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December 16, 2013 / Jett

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Review

How do you follow up one of the greatest games ever made? Well, if you’re Nintendo and you’re trying to create the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, you wait 22 years before making and releasing The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS, it retraces some of the steps of its predecessor while introducing some of the boldest innovations to the formula yet. The end result is a game that brought out the same child-like joy I felt playing as Link at his 2D best while set in the freshest Zelda adventure in a long time.

Set many years after the events of A Link to the Past, you return to the same instance of Hyrule. You once again play the game from a 3/4 top-down perspective, though the graphics are rendered in 3D. I really like the look of the game, particularly with the 3D effect on, as many sections of the game are designed with it in mind. Music has always been an important part of the Zelda experience, and this game definitely delivers. There are many great new takes on classic themes, as well as a number of new tunes that accentuate the action. I was expecting most of the music to sound more in line with the chip-tune nature of Super Nintendo music, but to my surprise and delight, this delivers a soundtrack that sounds like it was recorded by a full orchestra and band.

This time, its destined hero is a boy who works as a blacksmith’s apprentice. Your first job is to deliver a sword, but things go sideways at Hyrule castle which is the start of your grand adventure. It may not start as dramatic as the rain storm from the Super Nintendo classic, but it does kick off the action very quickly. As someone who has knocked the more recent 3D Zelda games for dragging on their intros, this is a wonderful change of pace.

Shortly after your first quest, a mysterious figure named Ravio moves into your house to provide you with a franchise-changing service. I’m not sure how Ravio did it, but he has access to almost every item in the game, which you can rent or purchase from him right at the start. What that means is that you can arm yourself with all of the cool toys at the start and approach the game in countless ways. I loved having the choice to explore the game in almost any order I wanted. It also gave me the motivation to more thoroughly explore the world, which consistently rewarded me for my curiosity. After beating the game, the proposition of taking on the adventure again through a different route is quite appealing. I’m not sure how Nintendo would write this mechanic into future installments, though I really hope they use it again because it really brings out a sense of openness and freedom that’s been absent of late.

Because of this shift, Nintendo’s approach to dungeon design has adjusted accordingly. Most dungeons only require one special item and/or one of your main accessories, but they found some really creative ways to make you use them. One of my favorite dungeons is the Dark Palace, which actually makes great use of the lamp by forcing you to manipulate the world through light. Another highlight is the Thieves’ Temple, which requires you to work through a dungeon with a fellow ally. Many of the concepts presented within the dungeons are new to the series and are a pleasure to experience. I also think Nintendo got the dungeon length and difficulty just right, as they never dragged on and provided a great level of challenge. In case you get stuck, you can use a new item called Hint Glasses, which will reveal ghosts in key areas that can give you a tip to solving a puzzle specific to the room they’re in.

The most dramatic gameplay innovation is Link’s ability to move within walls. At face value, it sounds like a gimmick, but the mechanic is used so intelligently throughout. There are a myriad of puzzles that require you to maneuver between levels and worlds to get to where you need to go, though it also pushes you to use the mechanic in ways you wouldn’t expect. In tandem with the free form nature of the weapons, this feels like the most open and clever Zelda game yet.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds doesn’t just coast on proven source material. It pays homage to its roots while taking players on a masterful, fresh and wildly creative adventure that is sure to delight anyone that steps into Link’s shoes. Once it’s all done, it’s hard to resist the opportunity to play through it again in Hero mode with a completely different approach. Only time will tell if this one develops a lasting legacy like A Link to the Past, but I personally think it’s one of the best Zelda games ever. This is a must-play title for 3DS owners and a worthy candidate for 2013 game of the year.

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