The ultimate handheld Zelda game.
A nod to the past, rejuvenated mechanics and the most I’ve been challenged by a Zelda game in years. While The Wind Waker remains my favourite, A Link Between Worlds is the Zelda game I’ve been waiting for since Majora’s Mask. It’s more than a little bit different, and awoke a facet of my logical mind scarcely employed by modern games — at least those on next-gen consoles occupying all my time over the past fortnight.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I got stuck in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on more than one occasion; but the good kind of stuck; the kind of stuck that forced me to reevaluate an obstacle from another perspective, resulting in gratifying success, not a 3DS hurled across the room or an unhealthy reliance on Google.
Set in the same world as the Super Nintendo's A Link to the Past, Nintendo has finally risked a direct sequel in the Zelda universe, two decades after the original. Sure, it’s set years later with a new protagonist, but for the most part, everything is how you remember it.
A Link Between Worlds is the best series of puzzles Nintendo has ever compiled into a single game, Zelda or otherwise.
By returning to a familiar land, and viewpoint, A Link Between Worlds is beaming with nostalgic relics from the 21-year-old A Link to the Past, but also brimming with some of the most ingenious puzzles the series has thrown up in its stellar history.
Within minutes, our tunic-wearing hero is dragged into a hellish adventure involving a bad guy turning his victims, including Link, into paintings. Fortunately, the young boy is saved by a magical bracelet given to him by Princess Zelda, granting him the ability to control the transformation into a 2D wall-bound painting. Like many, I was skeptical when I saw Link turn into something that looked as if it were sketched on the back page of an algebra notebook, and feared it would simply infuse elements of Paper Mario.
I was wrong.
It’s one of the best additions to Zelda in 27 years. With the press of a button, Link can enter a 2D space along a wall propping up the lavish world. It introduces a new spacial element to solving puzzles, and was the driving force behind my getting stuck during the first few hours.
Before all that, A Link Between Worlds does away with the tutorial. Link is thrown into the thick of the action almost immediately. After more than two decades we know how to play a Zelda game, and even coming from the more recent console games, it doesn’t take long to assimilate with the reduced button count.
Shaking up the formula, Link's arsenal — the bow, bombs, boomerang, hookshot, giant hammer — are available to rent almost immediately. From a stingy rabbit that’s turned Link’s abode into a makeshift market, mind you. Apparently that’s cool, and Link still has to pay, but we’ll brush over that. At fairly reasonably prices, they’re all yours to use until death, at which point Link is revived without borrowed items and you’ll need to pay again.
It’s a massive spanner in the works of a game that has historically been based around making core items available as you need them. It liberates you from the shackles of limitation. In past Zelda games, unaccessible paths were immediately recognised as points of return once new items had been unlocked, and puzzles tended to revolve around the most recent acquisition in your kit. While there is still a level of gate-keeping, with almost everything available at once, you’re free to set out and explore as you choose.
Hyrule and its shadow world Lorule are designed to invoke inquisitive exploration. The top down view remastered in, mostly, 3D spurs urges to search another cave or destroy more rocks as you push forward for fear of missing something. In and outside the many dungeons there are hidden buttons to press and doors to unlock in an adventure that doubles as a quest to explore Hyrule. The old Hyrule.
THE COST OF DEATH
By charging you to hire weapons with each revival, A Link Between Worlds adds consequence to death. Dying in Zelda games has never been a big problem, but now you’ll lose most of Link's kit. It adds tension and forces you to think twice forging a perilous path.
Each of the major dungeons is essentially a self-contained brain-teaser. To counter the abundance of supplies, each dungeon plays by its own rules that will leave you scratching your head until the glorious moment of victory when it all comes together and the boss door swings open. There’s nearly always one correct answer to the conundrum, but I always felt clever when I figured it out. A Link Between Worlds is the best series of puzzles Nintendo has ever compiled into a single game, Zelda or otherwise.
For anyone who hasn’t played ALTTP, the 3DS reincarnation will come as a shock; especially after Skyward Sword. It’s an old Hyrule, nothing like the more recent landscapes, and the birds-eye SNES angle, which has continued to serve handhelds for years, requires a retro mindset. While Nintendo has flipped many of the gameplay tropes on their head, the story and characters of A Link Between Worlds make vanilla look like a dose of overexcitement. It doesn’t really matter why any of this is happening — it’s awesome regardless — but after the determined Link of Skyward Sword and the loveable eyes of Wind Waker, this is the George Lazenby of Links.
With the rampant challenge and neglect of well established conventions, A Link Between Worlds is the most frustrating Zelda game. I rage quit a couple of times, and had to walk away completely one night because I couldn’t see the answer right in front of me. That’s what comes with tweaking rules and regulations of a universe explored for countless hours over the past 20 years.
The Final Verdict
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is the most refreshing Zelda game I’ve ever played. It shakes up the formula more than anything we’ve seen before, yet remodels a favourite world I didn’t realise I wanted to see again until I was there. As one of the more challenging Zelda games, it’s also the most frustrating, but once you’ve removed the shackles of prior Zelda knowledge, A Link Between Worlds blossoms with some of the best puzzles ever combined into a single game. It’s exactly what I want from a handheld Zelda game and makes an old saga exciting again.
Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
- + Clever puzzles
- + New items system
- + Entering walls
- + An old Hyrule reborn
- - Can be extremely frustrating
- - Boring Link