Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Review – Hyrule Rules
Twenty-two years after A Link to the Past released on the Super NES, Nintendo decides to revisit that incarnation of Hyrule in another adventure that is both familiar and fresh. As fatigue sets in for the Legend of Zelda franchise, a breath of fresh air comes in the form of a handheld journey – the first Zelda title for the Nintendo 3DS. In our Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds review, we’ll tell you why the latest entry is one of the best Zelda games in a long time.
Something is wrong in Hyrule, again, and young Link must rise to the occasion. Princess Zelda is captured, again, but not by Ganon – The evil Yuga has appeared in Hyrule to steal the Triforce and, on top of that, has sealed Zelda and the seven sages in a series of portraits. Yes, Nintendo named a villain “a guy” backwards, and Yuga manages to only be a mild variation on Ganon, but he’s partly responsible with giving Link his new power. Using an old bracelet from the wandering shopkeeper Ravio, Link is able to “merge” with walls, turning him into a flat drawing that moves across walls and through cracks.
The merge power, the slickest Zelda innovation since horseback riding, allows for some neat, satisfying puzzles and movement both in and out of dungeons. It allows Link to bypass obstacles, slip through jail cell bars, and – in one particularly awesome boss encounter – trick enemies into slamming themselves into a wall. It’s such a simple implementation that I found myself smacking my forehead when I realized all new ways merging allows you to solve puzzles. One of the new collectibles scattered throughout the overworld are small, shelled creatures named Maiamais. Every so often you’ll come upon one stuck to a wall – pulling on it does nothing, but sliding behind it using the merge power and popping back out removes the Maiamai from the wall, allowing you to collect it. Simple, but awesome.
Maiamai’s are used to unlock upgrades for your items, turning the Boomerang, for example, into the Nice Boomerang. Now to address the biggest change from a traditional Zelda game – acquiring items. The rabbit-hooded Ravio, who nonchalantly crashes at your place, shoving Link’s furniture into the corner to make room for his tables of items, will both rent and sell the player items. Rented items are inexpensive and can’t be upgraded, but you lose them on death. Buying items costs a fat chunk of rupees, but you get to keep them forever and can trade Mother Maiamai her young for sick upgrades, like the larger Nice Bombs and the fierier Nice Fire Rod.
My favorite change from previous Zelda games is that all of the ammo and mana your items consume are governed by single purple bar. Use a Bomb and it takes a chunk out of the bar; arrows, the same, and also the Ice Rod, the Lamp, and the Hookshot. After a few seconds, the bar regenerates completely. This affects the flow of dungeon crawling and combat by speeding the game up dramatically – no more grinding for arrows by destroying respawning pots in front of the boss door. No more running out of bombs in the middle of a boss fight or worrying about conserving mana for the collection of rods you collect throughout the game.
Combat is quicker too. Link’s sword swings are quick and snappy, but the reach leaves a little to be desired. Not worrying about mana so much allowed me to use the Fire Rod for most fights on the overworld, as it seems to pack the biggest punch. Fast travel to weather vanes throughout Hyrule and its dark equivalent is available thanks to a helpful witch named Irene. Movement is smooth too but sometimes it’s hard to aim at enemies when limited to only eight directions. Link is controlled with the stick, the D-pad allows you to look farther in that direction, B slashes the sword, and items can be set to either Y or X. Right shoulder blocks with a shield and L uses your Pegasus boots.
Item management can be kind of a pain, but the game is good about giving you as many tools as possible to make switching items in and out as smooth as possible. The touch screen allows you to access your inventory, a gear page that lists Link’s current sword, shield, and collectibles information, and the map is displayed during gameplay. In dungeons you can quickly switch between floors on the map, and you can even place pins on points of interest.
The dungeons in A Link Between Worlds are varied and exciting. Since most of Link’s items are available from Ravio at the start, the puzzles have more freedom in terms of item use than in any previous Zelda game. Sure, some dungeons are more biased towards some items than others, such as the necessity of the Fire Rod in the Ice Ruins, or the Hookshot in the Swamp Temple. Some puzzle rooms even go as far as to require Bombs, a Rod, and the merge ability to solve; the synergy makes dungeons a more satisfying experience. Bosses will be familiar to those who played A Link to the Past, but some like Blind the Thief have a special twist.
As fresh and new some elements of A Link Between Worlds are, there are a lot of recognizable Zelda tropes present. Not only is the overworld almost exactly the same as it was in A Link to the Past, albeit with lovely graphics and a boosted presentation, your journey still involves killing Octoroks, collecting heart pieces, swimming under evil Zora, bombing open entrances to Fairy Fountains, and discovering empty bottles. Bees still pop out of the grass and the corrupted Hyrule soldiers make the same surprised noise when they spot Link. No musical instrument, though, oddly enough! Streetpasses add the Shadow Links of other players to your game, which you can fight and claim the bounty on.
Not to say that the similarity between A Link to the Past and A Link Between Worlds is damning or in some way a negative. A Link Between Worlds can be enjoyed with or without having experience the classic SNES title precursor, but there’s plenty there for fans to discover. Much of the music has been fantastically remixed, there’s a pleasing and distinct lack of obnoxious fairies to jabber away at Link, and the graphics are full of neat touches like nice water and lighting effects and emotive, well-animated characters.
I’ll say one thing about the 3D – I haven’t played an entire game in 3D since Super Mario 3D Land, but Zelda looks fantastic and even makes good use of 3D during dungeons, as many of them emphasize verticality. As someone who has enjoyed Zelda in the past but feels worn out on more recent entries, I emphatically recommend this game for any Zelda fan and fans of action-adventure games in general. Basically, if you own a 3DS, you should buy A Link Between Worlds – if you still don’t have a 3DS, this game is a great reason to get one.