Back in my day, we didn’t have “textures” and “physics” in our games. When we got home from school (we had to walk, barefoot, in the snow), we’d have to manually load a game cartridge into our console and play with a controller tethered by cable. Grand Theft Auto didn’t have hookers, and The Legend of Zelda was in two glorious dimensions.
Thankfully, one series is returning to its roots. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a very special game for a lot of very special reasons. It marks the first official sequel to any game in the series, in this case the story picks up from A Link to the Past on Super Nintendo.
The game is set hundreds of years later in the very same Hyrule as the previous title and many of the same enemies and dungeons are back.
The story this time focuses on a wizard who appears in Hyrule and is turning certain people into paintings. Link goes to investigate but is himself transformed into a painting, allowing the wizard to head back to the castle to hold Princess Zelda hostage.
Thankfully, Link was given an old artefact by a new friend Ravio — who becomes a very helpful companion — which expands on the wizards’ magic and allows Link to control his form as a painting. This means he is able to turn into a wall painting at all, and actually move around in this 2D perspective.
This comes in handy because Link needs to then head out on a quest to find the Master Sword and must travel to some familiar dungeons and battle familiar bosses in order to do so. Of course, these dungeons have been updated with a new look, new rooms and new hidden treasures. The boss battles themselves feel completely different.
This is partly thanks to the new “item rental” system which is run by Ravio who shacks up at Links’ house. This allows the player to rent as many of the games’ items as they like. Once Link falls in battle, the items are returned and the player will need to re-rent them. The system works extremely well — you can now take a boomerang into an early dungeon, which is great for new players. Zelda titles of old were renown for their difficulty, this system gives the player control over their own difficulty curve.
Using items now depletes a new stamina bar. This is a nice addition as it gives the player the peace of mind to use their items as much as they like, as long as they pay attention to the self-refilling stamina bar. For example, bombs and arrows are now limited only by the amount of stamina you have left, so you wont need to go hunting through grass and fallen enemies for loot.
This is Nintendo’s unquestionably genius approach to making a console game suitable for handheld consoles. When you only have ten minutes until your next train stop, the last thing you want to do is go looking for some more arrows so that you can progress further in the game.
The soundtrack is mesmerising and serves as a fantastic treat to fans and newcomers alike.
This is also helped by a friendly witch who decides to help Link out in exchange for some universal kudos. As the press of a button, the witch will appear to carry Link instantly to any of the weather vanes littered across the world. If you find yourself in a dungeon but need to rent another item, ring the bell, go home and fill up your item slots.
Weather vanes also serve as save stations which could be a minor drawback to those wanting short gameplay bursts. To save the game, you need to find a weather vane. Then again, dungeons aren’t as epically deep as they have been in past titles. Whereas a dungeon like ‘Water Temple’ in Ocarina of Time may take hours of hair-pulling agony, most dungeons in Link Between Worlds can be completed in about ten minutes if you have a good run.
Again, this is because Nintendo seems to understand the merits of the handheld game. Short, rewarding bursts of gameplay. You might be playing on a bus, but that doesn’t mean you’re limited to rubbing a screen, cutting fruit or slinging birds. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds proves you can have a deep, meaningful experience on a handheld console.
A Link Between Worlds is also extraordinarily beautiful. The colours are bright and vibrant and the 3D effect is perfect for this type of game. The feeling of Link’s movements and using weapons are spot on. And then there’s the music.
Buy some headphones. You need to experience the majestic soundtrack in the best possible way. While A Link to the Past has music made by computer, A Link Between Worlds uses real instruments and sounds gorgeous. For a few Rupees, a duo in Kakariko Village will even perform remixes of many of the over world themes. The soundtrack is mesmerising and serves as a fantastic treat to fans and newcomers alike.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of A Link Between Worlds is the sheer amount of content on offer. The game will probably take most veterans about 20 hours to complete, but with tonnes of secrets and side-quests available, you’ll keep returning to Hyrule much like you’ve done many times before in previous games. It comes as a surprise because the world is so familiar, yet so different.
And when you’ve exhausted everything, you can fire up StreetPass and battle your friends and strangers in a Shadow Link showdown for glory and Rupees. Or just return to the tavern to listen to more live performances.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is one of the best titles on Nintendo 3DS so far, is one of the best titles you’ll play this year and is even one of the best games in the Zelda series ever released. The game is the perfect marriage of the original vision of the series as seen back in the NES days, and the forward thinking innovation of a game we’d expect to see on a Nintendo flagship console in 2013.
For a Zelda game, it may feel a little short. But the puzzles are challenging, the enemies are various, the side quests plentiful and the presentation — that music — is so well made, you will enjoy every last minute of it.