The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Review
Nintendo just can’t win.
For years, the chief complaint leveled at each new Zelda game has been to do with structure – despite changing things up with sailing, lupine tomfoolery, trains and Lord knows what else, pretty much every Zelda game adheres to the same core template.
Find dungeon, explore dungeon, find tool, use tool to kill boss… it’s been the same in basically every one of Link’s adventures since the blueprint was drawn up for A Link To The Past two decades ago.
And twenty years later, Nintendo has finally changed the record.
But as much as it pains us to say it, we’re starting to wish we’d been a little more careful what we wished for. Because as much as it looks like a Zelda game and plays like a Zelda game, it just doesn’t feel like one any more.
The Zelda Template
The main problem is the lack of any real sense of progression.
Here, with most of Link’s arsenal available as soon as the rental shop opens for business, dungeons have little to offer beyond a pocket full of Rupees along the way and the unchanged combo of plot MacGuffin and Heart Container at the end.
Luckily, the theming, design and layout of these dungeons is just about strong enough to carry them without that kind of midway change of pace, though the heavy signposting does somewhat tarnish the usual sense of mystery.
If there’s a big picture of a bow and arrow outside a dungeon or you need a hookshot to reach it, you’ve already got a fair idea of what kind of challenges lie within.
In the early stages, there’s an issue of cash flow as well. Although dungeons, side quests and the world itself are loaded with Rupees, you still won’t be able to rent everything for the first few dungeons.
One incorrect impulse buy can hold you up, too – it’s that classic scene from an action movie that never usually leaves the cutting room floor, where the hero hacks away at a lawn for 20 minutes trying to scrape together enough loose change to rent some bombs of some dude dressed as a giant bunny.
Later, this isn’t so much of an issue but get caught short while you’re still low on hearts and broke and you could find yourself grinding just to replace a few rental items. Not cool.
Death In A Link Between Worlds
Similarly, punishing death by repossessing rental gear only serves to impede exploration, something that feels like it goes against the grain a little in a series that has for so long championed it.
This isn’t Dark Souls – this isn’t a franchise that needs or benefits from such a mechanic and forcing players to stock up on hearts before leaving their comfort zone just slows things down.
To be honest, it’s not exactly a difficult game anyway and if anything, that just makes matters worse.
Those that get a kick out of being disciplined by games will probably be experienced enough to not even die once, meaning it’s only the less well-versed adventurers who stand to be stung the most by this new hardline policy on failure.
Not all of the introductions come with question marks hanging over them, though.
Link’s new-found ability to become a painting and shuffle around walls is a resounding success, offering a clever new mechanic that adds a new dimension to both dungeon and overworld exploration while presenting the opportunity for some awesome puzzles at the same time.
It’s controlled as well as it is implemented too, even if with the only non-monetary resource in the entire game.
What’s New In Zelda: A Link Between Worlds?
In fact, it’s worth noting that inventory management is pretty much gone too. No longer do you have to worry about having enough bombs or arrows to get the job done, with everything fuelled by… like, magic or something.
One recovering gauge governs use of all of Link’s gadgets and powers, meaning you can afford to be a little more reckless with how you use them.
Going into every encounter bow-first or getting used to dropping bombs in the middle of groups of enemies takes some getting used to given how strictly the franchise usually rations such gear, but coupled with a clever ‘quick switch’ option, general gameplay is free to be far more varied and exciting than usual.
But where to set this radical shake-up of Zelda principles?
Why, in the exact same version of Hyrule as A Link To The Past, of course!
While the layout will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played the SNES game (unsurprisingly, considering this is being marketed as a direct, numbered sequel to A Link To The Past in Japan), new toys and abilities offer new ways to explore familiar setting, plus the process of traveling to and from the dark world is handled far better here than in the SNES classic.
It’s kind of ironic that one of the greatest departures from classic Zelda structure should take place in this most iconic of worlds and even though we’ve drawn many an unfavourable comparison between this and A Link To The Past, the key problem is that A Link Between Worlds simply has a huge pair of Pegasus Boots to fill thanks to its timeless predecessor.
Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Review
The truth of the matter is that while it might not be an amazing Zelda game, Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is still a great game in its own right.
Combat is interesting and speedy, even if full 360 degree control does present some issues with precision that never existed in the old eight-way system.
Both overworld and dungeons are beautifully crafted; the 3D effect is one of the best we’ve seen on the system, particularly in the areas that focus on verticality as some of the game’s best dungeons do.
There’s even a clever little implementation of StreetPass, with passers-by able to create and equip a Shadow Link who will invade your world for a duel when your paths cross in real life.
With plenty of dungeons, a decent checklist of side-quests and tons of secrets to unearth, Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a solid time investment too.
We’re not talking Pokémon hours here, but probably close to 15 hours for the main quest on a first run (and perhaps double that if you’re shooting for 100 per cent without using the Hint Glasses) and more for a Hero Mode run, where enemy damage is greatly increased and healing is much harder to come by.
It’s a shame this mode is only unlocked on finishing the game, mind – the game quickly becomes too easy once you start getting upgraded gear and the option to go straight in on a harder difficulty would have been welcome indeed.
3DS has had an incredible year, with Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds the latest in the long, long line of great titles that twist traditional franchises to work brilliantly on the twin-screen handheld.
And although there are issues with the game, these will likely only frustrate die-hard Zelda fans and even then, the simple joy of exploring Hyrule again in a brand new way – or even just a familiar orchestral sting – will usually be enough to slap a beaming grin right back on even the sourest of faces.
So while this won’t be rocking the podium of the finest 2D Zelda games, it’s hard to deny its quality and finesse as an original and interesting adventure through a familiar world.