The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds review: Best 'Zelda' title for 3DS

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Nintendo 3DS
Nintendo EAD/Nintendo
Rating: Everyone

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Nintendo 3DS
Nintendo EAD/Nintendo
Rating: Everyone

Rating

5 Stars5/5

CHRIS VANDERGAAG, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:49 PM ET

It’s all in there – the rocks, the grass, the hearts, the caves that are actually secret passages, the smart-alecky merchants, the puzzly dungeons, the indestructible chickens. And the pots, so numerous you’ll never have time to smash them all.

But a few rooms deep into the Eastern Palace, the first dungeon in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, it becomes clear that, although it’s a handheld game, this is still a full-fledged Zelda title. Nintendo didn’t coast on the fumes of past glories for the latest entry in the most successful adventure game series of all time.

A few hours in, the game’s primary gameplay mechanic has been introduced – the ability to briefly transform Link into a painting and merge into walls, traversing areas and objects in googly-eyed 2D mural form. Using this ability, along with standard Zelda puzzle-solving and swordplay, Link has tracked down some sacred pendants, and learned to slip into portal cracks to hop between Hyrule and the parallel world of Lorule, to begin the heavy lifting requested of him by princess Zelda and her counterpart Hilda.

That isn’t giving too much away, is it? I mean, the game is called “A Link Between Worlds.”

Anyway, it’s at about this point that it becomes clear what an outstanding Zelda game A Link Between Worlds really is.

What makes it good? Innovation. While much is familiar in that Zelda way, there are brand-new mechanics introduced in virtually every dungeon. And constant surprises, more than most fans imagined the franchise would be able to deliver again. Which is entirely unexpected, given that many fans pegged this game as a nostalgia trip – basically, the exact opposite of surprise – coming in.

A sequel of sorts to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, a Super NES game from 22 years ago, A Link Between Worlds is played from a top-down perspective like the Zelda games of old, rather than the over-the-shoulder third person view used in every major Zelda game since 1998’s Ocarina of Time.

The feel is throwback all the way. Controls are simpler than in recent Zelda games, closer to SNES-era game control schemes. Item selection and the world map also feel old school – there’s a menu to assign items to buttons, and a real map, rather than a modern, twirling mini-map/GPS thingie in the corner. Both benefit from the 3DS’s touch controls and second screen.

The game world is, geographically, the same version of the land of Hyrule from A Link to the Past (but with nicer graphics and optional stereoscopic 3D), and it’s interesting to pull up screenshots on the web and compare the two games area by area. But this is no remake. Things quickly diverge when the alternate world of Lorule opens up, which features different geographical features, an entirely different musical score, and of course new dungeons – there are 12 in all.

There are many nods to the past, such as the “thwump” sound and the way enemies lurch backwards when struck by Link’s sword. It’s straight from the ’80s. Mind you, there are new foes (all higher resolution, and animated more fluidly than was possible back then) and many enemies move and attack in totally unexpected ways. So, mad retro skills and muscle memory will only help to a point.

A Link Between Worlds also underlines the decline of some classic adventure game cornerstones. For instance, loot sitting in plain sight but unreachable because you don’t yet have the right tool, and doors suddenly slamming shut and staying locked until you complete a brief combat interlude.

Why have games stopped doing these things? A shift in the world of gaming towards linear, cinematic experiences might partially explain it. But those old mechanics can really add to the sense of adventure, and make fully exploring the world seem like a good idea.

For many gamers, part of the Zelda meta-game is keeping track of where you saw those heart containers, and remembering some oddball comment an old man made when you were playing a few days ago, which has become suddenly relevant.

But possibly the most impressive thing A Link Between Worlds achieves is constant surprise.

Surprise when you encounter a puzzle in a dungeon you’ve never seen before, after all these years and all those Zelda games. Or when a standard piece of Zelda equipment like a bow or a bomb gets used in way you’ve never used it. Or when a disembodied floating hand, which in the old days was just inconvenient, is suddenly integral to solving a dungeon puzzle. And when you burst out laughing because Link’s new merge-into-walls mechanic, which you’ve just used a hundred times for getting around, is suddenly required in a boss battle in a ridiculous but ingenious way.

It’s also the best Zelda available for the 3DS. Sorry, Ocarina of Time 3D remake – you were cool, but you cramped our hands (all that shoulder-button targeting, ugh.) And while Ocarina was a fantastic game, as a pure retread it just wasn’t able to do what A Link Between Worlds does so well: surprise you.

 

 


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