++Review – The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The holiday season has come, and the holiday season has gone; and while most of us have had to readjust back to our typical selves and into the doldrums that is our daily routines, I, for one, have changed forever. This isn’t a New Year’s resolution kind of thing, nor is it a lesson learned via Good Will Towards Men, though it was the holiday season that has impacted me irrevocably. You see, I now own a 3DS, and I have been forever changed!

Hyperbole aside, I was thrilled to receive this system (a gift to myself), as the library of games contains the majority of what I want to play, as a gamer. RPGs, Shoot ’em Ups, the cream of the Nintendo first party crop – say what you will about their console model (You play games? Please, tell me how you’re qualified to critically analyse Nintendo’s business, demanding that they need to give up making consoles altogether though they’ve only posted one annual financial loss in their entire company history… /willywonka), but the GameBoy brand has consistently delivered excellent games and experiences. Though Nintendo seems to have divested itself of the phrase “Game Boy,” it from the loins of that particular pedigree that the 3DS springs, and I no longer have to pass on them out of deficiency. To admit I was “excited” would be a gross understatement.

I decided, then, to begin this journey with a franchise that is preceded by its reputation (and my expectation): The Legend of Zelda; and, oh, look! There’s a brand new game in the series for me to explore! How convenient!

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The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds [3DS]
Developer: Nintendo EAD Group 3 // Monolith Soft
Publisher: Nintendo
Release: 11/22/2013
MSRP: $39.99
Words: James Bacon

I have a confession to make. The Legend of Zelda hasn’t ever been my most favorite Nintendo franchise. I find that among my peers, typically it’s either ranked numero uno, or it falls in behind Mario and the gang at number two. It isn’t even number two on my list (Metroid takes that honor, behind, predictably, Mario). In fact, the last Zelda game I played was Wind Waker, on the GameCube (though I have recently purchased Twilight Princess for my Wii). The reason that this is the first game I played on the 3DS is because I wanted the awesome limited edition Triforce 3DS XL, which just so happens to ship with a free copy of the game. There you have it. Honesty.

While I haven’t played a game in the series since Wind Waker, I have fond memories of every previous game in the series, including A Link to the Past, which ended up being a good thing, as A Link Between Worlds borrows HEAVILY from it. This is both a good thing, as the nostalgia provided links the Links together as prequel and sequel; but it’s also a bad thing, because there are only a scant few gameplay details to discuss that are actually new. Overall, the game is brilliant, and completely deserving of all of the praise and Game of the Year honors it’s been pulling down; but this is going to make for a shorter-than-normal review as I see no need to excavate regarding mechanic commentary.

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A Link Between Worlds unfolds exactly as A Link to the Past did, with two notable differences: you have access to all of the dungeons right off the bat, as you don’t find the vast majority of your tools, but rent them from the Nabbit flavored Ravio; and you can flatten yourself against walls, becoming a living portrait, and gaining access to areas you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get to, fitting through cracks, and slipping past obstacles.

The first of those differences, renting tools from Ravio, is an exceptional design judgement call. It makes everything the map has to offer instantly available (so long as you have the cash to rent the equipment… which you will), and it allows you to explore at your own pace and discretion. Renting the items eventually turns into the ability to purchase them outright, which is in your best interest because when you die, Ravio reclaims all of the rentals, forcing you to pay him more rupees to progress. Also, you can’t upgrade tools you don’t own. Each tool can be leveled up as a favor from Mother Maiamai (a large, inter-dimentional cephalopod) to Link for finding her lost children all throughout the world(s). Some of the upgrades are nominal (the bow can be upgraded to shoot three arrows at once; a waste), while others are essential (the sand rod… upgrade the sand rod; you’ll thank me later), but all of them are interesting and fun to use. You can complete the game without purchasing or upgrading a single item, but it is extremely helpful and satisfying to do so.

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The second new mechanic is Link’s ability to flatten himself against any wall, enabling him to slip through cracks, and solve otherwise impossible traversal puzzles. It’s an ingenious mechanic that makes you think differently when approaching pits, lands, and ledges. It might take a while for you to get in that mental state, as it did with me, but the mechanic is so integrated into the play experience, calling it a gimmick is not only a gross misrepresentation, but entirely incorrect; and once you coax your brain to think two dimentionally, the game just clicks.

Graphically, it’s one of the most beautiful games on the 3DS, especially when you transition over to Lorule, and the 3D feature is used to great ends, with glass floors and stories deep vertical corridors giving you a sense of depth that I’ve never experienced in a game, before. I’ve often said that, before you even put your hands on a controller, you can tell a Nintendo game from its visual craftsmanship, and A Link Between Worlds is proof of that very posit. It is, at the same time, a call back to Link’s SNES adventure, demonstrated by the perspective and detail (right down to that little cowlick our elven hero sports), and a vaulting forward in both graphical design and execution. The sound, likewise, is familiar yet fresh.

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The plot follows the typical formula: A powerful villain (Yuga in this case) captures the Seven Sages, Zelda included, and seeks to break the seal keeping Ganon at bay, ushering the world into a new era of darkness. If it ain’t broke, right? Thankfully, there’s a lot of character development and role reversals to explore in the new land of Lorule, Princess Hilda chief among them. Hilda is Zelda’s Lorule analogue, and she’s one of the single most ingenious, witty, intelligent, and heroic characters to ever come out of Nintendo, even if she isn’t at all playable. It would be a shame if we never saw her again, but something tells me that won’t happen. It might be a while before she reemerges, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t happen.

Verdict: 9.5 (++Good) – Buy this game. Take the holiday dollars you received in your fat little fists, bring them to your local game retailer (or the eShop), and shove it at the clerk while demanding A Link Between Worlds. This game IS a link to the past, as it capitalizes on the world built IN A Link to the Past. The ephemeral nostalgia combines with a tactile built-from-the-ground-up foundation to deliver on the promise of its premise. There’s a lot of familiar sights and sounds, as well as all new enemies and twists, and every last one f the is delightful.