What better way to pass the time during the particularly painful drag of waiting for a brand new Zelda game than by replaying the classics? I’ve been playing multiple of my old favorites simultaneously this past week while waiting for the release of Breath of the Wild this Friday, and the first one I’ve beaten is the last single-player Zelda adventure, A Link Between Worlds. This wonderful 3DS game had a lot to live up to. Taking its name from the SNES classic, A Link to the Past, this game is a wonderful exploration of what made the classic Zelda games so great, while at the same time looking forward by introducing brand new game mechanics and fixing some of the problems that have been plaguing the Zelda games since Ocarina of Time.
A Link Between Worlds is billed as a sequel to 1991’s A Link to the Past, in that this game takes place in a similar version of Hyrule, not too long after the events of the SNES original. You play as an apprentice blacksmith who is caught in the middle of a new crisis after learning that a wizard by the name of Yuga has been kidnapping the descendants of the sages of old for a mysterious purpose. After speaking to Princess Zelda, our hero is sent on a familar quest to retrieve the legendary Master Sword in order to stop the evil wizard.
But this game is not a sequel only in story. The game world is very much based on the map from A Link to the Past, but has been tweaked slightly to keep it fresh. Before the release of this game, I was pretty worried that the game wouldn’t feel new enough. After all, I have played through A Link to the Past many, many times in the past 20 years. I was pleasantly surprised to find a new Hyrule, with many new paths, caves, dungeons, characters and secrets. By the time the game opens up after the third dungeon, and you gain access to the world of Lorule (Which has an uncanny resemblance to the Dark World of A Link to the Past), the sense of wonder in exploring a new world is totally there.
What really helps this world feel brand new is the addition of a new perspective. While the game is played from a top-down view, like the original, Link has a brand new ability that allows him to become a painting and move along walls in the third dimension. This is easily one of the best gimmicks in any Zelda game, and it is used in brilliant ways to create natural environmental puzzles in both the overworld and in dungeons.
A Return to the Past
Fans of A Link to the Past will recognize the game’s opening hours, in that you have to visit a series of dungeons in order to gain the three pendants required to get the Master Sword. However, after that point, the game make a surprising left turn. Instead of feeling like A Link to the Past, the game instead draws a lot from the original Legend of Zelda, in that it becomes much more open-ended. You can visit dungeons in any order after this, and there are a ton of secrets that you could totally miss while playing the game. To give you an example, in my latest run-through, I totally missed the Pegasus Boots by accident, and didn’t go back to get them until near the end. It was totally unintentional, and I didn’t realize it was possible to miss such an essential item, making the rest of the game slightly more difficult.
Something that really adds to the feeling of total freedom reminiscent of the original Zelda is the changed item system. Instead of hiding items in dungeons, you can get pretty much every single item from the beginning of the game by “renting” them from a new character called Ravio. Renting is pretty affordable, but if you die, you will lose all of your rented items, meaning you have to spend more rupees to re-rent them. Later in the game, you can buy them at a very high price, giving you a reason to save up your rupees.
This system is brilliant-it encourages you to use your brain, to mix and match different items in different situations in order to find the right tool for the problem. It’s possible for you to walk into a dungeon and make it half of the way through only to realize you’re missing a required item in order to continue. This is a game that expects you to learn from your experiences, and does not hold your hand after a certain point.
The only small issue to point out for this game is one that is not unique for portable Zeldas, and that is the game’s relatively short length. The previous portable Zelda, Spirit Tracks, had gone a long way in introducing enough side content to keep you busy for what felt like weeks, but you could be done with A Link Between Worlds, story and side-content, in 20 hours or less if you know what you’re doing. I’m so used to Zelda games being these huge-40+ hour adventures, that it’s weird to be done with a game so quickly. This really wouldn’t be an issue if this game wasn’t so good-it leaves you wanting more by the time the ending comes.
A Link Between Worlds was the breath of fresh air that the series needed. After Skyward Sword, a game notorious for its linearity and obnoxious hand-holding, it was extremely refreshing to see Nintendo returning to Zelda‘s roots, while introducing brand new mechanics such as the rental system and Link’s wall-merging ability. While the story lacks the amount of depth we’ve come to expect from modern Zelda games, it tries to make up for it by introducing a bunch of neat characters into the mix.
- The wall-merging mechanic is one of the best gimmicks introduced in any Zelda game.
- They introduced just enough secrets to make this version of Hyrule feel both new and familiar.
- The item rental system encourages you to try new things, and to figure out what the right tool for the right job is.
- The game runs at a silky smooth 60 FPS and uses the 3DS’s 3D feature brilliantly.
- After the game opens up following the first few dungeons, the open-ended gameplay that follows is fantastic, calling to mind the original Legend of Zelda.
- While it does a good job of recapturing the feel of A Link to the Past, the art style can feel a little bland at times, lacking character.