The Legend of Zelda franchise kicked off on the NES, and hasn’t lost steam since thanks to its undeniable charm and iconic gameplay. The characters of Zelda and Link have become synonymous with greatness thanks to the plethora of excellent games they’ve starred in over the years, and Link just may be the second most popular Nintendo character of all-time behind the infamous red hat wearing plumber.
The latest entry in the storied Zelda franchise is a 3DS exclusive called The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (ALBW), and it’s a love letter to the SNES’s A Link to the Past, which many Zelda fans consider to be one of the best entries in the franchise. Just like the 16-bit classic, ALBW features a top down presentation of Hyrule that is partitioned into a grid like map system that you can freely roam to explore and go adventuring to save the day yet again. There’s no denying the nostalgic feels this game will give you if you’ve played A Link to the Past, and it’s clearly evident from the get go that A Link Between Worlds doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to one of the Zelda franchise’s most loved entries. All of the old school charm remains present throughout the lengthy quest, albeit with a new layer of polish and gameplay tweaks.
The story of ALBW is nothing new to long time Zelda fans. Link is still an unlikely hero who must save the land of Hyrule from an evil force who has kidnapped the Princess. To do so he must prove himself to the world by mustering up the courage to take on a new enemy by the name of Yuga, who is imprisoning Sages in paintings to use their power to summon Ganon from his prison.
Just like A Link to the Past, ALBW’s missions are broken down into two main acts. The first act takes place in Hyrule, and has you gathering three pendants from two dungeons (first is given to you) that can be used to secure the Master Sword. Once this is accomplished the true meat of the game kicks in when Link gets transported to Lorule and must save all seven Sages from their painting prisons.
This dual world system is no different than the light and dark worlds of ALttP outside of how you switch between them, which requires one of Link’s brand new abilities that were created specifically for A Link Between Worlds. This mechanic helps to craft some clever puzzles and requires you to know your way around both worlds, because the answers usually aren’t just confined to one world or the other. The symbiotic relationship between the two world’s is key to the overall design of the game, and they definitely help to amp up the exploration factor, which is a crucial piece of any great Zelda experience.
Where A Link Between Worlds truly shines is in its gameplay. For some reason the newer Zelda games that have taken on a 3D design and offer more realistic renditions of the cast just haven’t worked well with me. Call me old school, or just plain old, but there’s something fantastic about playing a Zelda game that features the traditional grid-based map system and top down perspective.
While playing ALBW it’s nearly impossible to not draw comparisons to ALttP thanks to the look of the world, and how Link’s adventure plays out. Heading out on a quest with minimal information is refreshing in this day and age of video games with built-in tips and location pointers that take most of the guess work out of exploration. ALBW gives you a few sparse tips and a couple “X’s” to mark locations of interest, but it’s up to you to figure out how to proceed. This Zelda game is very non-linear, and offers much more freedom in regards to how you tackle dungeons, so the art of plotting your way through the game is full of wonder, confusion, and excitement as you slowly discover secrets that lead you to your next adventure.
Not having a concrete roadmap to follow really helps to amplify the feelings of accomplishment every time you figure out a tough dungeon puzzle, or find a hidden piece of treasure ripe for the taking. The level of satisfaction when you conquer a dungeon, or find an item that you know will unlock more exploration opportunities is unlike anything in modern gaming, and adds to A Link Between Worlds’ high “One more turn” factor. Once you get started and find your first big item it truly is tough to put this game down without wanting to see what’s next.
A Link Between Worlds is definitely an homage to A Link to the Past, but there are a few fundamental changes that help to set it apart from the SNES classic. The biggest change to the Zelda formula is the fact that you can now rent many of the items that have been dungeon prizes in past Zelda games. If you need a boomerang for a dungeon you can rent one. If you need a fire rod for a dungeon you can rent one, and so on and so forth.
This renting mechanic is what allows ALBW to be a much more open experience, and one that doesn’t have to follow a predetermined path. In fact, only one dungeon in the second act requires an item from another dungeon, so for the most part this game can be tackled anyway you like. This new feature also places more importance on rupee collection than ever before, so like other adventure-based games you can finally do a little grinding to boost Link’s bank account. You’ll definitely want to do so, because after the first act completes you can buy the rentable tools for keeps, so you won’t lose them if you die anymore.
The other major change to the Zelda formula in ALBW is Link’s painting ability. Thanks to this new skill Link can flatten himself into a drawing which allows him to infuse himself into walls so he can reach hidden areas, or once you unlock Lorule, travel between worlds. This new mechanic definitely adds another level of exploration and puzzle solving to the game, and the developers used it perfectly to keep it feeling fresh, and not overplayed.
I thought long and hard on what isn’t great about this mobile title, but there just isn’t anything to pick on. I guess the biggest downside is that this excellent video game has to be enjoyed on a tiny screen with little speakers, and can’t be enjoyed in HD on a big screen with surround sound. There’s really not a single thing wrong with this game as it manages to nail every enjoyable aspect of the classic Zelda games while still managing to feel new and exciting.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is loaded with hours upon hours of old school gaming fun that will keep you busy for days while you try to perfect your quest. While playing Link’s latest adventure it’ll be hard to not draw comparisons to A Link to the Past, but that’s perfectly fine considering the pedigree of that SNES classic. Nintendo has crafted a fantastic homage to the top down Zelda days of yesteryear that both new and old fans of the franchise will love, so get on the train to nostalgia town and grab this perfect Zelda game before Ganon’s evil forces return.
Review Statement: The author of this review paid for a copy of the game for review purposes on the 3DS platform.[#ff entbuddha] “Making you a better geek, one post at a time!”