The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Review

Link’s latest adventure forms an incredible bond between the classic Zelda games we know and love, and the bright future that this series still holds

Release Date: November 22, 2013Developer: NintendoPublisher: NintendoPlatform: 3DS (Reviewed)Genre: Action-adventure

Can a game be considered a “return to form” while still doing so much to push a series forward with new ideas and highly-refined gameplay? Well I guess I’ll let you be the judge of that, because all I know is that Nintendo’s latest 3DS-exclusive The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is adventure gaming at its absolute finest, whether you grew up playing the old NES games, or recently game aboard with this latest generation. Billed as a successor to the 1991 Super Nintendo classic The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the PastA Link Between Worlds shows us just how influential that game’s design has been to the overall history of gaming, in that its many quirks and nuances are still completely relevant and a blast to play in 2013.

The first thing you’re likely to notice upon taking control of Link for the first time in the game is that A Link Between Worlds runs at an incredible framerate, and everything in the form of movement is incredibly snappy and smooth. Link moves through the rich 3D landscape at a brisk pace, and he swings his trusty sword even faster. The top-down design mixed with the full 3D characters and environments are like a match made in Heaven, although a few of the enemy designs can feel a little out of place with the overall art style. The game wastes no time in letting you get in on the action (it HAS been 22 years since A Link to the Past after all), and everything about the pacing of the game feels exactly how you would want it to feel. Story elements are light but still impactful, and involve a new villain named Yuga who turns the Sages of Link’s world into lifeless paintings to meet his own evil devices.

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The dungeons in A Link Between Worlds feel very condensed and compact, but not at all in a bad way. To combat this, there are significantly more dungeons spread throughout the world than you’ll find in most Legend of Zelda games, and so you’re able to make a real dent in your adventure through quick bursts of gameplay: which is absolutely perfect for a handheld game like this. There is also an immense sense of verticality that runs rampant throughout all of A Link Between Worlds, and it works beautifully with the 3Ds capabilities of Nintendo’s latest portable hardware. Just wait until you work your way through the staggering Tower of Hera early on in the game, which spans a whopping 12 floors that have Link weaving between indoor and outdoor obstacles, and you’ll see what I mean.

One of the most interesting and unexpected components to A Link Between Worlds is the new way in which you’re allotted your classic gear like bombs, arrows, and the Fire Rod: specifically, you rent them from a curious figure named Ravio who takes it upon himself to set up shop in your house while you’re away on your adventure. What’s cool about this feature is that you’ll be able to rent as many items as you need right off the bat, since Rupees come fairly easily even at the start of the game, and your wallet runs extremely deep. This breathes new life into the overworld exploration components of the game, as you’re essentially able to go wherever you please right from the start (although a few specific abilities are still locked behind story progression events, such as the being able to swim in deep waters, and certain areas house extremely powerful enemies that you’ll probably want to avoid until you ramp up your health meter).

Your gear will especially come in handy for completing A Link Between Worlds’ many colorful side quests, which range from finding the expected Pieces of Heart, to saving dozens of octopus babies that are scattered around the world. However, the catch with Ravio’s rental system is that if you die at any point in your adventure, all of your items will be returned to the house, and you’ll need to spend more Rupees to unlock them all over again. It certainly puts the pressure on if you splurged like I did and rented everything all at once, but I’ve actually found that doing so has made me a better player in the game, and I’ve become so careful in battles and dungeon so as not to bite the big one and lose all of my hard-earned (err, rented) gear.

This overt sense of freedom in A Link Between Worlds is only emphasized further by the nonlinear progression of the game, which lets you tackle the game’s many dungeons in any order of your choosing. Things open up even more once you travel to the alternate version of Hyrule, the fittingly titled Lorule, which is home to a warped version of your peaceful kingdom and the areas surrounding it, and a dark-haired princess named Hilda. It won’t be long before you’re given free rein to travel back and forth between Hyrule and Lorule, exploring the joined worlds for hidden heart pieces and rescuing the Seven Sages. This was an especially smart decision, as the reimagining of Hyrule as it appeared in the 1991 classic is decidedly a bit small by today’s gaming standards, and so having two interchangeable game worlds gives A Link Between Worlds that true sense of depth that we would only expect from a Legend of Zelda game (not to mention a callback to the alternating worlds from Twilight Princess).

The biggest new gameplay mechanic that gets introduced here in A Link Between Worlds is the concept of paintings and wall drawings, and Link’s new power to merge with various walls and crawl along corners as a flat 2D drawing of himself. It looks incredibly cool to see it in action, and you’ll be downright amazed at how many unique and diverse puzzles that Nintendo has been able to craft around this basic mechanic, and even have it crop up in a few boss fights as well. A Link Between Worlds even borrows a page from Dark Souls’ book as well, if you can believe that, in letting players essentially invade other players’ worlds and do battle with AI-controlled shadow versions of themselves via Nintendo’s StreetPass functionality. It’s an amazing way to add a multiplayer component to a Legend of Zelda game, and with so many optional challenges to complete across your PvP battles, the total replay value is extended well beyond the end of Link’s latest adventure.

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Much in the same way that Link is able to seamlessly merge himself into the walls of the game world, A Link Between Worlds effortlessly meshes everything you love about the old Legend of Zelda games with a bright and fantastic adventure that feels right at home in 2013. With refreshing twists that change up the traditional formula, like the innovation gear rental system or the optional to tackle the dungeons in the order of your choosing, A Link Between Worlds heralds in the new Golden Age of the Nintendo 3DS in a wonderful fashion. If people still did cave paintings in 2013, there’s no doubt in my mind that future historians would see the legacy of this game crop up on a rocky wall or two.

Story – 9/10Gameplay – 10/10Graphics – 9/10Sounds – 9/10Multiplayer – 10/10Replayability – 10/10

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