Nintendo recently released their sequel to A Link to the Past, my personal favourite of all time, entitled A Link Between Worlds. This 3DS title takes place in the same world as Link to the Past did over a decade ago, and plays heavy on nostalgia to bring people in… but is the game more than just a nostalgia trip?
Return To Hyrule
Zelda games always take place in some variant of the mythical land of Hyrule, but rarely do they return literally to the same world. Zelda: A Link Between Worlds returns you to the Hyrule of the Super Nintendo classic Zelda: A Link to the Past, just several generations later. This brings with it a vast amount of nostalgia. You get to re-explore a vast 3D version of the world that so many of us loved from our childhoods, and see how things have changed.
It also brings with it the return of many NPCs in a slightly different form… for an example, a charming child who collected bees has, over the course of 150+ years, turned into an almost scary dude creepily obsessed with them. It’s a bit strange that generations left the npcs so similar, but it does help to push the nostalgia factor a lot.
The game uses essentially the exact same mechanics as it’s predecessor… and that is all to the good. Link to the Past’s mechanics are the reason why it is my favourite Zelda of all time, and I can’t see a way to make them better. There are some new mechanics, new items, and the like… but the core of the game is largely the same. It’s a huge relief to see Nintendo not try to shove gimmicks down our throats like they do in every other game they make these days. It’s just plain good design. And that’s great to see.
Capitalism Has Come To Hyrule
I’m sure by now we have all come to know what is often seen as the ‘Zelda style’ of progression: each time you enter a dungeon, you find a new item which allows you to complete that dungeon and explore new parts of the world, thus gaining access to the next dungeon. The cycle repeats, creating one of the most exciting and satisfying progression loops to be found in any game of any genre. My favourite part of every Zelda game, and every other game adopting this formula(Darksiders for example) was entering a dungeon and seeing the puzzle pieces that you can’t interact with yet just gloating over the fact that they’re the key to everything, but there’s nothing you can do with them… and then you find the special chest with the item in it, and suddenly you can overcome everything. You get to go back and accomplish what seemed impossible before, and it was a tremendous feeling of satisfaction, and let’s face it: discovery. You suddenly understand everything about that dungeon.
Sadly, Link Between Worlds’ greatest flaw is that it has removed this entirely. Once you complete the first dungeon, you can rent every item in the game – and you’ll probably have enough rupees to do so since the rental prices are really cheap. Rentals last until you die, but since you can just reload if you DO die, that’s not even really a condition. And then, once you’re about halfway through, you can just buy the items and not even have to worry about that. This changes two things… first, as mentioned above, it removes that feeling of accomplishment from the dungeons. Secondly, it removes that trademark Legend of Zelda pseudo-linearity. With this, you can go and do the dungeons in whatever order you want.
There is a very positive side effect to that… it allows them to create much more intricate and creative secrets within the dungeons, as they can have hidden areas that use a variety of different abilities. They don’t do this nearly often enough, but when they do it certainly makes the world feel very connected which is something Zelda games have often struggled with.
The Writing on the Wall
Walking On The Walls
The most important addition to the game is a new ability you get near very early on… the ability to become a painting and move around on the wall. It sounds like a simple thing, but the new perspective it puts on traversing the dungeons, and even the overworld, is fascinating. By making use of the walls in a new way, they’re able to really freshen up their dungeon design.
Zelda games have always had very well crafted dungeons, but Link Between Worlds takes that to a new extreme… each dungeon in this game is an absolute masterpiece full of clever puzzles, intriguing secrets, and unique opportunities to show your brilliance. Although some of the dungeons you were trapped in until you found the ‘exit’, as there was no way to get from where you’d gone to back to the exit before then. This wouldn’t be a problem on a console game, but on a handheld game this can lead to some awkward moments. I remember a few times having to quickly rush out on a break at work to get out of a dungeon I’d started on the bus because the sleep mode on my 3DS doesn’t really conserve power much. Again, not a huge issue, but certainly something to be aware of if you’re looking to play this game on a bus or in short segments.
A Picture is Worth 1000 Words
Like most Zelda games, the story here is nothing to write home about, being fairly predictable. The dialog is very trite, and the plot is laid bare very early on. There was really only one plot note that caught me offguard, but I won’t spoil it for you. On a more positive note, some of the lines are quite homourous, and there were more than a few occasions where I had to stop for a second to let a laugh out. I’m sure some people on the bus thought I was crazy, but that’s fine – I probably am.
But let’s be honest… Zelda games have never been about the story the game tells you. It’s more about the journey… and in this Zelda, the story it tells you isn’t nearly as important, or as impressive, as the story the game shows you.
I did run into one or two bugs, I fell through the floor once, and I found myself clipping into walls a couple of times. Nothing gamebreaking, and nothing that seemed particularly useful – although I’m hardly an adept glitchfinder so I could be wrong on those notes.
This is not a hard game, nor are the bosses anything spectacular. The vast majority of the bosses were just easier variants on the Link to the Past bosses, which I guess was used as a way to once again tie the nostalgia in. It just seems like a real pity since, quite bluntly, the game doesn’t need nostalgia. It’s a very solid game on its own, and would’ve been better with some more interesting boss mechanics.
Finally, and this is a very minor gripe… but it’s one that I’m seeing from Nintendo’s games more and more often lately… on a handheld device, credits need to be skippable. I appreciate the hard work that went into making the game, but if I come to the credits 3 stops before I have to get off the bus, I want to be able to skip them so I can save and quit because nothing is more frustrating than being forced to finish the game a second time when my device dies in sleep mode at work since I couldn’t shut it down. Again, minor issue, but it did annoy me a great deal as the credit sequence literally finished seconds before I got off the bus – thankfully.
The Legend of Zelda’s fantastic dungeon design, tried and true gameplay mechanics, interesting new concepts, and heavy dose of nostalgia go a long way to overcome some pretty unfortunate flaws. The game is, without a doubt, the best Zelda game Nintendo has made in over a decade, and it is the first game for the 3DS I can truly say I loved to play. I was beginning to wonder if there would ever be a 3DS game that would actually make me able to justify the purchase, but this one has. Great job Nintendo – please, take notes from what you’ve done here, and not everything else you’ve made over the past 6 years.