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• The Legend of Zelda – A Link Between Worlds

developed & published by Nintendo
1 player / multiple saves / Nintendo 3DS / 2013.11.22

Home sweet home. Or is it?

A Link Between Worlds is a direct sequel to A Link To The Past, and I finally got around to playing it. I hesitated out of love for the original. The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past isn’t just a great Super Nintendo game, it’s a bonafide masterpiece. For me, there was a lot at stake when Nintendo decided to create a direct sequel.

Out with the Old, In with the New

The biggest and most welcome change in direction is a return to the non-linear quest structure of the very first game in the series. You’re free to tackle dungeons in almost whatever order you want, you just need to bring a certain item with you. Despite sharing its non-linear structure and stamina gauge with Breath of the Wild, these qualities don’t make quite the same impact here. A Link Between Worlds plays too much like the 20 year old SNES game it was based upon (including its set camera view, restricted movement, and smaller world) for it to feel truly groundbreaking. However, this freedom makes it the ideal Zelda game for newcomers while providing a nice change of pace for veterans.

This relaxed structure has the same drawbacks as in Breath of the Wild: the dungeons can’t progressively get more complex or difficult. And they feel smaller compared to those in A Link to The Past, with bosses that can be a bit of a pushover given that any one could be your first.

That’s not to say it’s a complete cakewalk. The new “wall merging” game mechanic adds a whole new dimension to exploration and puzzle-solving. This ability transforms Link into a mural for a short time, allowing him to bypass obstacles or reach new areas. This trick gets an astonishing amount of use but is limited by the stamina gauge, which also fuels item usage. Stamina is exhausted quickly but recharges automatically, so you’ll never have to worry about running out of bombs, arrows, or magic.

Above: Link avoids an enemy by merging into the cliffside

16-bit Zelda Presentation

Visually the game does an excellent job of recreating the look of A Link To The Past, albeit in 3D polygons. Even the odd viewpoint of the Super Nintendo game survived the transition into 3D – requiring that game objects and characters be tilted at unnatural angles in relation to the camera. You won’t really notice this trickery while playing, but it shows the lengths the developers went to.

It’s not all pretty, though. There is only one type of bush, tree, rock, etc that are copied and pasted around the landscape, which could have been mixed up with slight variations to make them feel less artificial. Some small details are missing from the original game, like the animation of Lorule’s octopus trees spitting out bombs when you dash into them. And some of the character models don’t fare particularly well in close-ups, which is a bit of a shame.

On the bright side the environmental shader effects for water, bricks, tiles, and rocks really pop, and the frame rate is consistently smooth (60 fps) during play. And thanks to the fixed perspective, the stereoscopic 3D is easy on the eyes and gives a tangible sense of depth. Teetering on a ledge, with several floors plunging beneath you, is now as dizzying as the designers always intended!

A behind-the-scenes look at the trickery used to recreate the perspective of the original game

An Enhanced Soundtrack

The soundtrack also sets a new high watermark for portable Zelda games, featuring a mix of real orchestral tracks with some retro game sounds. This isn’t just a higher quality version of the original score. Fans of A Link To The Past will enjoy listening to songs they think they know bend in unexpected directions – much like the rest of the game. One of my favorite touches are the musicians in the bar who will play you classic tunes in their own distinct style.

Lorule

I want to make special mention of the Dark World, or Lorule, as it really makes an impression that modern Zelda titles have been lacking. Compared to Hyrule, Lorule feels like a truly dark and dangerous place, where people can barely eke out a living, as if holding on by the last thread. Everything is decaying or dead, the monsters are stronger, and the music really conveys an oppressive atmosphere.

It’s a little scary to set out into this world after the bright green pastures of Hyrule, but that sense of danger is welcome, and has largely been missing since Ocarina of Time. Even in Breath of the Wild, almost every location is beautiful, serene, and in good health. We need more of Lorule in future Zelda titles and I hope we’ll see that.

Final Thoughts

Originally planned as just a remake, thankfully Nintendo went the extra mile and created a true sequel. To put it bluntly, the 3DS is home to two Zelda remasters already (we didn’t need a third!), and if you want to play that timeless classic A Link To The Past, you can do so via the virtual console.

Being a direct sequel is a double-edged sword. A part of me feels like it’s a missed opportunity to create a totally new chapter in the Zelda series. And there was the chance it might sully the original. Thankfully it doesn’t rely too much on nostalgia, and will surprise and delight fans of the earlier game around every corner. I’m happy to report that my fears have been laid to rest: it’s a wonderful tribute to the original, and a great game in its own right. I would recommend this game to anyone!

PROs:

+ Faithfully recreates the SNES look and feel at 60 fps in 3D
+ Innovative & clever wall-merging game mechanic is fantastic
+ Non-linear quest gives players the freedom to explore at will
+ New stamina system eliminates farming for arrows, bombs, etc
+ Great map system facilitates collecting extras

CONs:

– Dungeons feel smaller and simpler compared to other Zelda games
– Most bosses go down without much of a fight
– “Hero mode” (increased difficulty) unavailable immediately