3DS review: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Departing from the more 3D-oriented DS Zelda titles, A Link Between Worlds opts to travel back to the era of top-down 2D adventure games. Link and the rest of Hyrule may be rendered with full 3D models, and there is certainly a greater degree of freedom in how the Hylian hero can go about exploring the realm, but there is no mistaking the nods to the Super Nintendo classic that this 3DS game is meant to act as both sequel and spiritual successor to. Set many years after the conclusion of A Link to the Past, this latest Zelda title features a new Link, a new princess Zelda, but a very familiar premise of the sages being captured by resident villain Yuga. As the sages are all trapped in paintings, it is up to Link to traverse the multiple dungeons of Lorule, effectively an inverse version of Hyrule and this new iteration’s spin on the Dark World from ALttP.

One of the big gimmicks with A Link Between Worlds that leads it to stand out from the other entries in Nintendo’s long-running series is the fact that the core dungeons can be tackled in any order players see fit. This is because all of the major items are acquired from a merchant named Ravio, who will initially allow Link to rent the likes of the boomerang, hookshot, ice rod, and so on. All these items are found in this singular location, but upon Link fainting, they will be retrieved by Ravio and will need to be rented again with Rupees – that is, of course, unless you opt to fork over some major cash and buy these items so that they are permanently in Link’s possession. Thankfully, most dungeons hold a wealth of Rupees, so there is something to be said about taking on a more adventurous attitude with each plunge into the dangerous depths.

That is, if the dungeons were particularly difficult. The tradeoff for allowing players to go about the dungeons in whichever order they prefer is that the difficulty factor plateaus incredibly early in the game. The layouts of some dungeons are rather single-minded and less interesting throughout, such as one that sees Link embark on what is effectively one big escort mission through a trap-riddled fortress. Another, which has Link sliding around ice platforms, certainly has more variety in terms of its puzzles and combat offerings, but is so slow-paced and forces a routine of repetition that leads it to become uninteresting after a short while. A few of the dungeons do stand out as decently-solid entries in the greater offerings of the franchise, however, such as a lava-filled turtle island and a shadowy palace housing puzzles that play off the level of light illuminating each room.

Each dungeon emphasizes one of Ravio’s items heavily, and on the whole, use of each item is quite consistent. It is never the case that the hookshot or bombs suddenly overshadow the boomerang or fire rod, though some of the more practical items will see more widespread use in the overworld’s sidequests. And on the topic of sidequests, there certainly are a large number of them – nearly as many as in Majora’s Mask, a Zelda title which was almost entirely dependent on sidequests for its own formula of game design. It’s quite surprising just how much time can be spent playing minigames in hopes of boosting your Rupee count or rescuing the octopus-like baby Maiamai in order to power up Link’s arsenal. Alongside the creative and moderately-challenging boss encounters, the sidequests prove one of the highest points of A Link Between Worlds.

There are a number of incorporations from other Zelda games exhibited in A Link Between Worlds that go a long way – some for the better, others not so much. Much like in Majora’s Mask and Skyward Sword, bird statues are used to save the game. Link can also utilize these as fast-travel locations, courtesy of a local witch and her flying broomstick. Often, Link will be greeted with a message from these bird statues that inform him as to how long he’s been at his adventures, and that you, the player, ought to consider taking a break. These messages cannot be skipped or sped up, and the frequency of them proves infinitely more obnoxious than the warnings or bits of advice provided by any of Link’s companions in previous iterations of The Legend of Zelda. As the game is a direct sequel to A Link to the Past, this 3DS title relies on the SNES classic for practically all of its successes. The overworld is nearly identical, the soundtrack borrows heavily from the stylings of ALttP, and the art style is nearly identical, despite its featuring 3D models instead of 16-bit sprites. For anyone hoping Nintendo would birth something magical and revolutionary out of this latest Zelda title, it is unfortunately A Link to the Past part two in the most literal sense.

When compared to many of its successors, A Link to the Past may not have boasted as in-depth or as complex a story. But it certainly exuded a darker atmosphere and more grueling challenge factor than most of its contemporaries Alongside Ocarina of Time, it acted as both a means to redefine the series and solidify its place as one of the greats in the genre of adventure gaming. The story of A Link Between Worlds, by comparison, feels lazy and uninspired. The simple premise of Link needing to rescue the sages from the grasp of one very simplistic and one-dimensional villain worked fine for Four Swords Adventures because that was a multiplayer entry focused more on gameplay and level design than any semblance of a gripping plot. Here, it’s not only an insult to the idea of having a proper follow-up to ALttP, but also a major step backwards for the handheld Zelda titles. There are no shocking moments, no surprises, no clever twists along the way. Sure, Link’s Awakening might not have been a perfect creation, but it was certainly original, and any of its shortcomings were far more excusable, given the limited staff members. I never expected A Link Between Worlds to stand up to the legacy of the Oracle games or The Minish Cap, but its formula lends even Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks to appear a quality that is leaps and bounds better by comparison.

Going into A Link Between Worlds, my greatest concern was that the ability to transform Link into a painting and have him shuffle about the walls would either make the experience too easy, or break the gameplay altogether. In fact, limiting the time span Link has to use this newfound ability via a magic meter is a brilliant move, and there are some neat ways that Link latches onto surfaces, slips through cracks in walls, and rides platforms to new heights. The aforementioned magic meter is also used to limit the number of uses Link has for any of the other items in his arsenal. As it gradually refills, there is no need to collect more bombs or even keep count of them. Yet, for every major aspect such as this that A Link to the Past gets right and could have easily incorporated more heavily into the gameplay, there are three or four other factors that are backwards in design or just plain poor in execution. I will admit, I did not have the highest of hopes for A Link Between Worlds prior to its release, but I expected more out of it – or at least, more elements that weren’t so lazy and boring.

My rating: 6.5 (out of 10)

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