A Timeless Link –
A Link to the Past (SNES, 1991) is declared as one of the greatest games ever made by gamers around the world. After two decades of waiting, fans now have a true sequel to this original fan favorite but worry not as pretty much everything, from gameplay to technical aspects, have been improved upon. Make no mistake; this is the best Zelda game to come along in quite some time.
Like most Zelda titles, the player takes control of Link on a quest to ultimately save a damsel in distress and save the world from a bad guy who is trying to engulf the world in darkness. The core gameplay elements have remain the same has the left-handed Link will dispatch enemies with his sword, use an array of gadgets to solve puzzles, search for pieces of heart, and collect artifacts to unlock passage to the final dungeon and boss battle. It is important to mention that controlling Link and all his actions feel pixel perfect using the Circlepad. Thankfully, this is not the tedious all-stylus control like in Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass. Even the speed at which Link walks just feels spot on.
The biggest difference between A Link Between Worlds and pretty much every other Zelda game outside of the original quest on NES is the player has the ability to tackle any one of the game’s numerous dungeons in any order. Further, the player has access to all of the special items, like the hookshoot, ice rod, and boomerang, from the get go. Using a new rental system, Link can rent any item for a low cost but will need to re-rent if he falls in combat. About halfway through the game, the player has the ability to purchase each item for a much higher price but can then upgrade each item by collecting Miamais, these little octopus creatures spread throughout the entire world. This is a worthwhile game-long fetch quest that reaps big rewards and doesn’t become tedious thanks to a helpful and well-designed map system. The new side quests, open-endedness, and new items are a breath of fresh air to the Zelda series and are most welcomed. It is the perfect balance of old but new.
Item usage has also been completely revamped to make the game faster and more enjoyable. Gone are the days of chopping down endless bushes and pots with hopes of finding random arrows, bombs, or magic jars. Instead, Link is able to use all his secondary items via one auto regenerating meter. When playing A Link to the Past, I was always worried about using my bow, bombs, and never used the cool magic items just because finding ammo was always a limited pain. Here, the use of all these extra items is encouraged because Link will never permanently run out of juice. Sure, you might only be able to lay down a couple of bombs at one time and you cannot go crazy with the sweet new Fire Rod but this regenerating magic system is well balanced and highly encouraging. It works so well it is probably my favorite new feature in this Zelda game and hope to see it return in future installments.
A Link Between Worlds looks and feels like an old Zelda game but it is not. Instead of well animated pixel-based sprites, everything is now modeled with detailed polygons and smooth animations. Although this game is well played solely in 2D, this is one 3DS title players should consider cranking up the 3D slider. Some portions of the game, like when navigating the moving platforms in Death Mount, work to its advantage when viewed in 3D. My only complaint in the graphical department is that Link and other characters look a little too cartoony during the few close up cutscenes but this is a small distraction at most. And like all Zelda games, the soundtrack is one of the most memorable in all of gaming. Do yourself a favor and play with some headphones.
Zelda fans might be a little turned off by the journey’s difficulty – it is placed on the easier side. Most gamers should be able to reach 100% main quest completion in or around 20 hours. Outside of just a couple of boss battles, I never really came close to seeing the Game Over screen but to be fair I always had bottles full of fairies. True Zelda fans will probably look forward to the Hero Mode which becomes unlocked once the quest is completed for the first time. With stronger enemies and limited ways of regaining lost health, this mode should prove challenging even for Zelda experts.
Although there is no Four Sword-like multiplayer mode, A Link Between Worlds puts an interesting emphasis on StreetPass functionality. Early in the quest, players will outfit their StreetPass Link with corresponding heart containers and items. This Link will then travel to other StreetPassers and appear in their world as a Shadow Link. These Shadow Links are computer controlled but outfitted with the gear you selected – the better the gear the higher the reward for defeating this Shadow Link. There is a rupee reward for knocking out each Shadow Link along with dozens of medals (basically Achievements) to unlock for battling under certain conditions. Earning everything in this StreetPass mode will undoubtedly take the most amount of time but players will have everything to gain but nothing to lose. This is a nice optional distraction from the main quest.
As epic as this title is, it was still designed for a handheld setting. Dungeons are not Ocarina Water Temple hard but are lengthy enough to complete in one sitting at a time. Link’s ability to turn into a painting and move horizontally along walls opens up a whole new way to think about Zelda’s puzzles. There were times when I thought I was stuck only to remember this quirky new ability; it is so new and different it will take time to just remember it is available. And speaking of getting stuck, there is an item that allows Link to spot Hint Ghosts, stationary characters that will help provide a contextual hint for the low cost of one Play Coin. Zelda purists will probably avoid using this optional feature but it is nice to know it is there when needed.
I only have one true criticism about the entire game. Once beaten and the credits roll, the game will not save the progress of your quest. Like every dungeon, I worked my way through, collected the special item (in this case, the final red armor), beat the final boss and put the Master Sword back to sleep. But even thought I finished the quest, I still had a couple more pieces of heart I wanted to collect to 100% the game. Unfortunately, since the game doesn’t save at the very end, I am forced to replay the entire last dungeon if I ever wanted to go back and venture throughout Hyrule with the fancy red armor. This is a little inconvenient to say the least. If I would have known ahead of time, I would have exited this final dungeon to save when the way to the final boss was opened.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is not only one of the best Zelda games, it is also one of the best games on the 3DS. With a perfect blend of old with new, this is the sequel that fans have been hoping and dreaming for since the early 90s. Even the ending provides some surprise elements and wraps everything up nicely. Buy it, play it, and savor it.
It Is: one of the best games of the year
Better Than: you hoped
Also Try: the free Oracle Of Seasons download code you got when you pre-ordered
By: Zachary Gasiorowski, Editor in Chief myGamer.com