The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
The Zelda games are a series as praised for their innovation as they are cursed for their lack of it. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, is the first original 3DS Legend of Zelda game, and is an homage to previous games instead of a pure remake like Ocarina of Time was.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (now on the Wii U’s virtual console) is the main influence on the game, copying the open world and rough themes, but then there are nods throughout the game to other games in the legacy. If you’ve not played them before then they’re easily missed and nonessential. If you’re a lifelong fan like me, then they’re wonderful touches which help solidify this as one of the definitive Zelda experiences.
From the start of the game you can explore the top-down open world as much as your skills allow you. After the introductory scenes you are visited by exploitative squatter and furry, Ravio. The purple rabbit shopkeep provides the biggest difference from other Zelda games; rented items.
In a normal Zelda game you would go through a series of dungeons in order and half way through each dungeon you would find an item which would allow you to traverse all the traps and challenges which stopped you from completing it. In this Zelda game you can have all the items from the start; grappling hook, bomb, bow, fire rod, a ton of them. The thing is, if you die, they’re stolen back by Ravio’s filthy opportunist bird minion and you have to get enough money to buy them again. Late in the game you can buy the items wholesale, but early on death has a real cost in the game and you might freak out and run away from a dungeon just because you’re on one heart. You coward.
You still wander from dungeon to dungeon in the familiar style of three dungeons, a twist and seven more. Each dungeon is short enough to complete in a single sitting, perfect for a handheld. After the initial twist, Link can go two-dimensional and run around as a living painting. The new mechanics allow for some brain-bending moments when you realise that you can turn yourself flat and simply slide across a wall and drop down, or you can easily break out of bars. Not just that, but the remaining seven dungeons can all the completed in any order. As there’s no item to get in the dungeons, they are replaced with other useful pieces of gear. The dungeons have a great verticality to them, perfect for the 3D in one of about four examples of fantastic 3D use in the console’s history.
The touchscreen is helpful rather than intrusive and StreetPass even has a nice minigame where you fight shadow-Links that other players have armed. They wait for you around Hyrule, always waiting for you to challenge them. There are a couple of items which feel underused, but they’re simple combat bonuses, the classic Zelda gear and the 2D ability are the keys you’ll need to unlock all of the puzzles in your way. The free-roaming overworld becomes more accessible as you flip back and forth through dimensional tears and gain the ability to lift larger and larger stones. It’s an evolution which feels earned and doesn’t noticeably limit your enjoyment of the overworld until they’re unlocked.
You’ll note I’ve said very little about the plot, well it’s fairly standard for Zelda and fairly minimalistic for games in general. It’s not why you play a Zelda game though; the exploration, the puzzles and the fun world are all great reasons. An effeminate art-lover wants to turn all the descendants of the Seven Sages (see Ocarina of Time and Link To The Past) into paintings and hide them in a dark parallel universe called Lorule. You have to find and rescue them, culminating in the usual plots and villains popping up.
As well as a story as paper-thin as Link can become, there’s little replayability. This is a fairly short game with everything made into short experiences perfect for a handheld but relatively quick to beat overall. There’s a Hero Mode which cranks up the difficulty, but while this is a game I want to replay right now while I’m writing this, I’ll have to leave it a while until my memories of it start to fade.
After a frankly perfect Zelda experience I’m loathe to leave you with that negative comment, as I feel that this is definitely one of my favourite experiences of the year and a worthy addition to a game collection. Something I often ignore on the 3DS is the sound. A portable device means you can play it on a lunch break, on a commute or while watching an awful television show. Well don’t ignore the sound on this game. You’ll want to plug in some headphones and have a listen to the orchestral score which was made for a handheld game. It sounds like madness, but it’s there, a gorgeous soundtrack culled from all the decades of Zelda games. There’s even a guy in a pub who takes requests to do cover versions of previous music. Transitioning into a new area and hearing a new interpretation of a Zelda theme is magnificent, rousing and will get you humming the music all over again.
A Link Between Worlds is a beautiful experience: a fun retrospective of former Zelda glories while providing enough innovation to stand out on its own.
This review is based on a 3DS copy of the game purchased by the reviewer.
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