People have devoted countless hours and entire websites to deciphering the timeline of the Legend of Zelda series. Over the years the games have changed game play and graphical styles, while usually being set in the ever-changing land of Hyrule. A Link Between Worlds breaks the trend of change by setting its story in the same version of Hyrule from the Super Nintendo game A Link to the Past. For fans of the original it’s a delight to return to familiar territory; for anyone else it’s a new world to explore. Either way it’s a superbly crafted, immensely enjoyable experience that anyone owning a 3DS should play.
A Link Between Worlds doesn’t take its similarity to the SNES classic lightly, rather it dives directly into the deep end of the pool. Right from the opening screen the game plays homage to its predecessor. Link lives in the same house in the same place, dungeons are in the same places (at least as near as I could remember), and save a few slight alterations the game world is identical. Like other Zelda games there are also nods to other titles in the series, and players will run across characters like Dampé the gravedigger and even spot Majora’s Mask.
Once again Hyrule is threatened by an enemy attempting to gain control of the Triforce. This time around it’s Yuga, who has captured the seven sages by transforming them into paintings. In an early encounter he does the same to Link, who is able to escape the spell and gains the ability to merge into walls and move along them. The painting mechanic is unique because it adds a new dimension (no pun intended) to the game’s puzzles. For instance, the gap between two platforms can be traversed by merging into the wall and moving from one to the other. It gets a lot of good use throughout the game, and creative use of the power is required to progress.
Merging into walls also allows Link to walk through fissures, cracks that appear throughout Hyrule at a certain point. These act as gateways to a sort of alternate world, Lorule (no, I’m not making that up), where Yuga has hidden the sages. Lorule is similar to Hyrule but there are significant geographical differences between the two, and careful movement between worlds is the only way to reach certain areas.
While the world is familiar, A Link Between Worlds is a departure from the series norm in that it features more of an open world setup. Early on Link meets Ravio, a merchant who offers items for rent, ranging from the traditional likes of the boomerang and ice rod to some new ones, like the tornado rod. The only catch is that rented items are returned to the shop if Link dies, and must be rented again. I never had an issue with money, as there are a lot more Rupees to find than a standard Zelda game, in addition to various side games where more can be earned.
With most of the game’s items available from the start, I was free to tackle dungeons in any order I wanted. Dungeons are still similar to previous games in that they heavily feature one particular item, which is then used to kill the boss. A dungeon’s featured item is usually required to enter, so I never found myself in a position where I needed an item and didn’t have it.
Needing a certain item to enter a dungeon could have caused a lot of backtracking, but the designers handled it nicely. The game world has several weather vanes that, in addition to serving as save points, also function as warp points. So when I needed an item I didn’t have it was as simple as warping to Ravio’s shop, and then warping back to the dungeon entrance. I never had to hunt for ammunition either. Every item, from bombs to the bow and arrow, is fueled by an energy gauge that refills over time, so the most I ever had to do was wait a few seconds for the gauge to refill.
The open nature of the world is a nice change of pace, but it’s not without minor issues. For example, the first sage dungeon I completed just happened to have the blue mail, which reduced damage I received by half. If that happened to be the last dungeon I did, I imagine my time with the game would have been much more challenging. Also, in at least one instance an item not found in Ravio’s shop was required to enter a dungeon, and I spent time searching high and low for it before I happened to find it in another dungeon. Not every dungeon has an item to find, so there were instances where I knew what I needed but had no idea where it might be. The open world allowed me to explore as I wished, but also meant that I didn’t necessarily do things in the most convenient order.
Visually the game is beautiful. The world of Hyrule has been recreated with smooth, rounded lines and sharp detail, and aside from some very minor frame rate drops it runs great. Proving again that they really know how to maximize their hardware, Nintendo’s game makes the best use of 3D that I’ve seen since Super Mario 3D Land. Subtle effects like Link popping up in the air when he crashes into something combined with airborne enemies hovering overhead and bosses leaping to try and crush me to create a subtle but effective result. The 3D is used just the right amount – enough that it was impressive without ever feeling overused. The music is just as impressive as the visuals, and features updated takes on the classic score. It felt like the perfect blend of old and new.
The game controls as good as it looks. B swings the sword while A functions as a sort of contextual button, used for everything from merging into walls to picking up rocks. Opening the item menu allowed me to drag any of my available items to assign it to the Y button, and there is also a quick select feature that allowed me to create a sort of mini menu for speedy access to my favorite items. Overall the controls are nice and tight, and I never had a problem doing exactly what I wanted.
For those who never played A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds is simply an exceptional game. For those like me who have fond memories of the original though, it feels like a carefully crafted love letter. Being able to explore an old world with a new twist was an absolute treat, and I loved visiting places and characters that I remembered from before, as well as discovering new ones. From the first musical notes of the opening to the last boss fight, the game is classic Zelda, and as soon as I finished it I was ready to start all over again. Simply put it’s one of the best games available on the 3DS or anywhere else, and it’s a must play.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.