My fifteen-or-so hours with A Link Between Worlds was a purely joyous experience, and I can’t explain to you how massive the smile on my face was when just taking in this game and what it has to offer. The phrase ‘ear to ear’ just doesn’t cover it. A Link Between Worlds treads both lightly and heavily when it comes to pulling at those nostalgia heartstrings, with a world map that is almost exactly pulled from A Link to the Past, characters and faces that are strikingly familiar, and a plot that sets Link between two vastly different worlds. The similarities are massive, but it’s really the differences that matter here.
If you’ve played a top-down Zelda before, especially A Link to the Past, you know what you’re in for; simple action of swinging your sword, timing your shield, and swapping between several items to solve crazy puzzles. But the items are where the massive changes to the Zelda formula begin. As the game starts, a merchant named Ravio moves into your home (whether you like it or not, really) and opens up a shop full of your standard array of Zelda items: boomerang, hookshot, bombs, etc. You can rent these items from your good pal Ravio for an extremely affordable cost, and rent as many as you want. You can just rent pretty much all of the items in the game right off the bat, but there is a little risk here: when you die, Ravio’s bird will hunt you down and take those items back. From there, you’ll need to rent them again.
This changes the entire formula of what someone might understand to be a Zelda game. What holds you back from entering the next dungeon in your standard Zelda game is one of two things: in a 3D Zelda, it’s usually some kind of narrative reason that blocks you off from entering that area, but in 2D Zeldas, it’s mostly item progression. With all of the items, what stops you from going straight to the last dungeon? Well, nothing. You can do that, honestly, and it’s pretty awesome. My experience went a little differently though, because instead of being satisfied with just renting the items, I had to buy all of them, and that costs an exorbitant amount of rupees. Each item is anywhere between 400 and 1200 rupees to buy, and with nine items to buy, that’s a lot of money to spend. Regardless, that experience was still super rewarding because I spent hours just exploring the over world, unlocking fast travel points, finding heart pieces, and finding secrets. With all of the items, nothing was stopping me and I was free to move through Hyrule and its counterpart Lorule, as much as I wanted.
The story of A Link Between Worlds has your character, the usual suspect: Link, kind of wrapped up in some mess where a wizard named Yuga is turning the sages into paintings. Of course you have to save them, and in the process you yourself get turned into a painting. Lucky for you, you have a bracelet that lets you jump between being a 2D painting and a 3D boy. This mechanic literally changes the entire idea of a Zelda game. It’s the main mechanic of the game and every dungeon has you using it in different ways. Whether you’re using it to just run along inside a wall and traverse over gaps, travel through prison bars or ride along a flat moving wall like it’s an elevator, every dungeon introduced a new way to use it. It literally sent my head spinning with how easy it was for the developers to manipulate the environment with such a simple mechanic.
You’ll also use the ability to travel through cracks in reality, that lead to Lorule, which, as I mention before, is the new dark world for A Link Between Worlds. Lorule is a fallen kingdom with a horrible fate, and that story is actually quite fascinating as more becomes apparent throughout the game.
Also, it’s worth noting that the graphic-style for A Link Between Worlds has earned a lot of flak, but personally I think it looks absolutely gorgeous. Everything looks as though they took the artstyle from A Link to the Past and lifted it into 3D polygons, and I love it. Plus, the game truly benefits from the 3D. I never had the 3D off at any point when playing, and it looks much better for it. Plus a solid 60fps when running in 3D is nice to see and makes the game feel silky smooth. The devs play a lot with multiple stories and levels to objects, and the dungeons were much taller than they were wide, so the use of 3D was simply phenomenal.
Also worth mentioning is the superb music throughout the game. The vast majority of tracks are remastered tunes from A Link to the Past, all of which sent chills down my spine. They’re completely remastered, and in some cases redone with several changes, but any fan of A Link to the Past will recognize the jams here. To them, I wholeheartedly recommend playing this game with headphones. To everyone else, I wholeheartedly recommend playing this game with headphones.
My only qualm with A Link Between Worlds, and though I can’t believe I’m even thinking it, is I believe they leaned too hard on the nostalgia. With even just the overworld being vastly similar to A Link to the Past, several of the characters and places making a return, and even the music being a return to form, I can’t help but wonder: what if there was no precedent for it to lean on and everything in this game was wholly original? With that idea in mind, I firmly believe that A Link Between Worlds would be a noticeably better game with only original ideas poured into, and no need to meet some kind of expectation. That being said, the game is still goddamn fantastic, but I can’t help but wonder what could have been if this was just an entirely new Zelda title without the idea of being a sequel tying it down.
A Link Between Worlds is absolutely fantastic. Nintendo’s return to 2D Zelda is an incredible achievement, a joy to play, and is what I think to be the best title available on the 3DS. I can only imagine the joy someone might receive if this was their first Zelda.