The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - Staff Review  

When Link Took Selfies Too Far
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
Less than 20 Hours
+ Brilliant level design.
+ Surprisingly fun combat.
+ Lots of side quests and hidden secrets.
+ Impressively non-linear.
- Story doesn't have the same quality as other recent Zelda games.
- Short.
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   The Legend of Zelda timeline is a scholastic endeavor many Hyrulian historians have vainly sought to unravel. It is mind-bogglingly complex and possibly involves alternate universes: as such there are only a small handful of titles that are universally agreed upon as "sequels" of sorts. Majora's Mask follows Ocarina of Time. Phantom Hourglass follows Wind Waker. The latest Legend of Zelda title joins these as one of the few direct and irrefutable sequels in the long-standing series, a follow-up to the ground-breaking Super Nintendo classic, A Link to the Past. Featuring a nearly identical incarnation of Hyrule along with the familiar top-down perspective, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a great sequel, a terrific Zelda title, and one of the best games of the year.

   While it is unclear exactly how much time has passed since A Link to the Past, the events of the game have since become legend, and it is suggested that several generations have come and gone. Players take on the role of the perennial, green-garbed hero Link, currently a mere apprentice for the local blacksmith. Tasked with the mundane chore of delivering a sword to the captain of the Hyrulian guard, Link unwittingly stumbles into the midst of a kingdom-wide plot to kidnap the descendants of the seven sages and release the monster Ganon from his imprisonment. The mysterious man perpetrating these crimes has the magical ability to trap people inside of paintings, but his attempt to do this to Link is foiled by the power of a strange bracelet given to him by a traveling merchant. Possessing the newfound ability to merge with and move through walls as a painting, Link must find the Master Sword, rescue the sages, and save not only Hyrule, but also the devastated kingdom of Lorule which exists in another universe.

   The story is pretty typical of classic Zelda legends, and lacks the heavier emphasis on plot seen in more modern titles like Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword. That said, the game has plenty of personality and is chock-full of memorable characters. There are some nice twists at the end that are heavily foreshadowed, but nonetheless help to deviate the game from the usual formula. One of the final moments of the game is an amazing, entirely unexpected surprise and makes for an ending that may be the most memorable in the series.

   Of course the prime driving force of any Zelda game is the sense of adventure it offers, and A Link Between Worlds does this remarkably well, better in fact than any series entry besides Wind Waker. Hyrule is expansive and exciting to explore, and the similar yet dissonant Lorule offers an interesting mirror world to accompany it. Many areas of both Hyrule and Lorule require players to pass between them at certain points using Link's wall-merging ability, and coupled with the unique level design that is simultaneously two- and three-dimensional, it requires a lot of creative exploration to uncover all its secrets.

Even monsters can appreciate fine art. Even monsters can appreciate fine art.

   The dungeon design is equally impressive, utilizing multiple floors and three-dimensional rooms along with puzzles that require multiple pieces of equipment to solve. Some dungeons even make use of the terrains of Hyrule and Lorule in their design. In one instance, players will need to exit a dungeon several times to discover alternate entrances in the outside world, while in another, players will need to traverse an entire dungeon in Hyrule in order to reach a specific breach leading to Lorule, where the dungeon's boss awaits. The clever design along with plenty of hidden secrets throughout the game make it a joy to explore, and a handy warping ability makes getting around the vast world a snap.

   To top it off, Nintendo made a fundamental change to the core design of A Link Between Worlds that changes the way players explore the game, and entirely for the better. Rather than discovering new equipment in dungeons over the course of the game, thereby opening up new methods of exploration, players instead can rent nearly every item right from the very start for a small fee. These items remain with Link until he dies, which could potentially never happen. As the game goes on and players gain more rupees, they can purchase the items outright, but by having access to them from the start, nearly every corner of Hyrule is open to exploration from very early in the game, and subsequently most of Lorule as well. Similarly, after the first three beginning dungeons, the final seven, with one exception, can be completed in any order the player wishes. While some may prove more challenging early on than others — the Ice Ruins, for example, are quite punishing, while the Thieves' Hideout is rather easy — players can choose which one to take on first.

   Of course, there are a few items found in the dungeons that cannot be rented, and some of them are required to access certain areas, though typically such places are optional and the equipment required to reach them isn't mandatory for accessing other dungeons. Players will also find upgrades to their core equipment hidden in dungeons — new tunics, a new shield, and special ore that can be used to upgrade the Master Sword. Players can also complete a hide and seek subquest in which they must find one hundred baby squids hidden throughout both Hyrule and Lorule. Every ten that players collect will allow them to upgrade one of their purchased pieces of equipment with new power. The bow gains the ability to fire three shots, the hookshot fires faster, the bombs have a bigger blast radius, and so on. Unlike other similar quests in past Zelda games, this one is brilliantly designed and surprisingly easy and satisfying to complete. A special map players acquire when the quest begins shows how many of the little tykes are still hidden in any given quadrant of the map, and the babies themselves make squeaking sounds whenever Link is nearby, giving players a clue to their location (and some are hidden quite well.)

The 3D nature of the dungeons is on full display here. The 3D nature of the dungeons is on full display here.

   One of the biggest surprises in A Link Between Worlds is how satisfying the combat can be. While the core of it is the same as other 2D Zelda games, notably A Link to the Past, interesting enemy designs and boss fights that are more than simply elaborate puzzles make it far more engaging than it ought to be. One of the greatest new features in the game is the addition of an energy bar for Link. Rather than making use of limited quantities of arrows and bombs like in previous games, every item makes use of a quantity of energy which varies based on its power. Players no longer need to worry about running out of arrows or bombs and are free to use them indiscriminately in battle. This is helpful, as certain enemies are very difficult and sometimes impossible to kill without them. For example, there are enemies that turn to stone when struck and can only be killed if they are then blown up by a bomb. Other enemies possess shields that effectively block any sword or projectile attacks, unless of course players take it away with the hookshot first.

   Although the score cannot compare to the fanciful medleys of Wind Waker or Skyward Sword's symphonic brilliance, there is a certain level of nostalgia present that is easy to appreciate. Many of the melodies will be immediately recognizable to long-time fans of the series, notably the main Zelda theme, Zelda's Lullaby, the Theme of Kakariko Village, and more. With improved sound quality and new arrangements, the soundtrack is classic Zelda and fits well with the almost-retro visual style.

   The top-down perspective gives A Link Between Worlds a very unique appearance. While the viewpoint is reminiscent of pre-Ocarina titles, the game is entirely made up of three-dimensional models and environments, accomplished using clever tricks of perspective that only become apparent when viewing the world while merged with a wall (try doing so beside a statue.) The artists took great care to replicate a sprite-based environment using models, and many of the animations, such as Link swinging his sword, would look utterly ridiculous when viewed from any other angle. Somehow it works, and it manages to bring a classic charm to the game without sacrificing the modern gameplay elements players have come to expect from the series. The artwork itself is colorful in Hyrule and subdued in Lorule, creating a nice contrast that gives the former a sense of fancy and the latter a sense of menace. Above and beyond all that, it is one of the few 3DS games where the 3D effect is not only extremely well done, but actually makes certain aspects of the game easier to play, though it is entirely playable without it.

   The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is probably the biggest surprise of the year. As a handheld Zelda title, it blows its DS brethren out of the water, and as far as the series is concerned, it's the best game since Ocarina of Time, if you don't count this year's brilliant port of Wind Waker. It takes the best elements of the earliest Zelda games, couples it with the best ideas of modern Zelda games, and then introduces innovations that are long overdue. The game is just shy of twenty hours long, but it's among the best twenty hours 3DS owners are likely to find on the system. In a year filled with terrific 3DS RPGs, A Link Between Worlds stands apart as one of the best.

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