Release Date: November 22nd 2013
Played on: 3DS
Developer: Nintendo EAD Group 3, Monolith Soft
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a return to the Zelda series’ 2D top down roots. More than that, it’s a successor to the highly praised A Link to the Past from the SNES, and it definitely succeeds in that aspect. But is different enough from A Link to the Past to be called its own game?
In ALBW, a sorcerer named Yuga attacks Hyrule, taking over the castle and sealing Zelda and the current seven sages in paintings. The blacksmith’s apprentice Link must fulfill his destiny as this generation’s bearer of the Triforce of Courage to save Hyrule, and its opposite world counterpart, Lorule. If you’re new to the Zelda series and feel a bit lost in the terminology, don’t worry. It isn’t necessary to know the series’ lore to enjoy the game, and there’s a portion near the beginning of the game that gives you a chance to brush up on the basics of Zelda lore and terminology.
The game is an action-adventure title played from a top down perspective to give the game the illusion of being 2-D, but in reality the entire game is modeled in 3-D with the models slanted to add to the illusion, and give the game the same look as A Link to the Past.
Your goal is to navigate through the overworld, usually in Hyrule, and find your way to the dungeons spread across Lorule, which is almost identical in appearance to Hyrule, but considerably more dangerous. This is where the unique ability of turning into a painting comes into play. When near almost any wall, you can ‘merge’ with it to become a painting and then move horizontally along the wall, even over chasms. Merging is used to reach areas you wouldn’t be able to on foot, and to move through magical cracks in the walls that connect Hyrule and Lorule. This ability is what many would call the gimmick of the game, but it’s quick and easy enough to transition in and out of painting form, and adds a new level of depth to exploration of Hyrule and Lorule, which are practically identical to the Hyrule and Dark World of A Link to the Past.
In each dungeon you must make your way through rooms by simply reaching the other side through, completing a puzzle (such as using an enemy’s attacks to activate an out of reach switch) or defeating all the enemies in the room. Eventually you’ll find the Big Key to open the way to the dungeon boss.
Link’s movement is quick and responsive in a way that perfectly compliments every nudge of circle pad. Every 2D Zelda, excluding Four Swords Adventures and the two Nintendo DS titles, has been on a system that primarily used a D-Pad for movement, limiting movements to eight directions at most. With the circle pad you have complete control of Link’s movements..
At first you can only attack with your sword, but soon you get items such as bombs, boomerangs and a shield to use. I found myself actually using the shield more than in previous Zelda games in combat. Many enemies and bosses make the shield a must to use in battle at the risk of severe damage.
ALBW is almost entirely non-linear after the first three dungeons. You can choose to complete the seven dungeons the sages are trapped in any order, but there are still items like in the previous Zeldas, and dungeons still require certain items to pass through. This is worked out through an item renting system.
A merchant named Ravio has a shop with various items you can rent out, or buy for a much higher price. If you die while possessing rented items, the items go back to the shop and you must pay again to rent them. You need at least one item to complete a dungeon. This makes dying much more of a punishment than previous Zeldas, which would often just bring you back to a town, save point, or the beginning of a dungeon. The item rental system makes all the rupees, the currency of the Zelda series, you find through chests, enemy drops, and in cutting grass directly necessary to your quest, while many other Zelda titles had the currency as the player’s choice to use or not.
With Rupees being so important this time around, you start with a wallet limit of 9,999 rupees. In many other Zelda titles you would start with a much smaller wallet and gain larger ones through side quests. This ability to carry such a large amount of rupees from the start keeps rupees found from being wasted. This is much better than previous games, which would often have rupees tossed away if you didn’t have room in your wallet: something that always infuriated me in previous Zeldas. Despite rupees being so important to the game, unless you’re trying to buy every single item or you die a lot, you shouldn’t have much trouble gathering enough to complete a dungeon, which will often leave you with at least enough Rupees for the next dungeon’s necessary item.
There is a caveat to this system. Because you can play the dungeons in any order, the game never gets more difficult. Once you reach the portion of the game where you’re completing dungeons to rescue sages, the difficulty level is consistent: Puzzles don’t get trickier, enemies don’t do more damage and you don’t fight more enemies. Considering every completed dungeon will earn you an extra Heart Container (an item that increases your health) the game actually gets easier as you go because your health keeps increasing but the damage dealt to you does not. However, it is up to the player to collect the heart container or not. That being said, the game has a fairly average difficulty for a Zelda title, but if you consider yourself a very skilled gamer you may find ALBW lacking in challenge.
Another big change ALBW brings is a greatly increased importance of the magic meter. In previous games this meter was mainly just used for magical items and would be replenished by finding drops that replenish your magic. In this game the magic meter has become more of a stamina meter used for all the items and your merging ability. For instance, instead of having a set amount of arrows for the Bow, you can keep firing until the meter drains and then you must wait for the meter to refill over time. The upside of this is that you don’t have to go rooting around for ammo, and adds a bit of a challenge by restricting you from spamming attacks. On the other hand, it removes the challenge of managing your resources for some items, such as the Bow.
The bottom screen of the 3DS is used as your menu. You can view your gear and switch which items are mapped to the X and Y buttons quickly with touch controls by dragging the items to their desired button designation. There is also a quick swap option which allows you to swap items using the d-pad without having to pause the game. This new feature makes item switching easier and faster than in previous games where you would be forced to pause and navigate through menus to assign items. A map of both Hyrule and Lorule, marking the locations of dungeons and providing you with pins to mark your own locations, can be viewed on this screen.
The art-style emulates A Link to the Past’s but seems to have lost something in the transition from 16-bit sprites to colorful 3D models. The characters and enemies look oddly proportioned, plastic, and look lacking overall on the 3DS hardware. Zelda is far from a dark or even realistic series, but this time around the artstyle comes off as something you’d see in a Nick Jr. cartoon, and not a very attractive one. It’s hard to take the game seriously when everyone looks like Fischer-Price Little People.
While I did find ALBW a bit too much like A Link to the Past, especially in its overworld, the item rental system and stamina bar is what changes the formula enough to keep ALBW from simply being an A Link to the Past remake. This is most likely the Zelda game that longtime fans will fall in love with, as it sticks with the fundamentals from the early days of Zelda (dungeon crawling, puzzle solving, and combat) and improves on them in nearly every way. Newcomers may find the game a bit vanilla, as the past few Zelda titles have been decidedly different from each other in aesthetics and gameplay, but should still have a blast with the game. If you’ve never played a Zelda game before, this might be a good one to jump on to that won’t leave you completely lost in the lore.