The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Review: A Renewed Sense of Adventure

by David Sanchez December 16, 2013 @ 11:13 pm

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The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past will forever be etched in Nintendo’s history as one of the company’s finest accomplishments. It’s the type of game that issued in a new era for the famed fantasy action-adventure series. It was quite the pleasant surprise when Nintendo revealed that it was working on a follow-up, aptly titled The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Set in the same world as Link to the Past, this 3DS title draws direct influence from its SNES predecessor and even goes in some great new directions, marking a familiar yet new type of Zelda game that’s absolutely fantastic.

Link Between Worlds begins in much the same way that several previous entries in the series have: with Link waking up after a deliciously deep sleep. It doesn’t take long before you meet several characters such as Zelda, her nursemaid Impa, and the magician Sahasrala. Of course, the game’s threat is also encountered early on. This time around it’s Yuga, a Ganondorf lookalike with a fascination for turning sages into paintings with the sole purpose of awakening the pig-like Ganon himself.

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Yuga’s certainly no Ganondorf, but he still has an interesting personality. Rather than being a super-serious villain, this latest addition to Link’s list of adversaries tends to whine a lot, laughs hysterically most of the time, and has an overly flamboyant attitude. It’s a great new direction for a Zelda villain, even if Yuga isn’t as strong as Ganondorf or several other major enemies in the series’ folklore.

While Yuga’s a completely new addition to the series, the overall vibe of Link Between Worlds is anything but. Don’t take that as a bad thing, though. The familiarity of this adventure when compared to Link to the Past makes for great feelings of nostalgia. If you played Link’s wondrous SNES adventure (if you haven’t, you should do that right now), you’ll instantly recognize the map, towns, locations of key places, and spots where certain characters live. This is as direct as you can get — you’re literally revisiting the same map from Link to the Past, and it’s quite impressive.

Link Between Worlds does a good job of, uh, linking old and new almost flawlessly. Case in point: while the world is one we’ve seen before, obtaining items within that world is something entirely new for the series. Rather than picking up a new item within each of the game’s dungeons, you can rent most of them almost immediately at the beginning. Renting comes relatively cheap, but the downside is that if you perish in battle, your items will be returned to the charming Ravio, who just so happens to set up shop in your house.

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Thankfully, you can choose to purchase items so that you’ll never lose them. This will run you some more rupees, but doing so means that what you get is yours to keep for the entirety of the game. In addition, you can also upgrade items utilizing a simple crafting element taken from Skyward Sword. Being able to boost your weapons is a nice touch, and though it’s not mandatory, it puts those otherwise throwaway items you discover throughout your travels to good use.

Having access to most items so early in the game means you can access different dungeons as you see fit. While there are some areas that are locked until you meet specific requirements or obtain certain items, you’re mostly left to your own devices. Being able to locate and visit different dungeons in whatever order you desire adds a nice openness to Link Between Worlds, and you never feel like you’re completely tied down or forced to complete the game in a predetermined fashion.

Another major element, and something that can be considered a nice implementation, is Link’s energy gauge. You no longer need to purchase more bombs or seek out arrows in bushes and pots. Instead, every time you use an item, your energy gauge drains a bit. It automatically refills after a few seconds, leaving you to use your items practically infinitely. This is a great addition because it lets you spend your rupees on other things like more weapons and upgrades.

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In addition to letting you use items, the energy gauge is also used when Link becomes a painting on walls. You can scale cliffs this way and uncover heart pieces. You can solve puzzles essential to progressing in dungeons. You can even enter Lorule, this game’s version of the Dark World from Link to the Past and the setting for a lot of the dungeons. Admittedly, there’s not much to becoming a part of walls. It’s a fairly simple mechanic, but even though it doesn’t make as big an impact as using a mask to transform or becoming a wolf, it’s still pretty cool.

In the past, Zelda dungeons have been lengthy affairs, but in Link Between Worlds, the various dungeons are surprisingly short. You can get through multiple dungeons in a single sitting. That’s not to say that these key areas are boring or shallow. In fact, you’re constantly moving around and doing things while in each dungeon. Everything is crammed into a smaller space, though, so you’re always on the move and completing tasks. Even though they’re shorter than you may be used to, the dungeons are filled with tough enemies that take sizable chunks off your health meter should you get hit, so expect a challenge.

Unlike Skyward Sword, which was a largely linear affair, Link Between Worlds has plenty of side quests big and small for you to jump into. These range from collection missions to fetch quests, but there’s a lot more to do to keep you interested. Sadly, while this aspect is gracefully different from Skyward Sword, the NPC element is shamefully reminiscent of that Wii adventure. In other words, there are no intriguing characters with the exception of Yuga. Even returning favorites aren’t all that memorable here, which is disappointing considering how games like Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker had such a great cast of memorable NPCs.

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Link Between Worlds is a visual beauty. Even though we’ve seen this world before, we’ve never seen it quite like this. Nintendo was able to take a fully pixelated world and turn it into a colorful, lively, rich 3D wonder. Speaking of 3D, the stereoscopic features of the 3DS are pushed to new boundaries with this game, offering up what’s easily the best-looking experience on Nintendo’s handheld device thus far. Moving platforms subtly shift Link upward and downward, and bouncy pads toss the hero toward the screen and move him to higher floors.

The music of Link Between Worlds is great, too, and like the map, it’s taken right from Link to the Past. From the overworld theme to the Dark World music to the dungeon tune — if you played the SNES original, you’ll instantly be reacquainted with the soundtrack offered here. The music is all updated, too, so even though you may have heard these songs in Link to the Past, they sound a bit more contemporary now.

It should be noted that this isn’t the best Zelda game, nor is it superior to Link to the Past. Hell, this game isn’t even the best handheld Zelda. Even then, Link Between Worlds is a great outing for Nintendo’s green clad adventurer that straddles the line between nostalgic and novel. It tries new things and succeeds, and it feels like a largely different and even slightly revolutionary Zelda game despite the fact that it’s set in a previously visited land. This franchise has been in need of some sprucing up and a fresh coat of paint for some time now. Quite amazingly, Link Between Worlds is the game that achieves that, and it’s utterly marvelous.

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