Review: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for Nintendo 3DS
Like coming home.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds came out several months ago, and here I am, only now getting around to reviewing it. There are reasons for this– excuses to some, perhaps, but reasons nonetheless. Some of it has been other jobs taking priority, other parts have been trying to keep up with newer games.
More than anything, though? I’ve honestly just had difficulty finding the words.
I realize that’s probably difficult to believe of someone who has written thousands of words about a single New Super Mario Bros. game alone (and I hope to avoid going on for quite so long here), but it’s the honest truth. I’ve found the task of doing this incredibly daunting, and telling myself to do this before tackling other reviews (such as Super Mario 3D World) has probably not done me any favors.
Why is it so difficult for me? Because I’m used to being critical, to trying to fairly balance out a game’s good points with its not-so good (or sometimes even just bad) points. And for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds?
I honestly have nothing bad to say.
I suppose to clear one thing up is that isn’t to say that I don’t have any criticisms, but what I have are so few and so small as to practically be inconsequential. Others have aired grievances, arguably valid ones at that, yet what has bothered others has not bothered me. Ultimately, I’ve been worried that in reviewing this game, I might come off as some sort of fan boy gushing over the whole thing.
For instance, my one biggest criticism with the whole product is that the standard game is too easy. Case in point: The above image. I was rather proud of myself for having beaten the game without dying once, and I thought it might be my greatest gaming achievement since winning at Donkey Kong Country in the Blockbuster World Video Game Championships. That is, until other people started sharing their results, featuring a similar non-count of deaths.
So that was a bit of a downer, but I’m not willing to hold it against the game. If I wasn’t okay with an easy game, then I probably wouldn’t return to a lot of great titles I’ve played over the years, including Mega Man 2, Super Metroid, Super Mario Bros. 3, and even The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past itself. In the grand scheme of things, challenge is relative (even the NES Zelda games aren’t too difficult for me these days), and the overall experience more than makes up for it.
Besides, like other more recent installments in the series, it has a “Hero Mode” after beating the game which allows you to go through again with the challenge ramped up a bit. I haven’t played this mode yet, however; I’m saving it for when I give the game another play-through.
With that said, the overall experience felt like coming home to me– this is the Zelda experience I’ve literally waited decades for. Even after previewing the game on numerous occasions, I was in no way prepared for what playing the final product would actually be like. The demo was fun, but only allowed the barest taste of what the full experience would provide, like sampling a bit of whipped cream from a hot fudge sundae with a cherry on top.
If you’ve read my review of the original Legend of Zelda for the NES, then you should know that I’m a big fan, and it gives a pretty good idea of what I enjoyed in the experience. Over the years, I’ve played the 3D Zelda games that the series evolved into, and while I did rather enjoy Skyward Sword, my ultimate feeling was that I enjoyed it more as a game, but not quite so much as a Zelda game.
I’ve also tried other more “oldschool” styled Zelda titles, such as The Minish Cap and Oracle of Seasons, developed by Capcom/Flagship. While also enjoyable in their own right (though I’ve only gotten partway through either for various reasons, such as the Minish Cap cartridge I bought bugging out), they just didn’t quite manage to scratch the itch just so.
But with A Link Between Worlds? I’m not quite sure how to describe it, but this one just feels right to me.
Though the game is strongly influenced by A Link to the Past, that’s not the game’s only inspiration. Rather, it feels almost as much (if not more) like a love letter to the original NES games which began the franchise, one instance of which can be seen in the shopkeeper’s design in the image above, which is clearly derived from this image from the original game (courtesy of Evil Geeks).
Some have criticized the graphics for one reason or another, but to me, they’re a part of the game’s charm. While the art associated with the game’s marketing materials has its own style, the in-game graphics of A Link Between Worlds, such as the visual of Link above, strikes me as the original NES game’s art style having been run through the same sort of “filter” (for lack of a better term) that the classic Mario artwork went through to arrive at what we see in New Super Mario Bros. And though I can appreciate critics’ (possibly the same ones down on this game’s art style) desire to see something a bit fresher visually from that series, I can honestly say at the same time that I still enjoy much of their visuals just the same.
Augmenting the in-game graphics is the animation, which the developers got to run at 60 frames per second, even in 3D, making the experience feel very slick and smooth. Speaking of the 3D effect, while not strictly necessary to enjoy the game (I toggled it on and off throughout), the difference between it and playing in 2D is incredible, and must be witnessed to be appreciated; screenshots do it no justice in that regard. Luckily, though there is unfortunately no demo in the Nintendo eShop, there is a trailer which gives you a good idea of how the game looks in 3D.
Rounding things out are the remixes. Many are taken from A Link to the Past, and there are some new tunes as well, but among my favorites is the remix which accompanies the StreetPass battles.
In A Link Between Worlds, StreetPasses really add to the experience. When passing by other players, you can swap data with them which features your version of Link, which you can customize with whichever two weapons or items you want. Combined with your level of armor, sword, and other factors, you’re each given a “bounty” in rupees which can be collected. Once you StreetPass with someone, you can then find and engage a Shadow Link somewhere in the world. Win the duel, and you can collect the rupee payout as your reward! There are numerous objectives you can achieve by winning via different criteria, too.
What makes this especially cool, at least for me, is that this use of Shadow Link harkens back to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link‘s final battle, where Link must face his shadowy self. For these StreetPass battles, though Shadow Links have been featured in numerous games since, they went right back to his first appearance and provided a remix of the theme from that game’s palaces. It’s a very nice touch, sure to make the longtime Zelda fan smile.
One major concern some have had with the game is its ties to A Link to the Past, specifically its map. While the two are similar at a glance, they are just that: Similar, not identical.
In the game’s story, it’s been a few generations since the Super NES title, and fittingly, while things are familiar, there are various changes throughout, too. You may know your way around, but at the same time, you might not recognize everything. It reminds me of visiting my hometown after an extended absence; sure, you still know your way around and some places and things are just as you remember them, but at the same time, there’s the same sense of “hey, where did that shopping centre come from?” at various points.
Of course, being Hyrule, it’s not a shopping centre. Instead, perhaps it’s the windmill that is now out in the middle of Lake Hylia, or someone new residing in the house which was once home to twin lumberjacks. Other areas, such as the dungeons, have been overhauled completely. Certainly, the Eastern Palace and the Tower of Hera look the same at a glance, but in the service of gameplay (unless we’re to assume that massive dungeon renovations are a thing), the layouts and ways you get around are a bit different now. Similarly, the Lost Woods once again lives up to its name and now features more tricks to navigating it than merely seeing through the transparent fog used to showcase the Super NES’s capabilities.
Another issue which has led some to raise their eyebrows at this title is the way items are presented. Previously, you would often go into a dungeon, find an item, use it to solve its puzzles and beat its boss, and more often than not, put it away to gather dust. Here, however, a number of the items prove to be useful throughout the journey, making it handy that you can purchase (almost) all of them up front.
Doing so offers up a level of free-thinking and non-linear exploration not seen in the series since A Link to the Past. After a certain point, the story no longer dictates your actions, but rather, you’re given the freedom to choose how you want to tackle things, much like in the earlier Zelda titles. Things devolved to such a point in the series that when you were given the freedom to tackle a portion of Skyward Sword in the order you wish, one way wound up breaking the game. Here, you’re given the keys to the kingdom, and it feels so good.
That isn’t to say you’re given absolute freedom, however. There are still certain items and tools which now take the items’ places in each of the dungeons and throughout the kingdoms of Hyrule and Lorule, and many are even optional, though others will be needed to progress. But ultimately, many of the choices are yours to make, allowing you to plan and strategize accordingly and adding to the replay value.
Further enhancing the system are the Maiamais, little hermit crab-like creatures who are scattered throughout Hyrule and Lorule, 100 lost in all. Finding them is surprisingly fun and addictive, especially seeing as (or because) they can enhance your items.
While you can rent items from the mysterious shopkeeper Ravio during the game, he’ll take them back should you fall in battle. However, purchasing the items not only prevents this, but allows the Mother Maiamai to enhance the item of your choice into a “Nice” form every time you retrieve ten of her children. This can result in more powerful bombs and hammers to more potent magical rods to triple-firing arrows and the ability to throw more than one boomerang at a time. That last one doesn’t come in handy too often, but you still feel kind of like Batman in the process of doing it.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet, aside from further explanation of the Hyrule/Lorule thing (ever played a Nintendo game with dual worlds? Good, then you know what that’s all about, then) is Link’s signature ability in this game, the ability to merge with walls as a painting.
The reason for that is pretty simple: While a cool trick, it honestly doesn’t feel very gimmicky at all. It feels like another tool in Link’s chest, like the Pegasus Boots or the Hookshot, or even the shield, only a little more prominent and more frequently used. Honestly, this is a good thing, as it feels organic to the gameplay experience and gives you a new way to not only explore, but look at different situations as well. The effect is cool, and more or less justifies using 3D models and backgrounds for the game, rather than sprite-based ones as in A Link to the Past.
The last thing to address is the story. Without delving into too much detail, I’d say it’s about on par with the one in A Link to the Past, in that it’s more prominent than in the NES titles, but not as overwhelming as in some later entries to the series. And as noted before, the story doesn’t drive the game– and you, the player– to do certain things in a certain order and dictate the gameplay.
But don’t be mistaken; though the story is lighter, it still plays a role, and I ultimately felt fulfilled at how things played out in the end. It felt like a complete, solid story which is capable of standing on its own as well as expanding the world and lore of The Legend of Zelda.
In the end, I cannot recommend this game enough. If you own a Nintendo 3DS, you really must try this game. The only exception I would make is if a person were not a fan of The Legend of Zelda at all, and even then, I’d still urge them to at least give this one a try. While it might not change their mind on the series wholesale, I think it’s quite possible that it would still allow one to see the appeal while enjoying their own stand-alone experience.
This is the Zelda game I feel like I’ve waited over 20 years for, and I’d say it was worth every second. My only hope now is that those working on the next Zelda game (presumably the one for the Wii U) will take any lessons learned from this one to heart and incorporate them into future installments.
They say no game is perfect, but to me, this is just about as close to a perfect Zelda experience as I can imagine. It’s everything I’ve wanted from a new Zelda game and more, and should sit proudly alongside the first three or four games in the franchise on the shelves of those who especially embrace the series’ early days.
A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.