The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
- Street Date:
- November 22nd, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Trevor Ruben
- Review Date:1
- January 29th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- ESRB Rating:
- E (Everyone)
Cartridge version reviewed on a standard 3DS. 'The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds' is also available from the eShop.
After the launch of Wii U, Nintendo announced a series of moves that recognized the perceived lack of an impending new 'The Legend of Zelda.' Along with a special 'LoZ' area of the Miiverse, Nintendo announced 'The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD,' a new but far off and unnamed Wii U 'The Legend of Zelda,' and finally, a return to the lone Super Nintendo installment, 'The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.' Released the same day as the Xbox One and 'Super Mario World 3D,' 'The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds' for the 3DS family of systems may the most anticipated handheld game in the past half dozen years.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Here we go again doesn't quite cut it. Here we are again, that might do. 'The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds' takes us back to the same overworld of the NES classic, 'The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past,' inhabiting it with a new adventure, new dungeons and a very non-Zelda item progression system. It's a game that plays both sides of progression and nostalgia, trading in years of franchise solidification for the chance to shake things up a bit. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean the changes pay off.
Flipping my 3DS closed at the conclusion of Nintendo's latest romp through Hyrule, I find myself torn with emotion, uncertain if the game I just played was really worth the time. 'A Link Between Worlds' does a lot with the Zelda formula, it rearranges some conceptions of what's required in the franchise, and it throws some old ideas out the window, yet still there's a pervasive feeling of lacking. Some people might call that boredom, others heartlessness, and I'm torn, unsure of how to feel.
The changes here are undoubtedly good. The top down world of Hyrule, ripped directly out of the game's forbear, 'A Link to the Past,' is succinct and dense, splaying dungeons about the world like Incan temples ripe with reward. Systems in place promote self-discovery more than any other Legend of Zelda to date, as you don't have to go down the checklist of dungeons in any one order. Now you're renting items with those rupees, all available almost from the start, instead of unlocking them dungeon-by-dungeon, and it feels great to know you haven't tripped along the path because of it. You choose the order you tackle the dungeons, purchasing or renting the necessary items as you go.
Importantly, it's your path now, and as a result it feels like your adventure too. Unlike almost any Zelda game of past, 'A Link Between Worlds' goes to great strides to ensure a feeling of customization, of personalization.
That's 'A Link Between World's' greatest accomplishment, at least within the restrictions of the franchise's frameworks. You can choose. You can choose to tackle one dungeon before another, and you can choose to rent, or buy for a much higher price, an item you'd prefer to use in combat. I loved the bow and sword combo, as traditional as it might be, and as a result I spent an important resource upgrading the bow first. It was my bow, not the game's. Doing the same for the boomerang and fire rod later on felt just as personal. I can't put those words in any other Zelda review, it just hasn't happened for the series until now. It also helps that the rupees you earn actually feel essential to your own progression, as choosing which items to buy or rent can change the very feel of your combat and the dungeon you might tackle next.
Outlining those choices is the world itself. This particular version of Hyrule is neither large nor surprising in its presentation, but it is designed with succinct purpose. Every cave earns reward, every path a discovery, just don't expect to be blown away by the characters you meet or the vistas you cross. It's as traditional as it can possibly get, even with the inclusion of an alternate universe "Lorule" as a means for further exploration, which brings us to the story. Everything up until the very final scene, which played out a twist both inventive and subversive, was typical and boring. No villain captured me like 'Ocarina of Time's' Gannon, nor did the lore suck me in like 'Skyward Sword.' The story and its characters simply aren't there alongside the game's mechanical innovations. Upon reflection it might've been expected, given the game is more or less a sequel to 'A Link to the Past,' and it really only fails in this sense.
The dungeons, on the other hand, are wildly compelling. Like the wolf from 'Twilight Princess' or the ability to sail in 'Wind Waker,' Link is granted one important ability at the beginning of 'A Link Between Worlds' that really flips everything on its head. He can flatten against a wall and travel as a painting version of himself. It adds another dimension to world travel, as the ability is used to both transfer between Hyrule and Lorule and find areas previously unreachable, but the real advantage is in the dungeon design. Two sensations consistently invaded me as I tackled the dungeons.
First, Nintendo has really upped its game in its utilization of space to create puzzles. Looking at the dungeon maps, which you no longer need to discover in a chest, it seems like it should never take you more than five minutes to complete an area. And yet, I'd be crisscrossing back and forth over the same space completing completely separate goals as I progressed. A lot of this has to do with the verticality in the game's visual design, which might stack a room with layers of levels, all an interconnected path to that boss at the end of the tunnel. Only one dungeon, ice-themed, really confused the philosophy, which I basically stumbled through waving my hands outward in the darkness. Other than that, however, whether you're bounding from one platform to another or crossing seesaws over a lava pit, these dungeons are bountiful of puzzlement in the best way possible.
Second, Link's wall-merging ability opens up a brand new dimension of every room you enter. Whether you're searching for chests within a dungeon or even trying to find the dungeon itself, you're integrating of this ability into every action you take is imperative to success. You need to always be thinking with walls in mind, and it's a wonderful way to make the most basic of Zelda tropes feel new. Even the boss fights, which range from basic to explosively fun, take advantage of Link's ability. Some are among the most memorable of the series, a testament to painting-Link's importance to the game as a whole. It does for 'A Link Between Worlds' what the wolf failed to do for 'Twilight Princess.'
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Before the greens of Hyrule, before the dark of a dungeon, the first thing you'll see is the unbelievably crisp visuals in 'A Link Between Worlds.' Somehow, despite displaying two simultaneous shots for 3D effect, Nintendo got this game running at something looking like 60 frames per second. The actual visual style might not be something to remember, but even above 'Skyward Sword,' this is a benchmark in visual fidelity for the series. This clarity in 3D is truly something to behold, and as usual, Nintendo continues to prove that 3D can amplify the experience. The top-down world sinks into the screen with rewarding depth, as the dungeons and overworld alike are designed for the distinct purpose of drawing your eyes constantly up and down. It's up there with 'Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon,' 'Mario Kart 7' and 'Star Fox 64 3D' as proof-of-concept.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
It's a testament to the music that you always know which world you're in, Hyrule or Lorule, not necessarily through the visuals, but in what you're hearing. The light, jumpy and more classic tones of Hyrule are greatly contrasted with the more treacherous and daring tones underlining your Lorule travels. Multiply that by five depending on whichever dungeon you might be in. The dark hallways begging illumination of your lantern sing with desperate need, just as a deep volcanic cavern echoes in tune the treachery afoot. More so than in past games in the series, the music holds up the atmosphere with much greater success than the visual styling.
There's a subculture of Zelda speedruns which, for the first time, I really began to understand. People who partake are always looking for the best path through the game's narrative, and I can't imagine a title more ripe for speedrun interpretation than 'A Link Between Worlds.' With all that choice at hand, all those chests you may or may not need to complete the game, 'A Link Between Worlds' can be played in a multitude of different ways, and thus should be if you're the type who might want to. It's the most replayable Zelda to date.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Hero Mode, a tougher challenge, unlocks after your first playthrough.
Surprisingly, despite all its whimsy, 'A Link Between World's' final evaluation becomes mostly academic. There are ones and zeroes to consider here, and my emotions on the subject should really take a back seat. This is the most personalized game in the franchise to date, and yet the story is among the most sterile. The dungeons are phenomenal, but the overworld is drab, if intelligently designed and easy to, within it, lose yourself in exploration.
The positive changes, the upgrades, are of a clinical nature, mechanical and calculated, yet resulting in a renewed sense of exploration, a 'Legend of Your Own.' But, flipping back again, what makes most games in the franchise great that's lacking here, and the reason I had trouble feeling excited over the course of my playthrough, is an exuding theme, of greatness and purpose to the lore, of love, really. 'Skyward Sword' and 'Wind Waker' were absolute greats because they had this, and their worldly designs reflected that passion. 'A Link Between Worlds' shines only for its ones and zeroes, and not for the intangible undercurrent of love pulsing through the franchise.
Here's hoping that the next title on Wii U takes in those upgrades from 'A Link Between Worlds,' but also keeps in with the tradition of immersion through wonder and fancy. Because that's where the rupees are at.
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