly it’s different from the dark world in A Link to the Past but it’s very similar.
Despite the re-done graphics (which are now polygonal) this game plays very similarly to its predecessor. From an overhead view you guide Link across the vast expanses of Hyrule and Lorule and into the depths of the ten dungeons set within both worlds. Enemies inhabit nearly all areas of the game and you battle them in real-time using your sword (which is your primary weapon) and various other tools which include most of the classic Zelda staples. While its inhabitants have changed the world of Hyrule remains largely the same as it was in A Link to the Past. All of your favorite landmarks and scenery remains intact, and half the wonder is in simply returning to them. This game invokes some serious nostalgia for fans of the original game.
Gameplay remains largely the same but A Link Between Worlds adds several new mechanics while re-tooling others in some very interesting ways. Zelda games typically depend upon one shiny new mechanic per entry, and this case is no different. Early in the story Link acquires the ability to transform into a painting on the wall, and in this form he can still walk left and right. You can pop out at any point that you choose, and the game relies on this mechanic throughout its duration. It’s your basic ‘when in doubt’ skill to use, and some of the puzzles make use of it in some inventive ways. Normally I don’t particularly like mechanics like this, but you will be forced to use it in some genuinely creative ways in some sequences. It’s far more significant than your typical gimmick, and was one of my favorite aspects of the game.
The entire tool system has been reworked and is unlike that in any other Zelda title. Early on you get immediate access to the most of the special items in the game. This is handled via a rental system wherein you pay rupees (in-game currency often dropped by enemies) and the item is added to your arsenal. When Link loses all of his hearts (think of this as your life bar) you lose all items you’re renting. You eventually are given the option to purchase the tools and will never have to worry about losing them again, but this comes at a premium price and it will take you a while to save up enough rupees. This aspect not only makes rupees more important than ever before, but also, adds significant consequence. Upon losing a rented tool you can return and pay the fee to get it once more, but you have to pay for it again. I went in expecting to dislike this system, but in my opinion it’s the biggest and best evolution in this series for quite some time. It gives significantly more penalty for death, and it made me play much more cautiously than ever before.
Despite the familiar locales/puzzles calling this title ‘recycled’ is a vast oversimplification. The new mechanics add significant changes to the basic formula which result in unparalleled complexity by Zelda standards. The only real problem I have with this title is that it’s pretty short. I finished the main quest in less than ten hours which, in the age of mobile gaming is bad considering the title’s premium price. Upon completing the game a new ‘hero mode’ is unlocked which makes the game more difficult by increasing the enemies’ health. It wasn’t enough to make me play through again. Fortunately the main game is entertaining enough to warrant the premium price, but in the end I was left hungry for more.
Despite the polygonal makeover this game isn’t particularly impressive by 3DS standards. This is more of a throwback title so I can’t fault it too much, but a total 3D perspective would have breathed new life into this version of Hyrule. A Link Between Worlds is still a very good looking game; the art style, scenery and even characters are instantly recognizable, and I appreciated how faithful the style has been retained. In an age where most games lean toward the gritty side a splash of color is appreciated, and thankfully A Link Between Worlds does not disappoint. The framerate holds steady even when you face multiple enemies or large boss characters, and this is pretty impressive during the more intense sequences. This is a very pleasant looking game.
As expected the soundtrack here isn’t entirely new. It consists entirely of re-arranged versions of music from A Link to the Past. I’ve always enjoyed that soundtrack, and I have no problems here although it would have been interesting had Nintendo made entirely new compositions for this release. The re-arranged music is instantly recognizable, but thanks to the advanced hardware sounds really good. Still, I prefer the original compositions but that’s mostly for nostalgia sake. Controls fare better than in most other Zelda titles thanks to the touch screen on the 3DS. You can get by for the most part without it, but it makes fast travel (and the fact that you don’t have to equip a separate item to use it) a god send. Everything else is perfectly functional, and I’ve no complaints. The circle pad works great here.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds had some big shoes to fill, and rather than following in line with most direct sequels, it took some rather dramatic steps forward for the entire series. This is by no means a rehash. Instead it’s the rare sequel that builds upon the original while moving the series forward in bold new ways. Simply put, it’s one of the best games of 2013.