Redefining the term "Masterpiece"
The past and present collide in Nintendo’s latest Zelda outing, A Link Between Worlds. Taking ideas from A Link to the Past and bringing them into the 21st century with new mechanics and new visuals, A Link Between Worlds is without a doubt a great game, but does it have what it takes to overcome its legendary predecessor?
Returning to its more traditional and 2D roots, A Link Between Worlds goes back to the basics of using buttons for items, your sword, and defending. Item Management is done on the bottom screen while your map is displayed when at its default.
Unlike its predecessors, the game runs at a smooth 60 frames per second, and while it might sound unnecessary, it makes the whole game feel, well, smooth. Link never feels like he’s going too fast or too slow, music flows better, and the game all around has a tighter feel to it.
What makes A Link Between Worlds truly stand out from its recent entries is its non-linear approach to its story progression. Dungeons are largely left open to the player in how they tackle them. While limited at first, it opens up quite a bit at the end and allows the player to tackle the last portion of the game in over a thousand different ways.
But this all wouldn’t be possible without Ravio. Being the most prevalent character in A Link Between Worlds' non-linear fashion, Ravio allows players to rent items for a few Rupees, but once the player dies they lose all their rented items.
When the items are finally available for purchase they will permanently stay with Link and can be further upgraded to more powerful forms. This gives a deeper value to the Rupees Link acquires on his journey as, if you die a lot, you’ll find yourself constantly returning to Ravio to rent the same item(s) and having to backtrack to the previous point you were at if you died in a dungeon. Every Rupee suddenly becomes precious, and the choices you make on which item to buy have a bigger impact on how you’ll be able to advance in the game.
If you’re not out collecting and searching for every Rupee possible, you’ll probably only make it to the end of the game with less than half the possible items you could buy. Luckily, Link isn’t constrained on his wallet, being able to carry 9999 Rupees throughout the entire game!
While A Link Between Worlds may certainly look fun, visually it’s a bit of a mixed bag for some. While not what some might call the best graphics possible on the 3DS, A Link Between Worlds manages to find a nice mix of designs that incorporate 3D models that evoke the feeling of old 2D sprites, and at no point in the game does it ever feel out-of-place or questionable.
A lot has changed since A Link to the Past, and while the two Hyrules may look similar, they feel anything but. Players will encounter old and familiar locales, but it never feels like you’re revisiting old territory. The world feels fresh, new, and creative all at the same time no matter where you are.
While the Dark World may not be back, Hyrule has a new counterpart known as Lorule. Lorule is like a reflection of Hyrule and it shows in both the overworld and its characters. You’ll encounter characters in Lorule who look just like those from Hyrule, albeit with entirely different personalities.
What Lorule does when in conjunction with Hyrule is what makes the game’s two worlds truly interesting. Lorule isn’t connected like Hyrule, being cut-off from multiple areas via great chasms. The result is having to search every nook and cranny of Hyrule to get where you want to go in Lorule. It’s not a bad mechanic, and in fact it’s actually a great way of encouraging exploration.
Players can’t just warp from one world to the next at will, instead having to search for "Rifts" in walls and pillars. The rifts are actually used in pretty clever ways and can take quite a bit of effort to reach the ones you want. While never used in any dungeons, rifts cover both Hyrule and Lorule from head to toe, creating unique puzzles in the overworld.
But it’s only thanks to Link’s new ability to merge with walls that this is all possible. While it might sound like a gimmick, it’s anything but. After its introduction, the ability to merge with walls is used at almost every given opportunity and, given how basic it is, the game finds new ways to incorporate them with items and boss battles as your adventure continues.
While most of A Link Between Worlds' dungeons pride themselves on the use of specific items, some don’t require any items at all. Even with only the bare essentials, the game makes sure you’re able to solve all of its puzzles. While dungeons only require at least one key item and are straightforward in strategy, this doesn’t mean it’s only able to be tackled in one way.
"I wonder if I should go to the Thieves' Hideout first, or the Ice Ruins. Decisions, decisions."
Most of the bosses and puzzles you’ll encounter have been completely revamped, if returning, to make use of Link’s wall-merging ability in some fashion, be it a simple new attack or a way of exploiting an enemy’s weakness. While none of A Link Between Worlds’ bosses are exactly memorable in any fashion, they’re all fun, creative, and unique.
Whether or not you’re looking for Maiamais, Heart Pieces, or simply trying to beat treasure hunters at Rupee Challenges, you’re bound to use the Wall-Merging ability searching every possible wall and corner to find and collect these small items.
Speaking of collectibles, A Link Between Worlds is packed to the brim with side-content to keep you busy for hours upon end. While it may only take a dozen or so hours to complete the core of the game, you can easily pack on at least 7-10 hours by searching for every Maiamai/Heart Piece, or completing the few sidequests the game has to offer.
It wouldn't be a Zelda game if there wasn’t any music though, and while most of the music you’ll hear are new renditions of older music, each track, both old and new, truly stands out as a beautiful and creative piece that always comes at the right time of each moment. Without its music, A Link Between Worlds might not evoke the same feeling of an epic and grand adventure. The game even has characters dedicated to its music—that’s how good it is.
A Link Between Worlds truly feels like a perfect game with no real faults in the title coming to mind. Gameplay, dungeons, sound, and puzzles are all done to perfection. Every puzzle makes you think, and solving them will make you feel clever, especially when you find hidden chest and locations with your new ability to merge with walls.
One new addition is a psuedo-multiplayer mode in which players can StreetPass players and swap their "Shadow/Dark Link" data. Based on your own personal Link's data, you'll generate a bounty that others can play and battle against in a one-on-one match, and depending on if you win or not, you'll get a nice little reward at the end. While advanced players will most likely have the same Shadow/Dark Link, to keep some variety players can choose two specific weapons to accompany their player in battle, such as the Ice Rod and Nice Bug Net.
You can meet quite a few Shadows just waiting for you, and true Zelda vets should definitely look towards these as a true test of skill. The AI actually does an impressive job of keeping you on your toes; a few bad decisions can easily spell doom for a more advanced player when going up against a less experienced one. While I only encountered two handfuls of Shadow Links, each one offered a truly challenging battle that made me stop and think about how to overcome the AI and win with the items I had at my disposal.
A Link Between Worlds knows very well where it’s at as a Zelda game. It both takes the ideas of previous entries and builds upon A Link to the Past to bring it into the modern day. It never does too much, but it never does too little either with every small bit of the game being designed flawlessly, resulting in a perfect balance that will leave you feeling accomplished and satisfied by the time it’s over.
Even if you feel like there wasn’t enough of a challenge, beating it once will unlock an even harder Hero Mode than past games are used to, further upping the ante and making the enemies a true force to be reckoned with.
When it comes down to it, despite some subjective features, A Link Between Worlds is truly a masterpiece with no noticeable flaws in its design. While its visuals won’t appeal to everyone, the gameplay is strong enough to keep you playing for hours and hours upon end! Any Zelda fan, and anyone looking to enter the franchise, should look no further than A Link Between Worlds, as it sucks you in instantly and never lets go. Even after two playthroughs of the game I've yet to grow tired and am looking forward to my third. From beginning to end and everything else, A Link Between Worlds is worth every penny and outdoes its predecessors in every way possible—so much so that by the end of it, you'll have a new favorite Zelda game.