In my travels as a life-long gamer and Zelda fan, I’ve encountered two camps of people: those who place Ocarina of Time as the best Zelda game, and those who think A Link to the Past holds that honor. If you fall into the latter category, or put A Link to the Past in your top 3 all-time Zelda games — you will have a whale of a time with A Link Between Worlds. You may even crown a new king of the series along the way.
A Link Between Worlds is a visual treat, boasting solid graphics reminiscent of past Zelda games. While there isn’t anything that’s going to impress anything new onto series veterans in terms of visuals and audio, the game lands comfortably in the realm of the bright fantasy aesthetic that fans are accustomed to. Hyrule looks exactly as you remember it, filled with familiar monsters, items and secrets. That’s not to say there isn’t anything new going on this time around. Quite the opposite. Players will find themselves in new dungeons, fighting new bosses and meeting new characters.
A Link Between Worlds uses a couple of new game mechanics to mix things up nicely. Most notably the way in which Link acquires items and the titular character’s snazzy new ability to “paint” himself flat onto walls, allowing players to traverse the world in exciting new ways. This comes into play often and is crucial in finishing most dungeons and defeating various bosses throughout the game. It’s a fun new way to experience Hyrule and adds a deeper layer of problem solving to the already puzzle-laden dungeons fans have come to expect from the series. It takes a little getting used to once you acquire this ability early in the game, but once you do, it will become second nature and will prove an invaluable and fun tool to get the job done.
The item system, though fresh for the series, was a bit underwhelming, however. Link is able to rent or buy any (and all) items he wishes from an important character in the game. This means you are free to tackle the game’s 10 dungeons in any order you choose. It gives the game a sort of open-world feel, which I personally felt was a welcomed addition. Renting these items are considerably cheaper than buying, but there’s a catch: if you die, you lose any rented item in your inventory, forcing you to go back to the drawing board, rethink your plan of attack and rent them again before you set off. I imagine this feature was implemented to add a risk vs. reward element to the game, but I personally never found myself sweating over renting each and every item available or even losing said items once I was vanquished. Because, quite simply, it didn’t happen often. I always found my coffers stuffed with more than enough rupees to fill my pack with the goodies I needed to complete a particular dungeon — and then some. It’s a fun system all told, but rupees are never in short supply — especially if you’re good at some of the game’s mini-games, which earn you even more currency.
The dungeons are a mix of old and new and are a pleasure to adventure through and conquer. There are some familiar dungeons here, but even the ones that seem like Xerox copies of dungeons that appeared in A Link to the Past usually have a twist of them to accommodate Link’s new abilities. I never found myself bored or cutting through a dungeon because I knew exactly what to expect. Some are more difficult than others, but you can expect to be scratching your head quite a bit. Don’t expect the type of mental hula hoops of, say, Portal, but players should find themselves embroiled in some pleasant brain teasers here. Some dungeons are a bit frustrating because you will sometimes gain access to one and then have to leave in the middle of it because you lack the required item to progress.
Bosses are big and varied. Again, a mix of old and new — from giant eye monsters to dark knights armed with a sword and shield. They’re generally not too difficult, though some are much tougher than others to figure out, but the fights are often exciting and rewarding, and act as perfect capstones to the dungeons. I would have liked a better balance of difficulty in them, though. I was expecting half of them to be extremely challenging, especially with Link’s painting ability, but it turns out that it actually serves to make most of the bosses much less difficult than they would be otherwise.
The world, like A Link to the Past, is split into light and dark versions. This time, Hyrule and Lorule (see what they did there?). Instead of traveling between the two at will, you instead must find cracks in the world to slip through, which are peppered around the world. There is also the option to save at any of the weather vanes you come across. Most can be found outside of dungeons and inside of towns. Link can travel to these weather vanes once he’s discovered them by way of a witch’s broomstick, eliminating the need to walk vast distances to get where you need to go. Getting around is fast and easy, especially once you’ve discovered most of the save points, and makes backtracking a pleasure rather than a nightmare. You’ll need this feature, too; oftentimes areas are locked out until you get a particular item or piece of equipment like the titan glove or hammer.
And the game is overflowing with cool little secrets to discover. You’ll chance upon hidden thief hideouts, where you’ll have to figure out a few puzzles in order to nab the treasure chest at the end. You’ll find little shell creatures called Maiamias sprinkled throughout the world, and once you collect 100 of them, you get a prize. You’ll find monster horns and guts with which to make useful potions. There are also a few items in the game you can find to upgrade your sword, as well as new shields and armor and other item upgrades. And that’s to say nothing of the new mini-games. Zelda fans will probably smile at the new chicken dodging game or the curious baseball game. You can play these to potentially win more rupees than you put up to play them, but the experience usually feels tacked-on rather than a necessary facet of the game.
To put it succinctly, if you’re on the fence about the game because you’re under the impression that there’s not enough new content to justify a purchase, you can rest easy in knowing that this game is packed with many hours of great fun that you didn’t encounter in Link to the Past. Sure, you’re going to recognize some of the dungeons and puzzles, but considering Link’s newest ability is to paint himself onto a wall and traverse dungeons in completely different ways, you can expect to be stumped on more than a few occasions as the game goes on. Having said that, most of the dungeons, even if they seem familiar, are almost completely new in content. If you enjoyed A Link to the Past and you’ve been looking for the next great Zelda title, make no mistake: this is it.
TLOZ: A Link Between Worlds
- Available On: Nintendo 3DS
- Published By: Nintendo
- Developed By: Nintendo
- Genre: Action Adventure
- US Release Date: November 22nd, 2013
- Reviewed On: Nintendo 3DS
- Quote: "If you enjoyed A Link to the Past and you’ve been looking for the next great Zelda title, make no mistake: this is it."