The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - Review  

Does Not Link to the Third World
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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Less than 20 Hours
+ Nostalgia mining that works
+ Fascinating worlds to explore
+ Superior control
+ Eye and ear catching
- Mini-games suffer
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   Despite being interested sometimes in the myriad Legend of Zelda titles Nintendo has released over the years, I haven't finished one since A Link to the Past, which I played to completion on both SNES and GBA. Knowing that The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds was a direct sequel to a game I enjoyed enough to finish multiple times made me pay close attention, and I finally took the plunge. The result was plenty to convince me that I made the right decision, because A Link Between Worlds does enough right to make playing it an easy recommendation for anyone who had any good feelings whatsoever about Zelda on the SNES.

   Events begin innocently enough with apprentice Link having to be booted from bed in order to reach the blacksmith of Hyrule's establishment. Link's job of delivering a sword to its forgetful purchaser goes wrong when a mysterious man called Yuga shows up and turns two people into paintings. It's up to Link to take the title of hero and save the day, though his quest gets more complicated when Yuga opens cracks into a place called Lorule. This near-mirror image of Hyrule has been corrupted through years of darkness, and saving his home requires Link to investigate this place quite thoroughly, rather as a different Link had to do centuries prior in A Link to the Past.

   A Link to the Past had a minimal story in keeping with the early SNES years, and A Link Between Worlds unsurprisingly has a larger quantity of text. The narrative's time is still small compared to what will be spent actively playing the game, but at least when it does encroach the results are pleasant. A Link Between Worlds' narrative is beholden to the blueprint of A Link to the Past until its conclusion, and seeing how that kind of story progresses with a bit more development for the characters Link encounters is an amiable pastime.

However many generations of these things have come through the years, they still don However many generations of these things have come through the years, they still don't know how to do anything but plod around.

   As Link sets out on his quest, the world around him will look familiar to A Link to the Past veterans. A Link Between Worlds takes that world map and uses it again, though tweaks and alterations ensure that the experience is not a carbon copy. Navigation thus feels comfortably familiar without being boring to those who remember A Link to the Past well, and as is standard for this series the rewards for exploration are considerable.

   The actual progression through the game is not dependent upon Link finding key items and using them to access new areas, as with a few exceptions he is able to rent all the equipment at a very early point in the narrative. Instead of critical items most treasure chests hold some Rupees, which turns out to matter quite a bit given that equipment can be outright purchased instead of rented, plus numerous activities require cash up front for participation. The game's structure is thus made nonlinear in most respects, freeing the player to poke around Hyrule and Lorule without much constraint on the available destinations. Simply exploring the environments stays entertaining throughout, and the dungeons do a fine job of being varied from each other while enticing a little thought from the player.

   Something else introduced here is Link's ability to turn into a two-dimensional painting with a distinct neo-Cubist influence that can move around walls freely, and is the only way to enter the cracks that switch between Hyrule and Lorule. The painting of Link is oddly unable to vary its altitude, but that ensures the player will have to look closely to reach certain spots. Becoming a painting drains the magic meter that is also necessary for all of Link's special items, but as it will automatically recharge in short order that does not affect being able to explore one's surroundings.

   Challenge is certainly present if desired, but A Link Between Worlds is not a title that will unduly distress even those with limited action skills. Health replenishment is easy to find under rocks and bushes around the world if the enemies don't drop some, and Link falling in battle has no consequence except losing whatever equipment is currently being rented, which is a good incentive to buy it when able. Most of the bosses require a little thought to defeat, but learning their patterns is not overly taxing. Making progress is rarely so impenetrable that players will need to consult the in-game hint system our outside help. Neither does the game feel simplistically easy, striking the happy balance between boredom and frustration that its predecessor also achieved. The only places in which the difficulty can frustrate are several mini-games which must be completed in order to obtain all of the heart pieces available in the game, though skipping them to avoid the irritation is always a potential choice.

Ah yes, the Cubist school of art, represented here as a painting more mobile than usual. Ah yes, the Cubist school of art, represented here as a painting more mobile than usual.

   The only complaint to be made about the control is that sometimes having the A button both pick up things and turn Link into a painting can get mixed up. Everything else is pretty much retained from A Link to the Past, only with some streamlining for the new features of the 3DS. Being able to use two items in addition to the sword concurrently is very useful, and the ability to quickly swap frequently used items without entering the inventory saves time. Having all the pertinent information about what is equipped and where to go next displayed on the touch screen continues to be a welcome feature on this system, and experimenting with item effects is an easy task.

   At first glance, A Link Between Worlds' having discarded the sprite look of A Link to the Past was unwise, but upon closer examination an impressive level of detail in the graphics is visible. The visuals are intricate enough to reveal plenty of detail when inspected closely and do a superb job of making the locations feel vibrant. Depth is an effect conveyed very effectively by the visuals even without turning on 3D, and the whole of Hyrule and Lorule reward looking closely to see what the developers could do.

   Just as much as the visuals that recreate locations, A Link Between Worlds explicitly references A Link to the Past with its music. Most of the tracks heard will be familiar to veterans of that game, but they come in somewhat different renditions that are nevertheless quite effective. Every track also has a remixed version heard when Link has shifted to being a painting, and these entertainingly emulate the sound of the original compositions as played through an older radio in another room. Most of the dungeons have brand new tracks to accompany exploring them, which range from effective to unobtrusive at worst.

   Nintendo felt the need to break in and remind players to take breaks when saving, but that and the occasional annoying mini-game mark the extent of big complaints I can make. I don't know how this will play for those without a love of A Link to the Past, but it succeeded in getting me to race through a new Zelda game for the first time in many years. This is a worthy successor to A Link to the Past, using the earlier game's blueprint for a fine purpose instead of being slipshod, something I would not have dared to hope before its release.

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