The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Review
The Legend of Zelda is one of the most iconic and enduring franchises in video game history. For more than 25 years, the series has continually captivated fans with its unique blend of action, adventure, and puzzle solving. However, recent entries have deviated fairly little from the traditional, linear Zelda blueprint. That is, until The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. In what can best be described as a remake/sequel to the 1992 masterpiece, A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds both embraces the franchise’s rich history and takes significant steps toward reinventing the classic Zelda formula.
A Link Between Worlds is the first top-down Zelda game to feature a traditional control scheme in nearly a decade, but its gameplay is far from conventional thanks to a brilliant new mechanic: the power to transform into a painting and merge into walls. Link’s new ability makes you look at Zelda in a whole new dimension (literally) and forces you to lose all preconceived notions regarding overworld and dungeon traversal. Walls are no longer boundaries; they’re pathways. Sometimes I’d spend five minutes wondering how to reach a seemingly inaccessible ledge only to realize I could simply merge into the wall and walk right to it. Thanks to wall-merging, A Link Between Worlds features some of the most creative and clever puzzles in the entire series.
Goodbye cruel world(s)!
Perhaps the biggest change to the Zelda formula is the option to tackle dungeons in almost any order you want. There’s no Navi or Fi constantly pointing you in the right direction; this is your own personal adventure. Within the first few hours of the game, Link can rent or purchase most of the series’ major items (bow, hookshot, bombs, etc.) from a mysterious shopkeeper named Ravio, which effectively opens up the entire overworld for exploration. However, renting items comes with a caveat; should you fall in battle, Ravio takes his items back and you have to rent them all over again. Though certain areas and dungeons provide more challenge than others, none are overwhelmingly difficult (save for perhaps Turtle Rock and the Ice Ruins). Still, veteran players will appreciate the added layer of risk and excitement, as well as the ability to discover the world more freely.
Tale as old as time
The rental system also makes hunting down the game’s many collectibles (heart pieces, empty bottles, secondary gear) a more streamlined experience. Although Zelda games generally include plenty of optional extras, finding them all can sometimes be a rather monotonous, almost chore-like process. In A Link Between Worlds, however, players can find almost everything via natural exploration rather than tedious backtracking simply because of how early Link has access to his near-full arsenal of equipment. After finishing the last dungeon, I was only missing a single heart piece and a few Maimais, which, thanks to the useful reminder pins on the touch screen map, as well as the very convenient fast travel system, took no time at all to track down.
All of this freedom, however, comes at the expense of the narrative. Because A Link Between Worlds progresses in such a non-linear fashion, scripted story moments are few and far between. Though portable Zelda stories don’t typically match the grand scope of their home console counterparts, A Link Between Worlds’ plot is, simply put, thin. Likewise, the game’s world(s) feels largely uninhabited, lacking the random assortment of unique characters we’re accustomed to meeting throughout Link’s journey. In fairness, the quest doesn’t include any unnecessary padding and moves quickly; I completed virtually everything in a little over 20 hours, which, although short by Zelda standards, was certainly enough playtime for my money.
You best not be sneakin'.
In terms of visuals, A Link Between Worlds features a rather forgettable, overly simplistic art style. However, the game runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, which masks this simplicity to a large degree. As for the music, the game includes many of veteran Zelda composer Koji Kondo’s original arrangements from A Link to the Past, albeit enhanced with a more realistic instrumental sound. Ryo Nagamatsu composed the remainder of the game’s outstanding score, including the beautiful “Hilda’s Theme” and the thrilling “Lorule Castle Theme” (which is actually A Link to the Past’s “Hyrule Castle Theme” backwards).
To conclude, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is yet another exceptional title in the 3DS’s stellar library. Though the game, at times, feels slightly trapped by its reverence to A Link to the Past, Nintendo once again plays on fans’ sentimentality (as only it knows how) and delivers an experience that is both deeply nostalgic and surprisingly fresh.
Please note that the final score is not an average