even though i had finished the legend of zelda: four swords adventures not long ago, i couldn’t resist getting the newest zelda, the legend of zelda: a link between worlds on 3DS. i’m always hopeful that the newest game will reach the dizzying heights of the best in the series (although skyward sword had me feeling more bored than entranced), but i wasn’t expecting too much since i knew the new game was heavily based on the SNES classic a link to the past.
fortunately, my fairly low expectations were exceeded and then some, and then some more. first off, the game’s new hook is that link can turn into a 2-D painting, and walk along walls and pillars, slip through cracks, and generally confound his enemies. this mechanic is one of the most compelling transformations in the series yet (better than the wolf mechanic in twilight princess, anyway), although once you’ve seen the three or so types of puzzles that use it there aren’t a whole lot of surprises with it. but overall it still makes exploration more dynamic since instead of just casting your gaze around in four or five directions, you now often have an added three or four to consider.
the other big change to the formula is that instead of having you progress through the dungeons in a fixed order, the game returns to the format of the very first game by opening up access to all the dungeons very early on, and you can choose which order to play them in. the dungeons are clearly marked on the map, which is a bit of hand-holding that could’ve been dispensed with entirely, but regardless the sense of exploration and freedom is surprisingly significant (helped in no small part by the ability to warp between specific points, which becomes available early on). the game achieves this flexibility by introducing a new mechanic whereby you rent the main items instead of earning them in the dungeons, with the twist being that if you fall in battle you lose all your rented equipment and have to re-rent them. this feels a little half-baked, since instead of having to re-rent you can just reset your game, esp. since save points are abundant and mid-way through dungeons a warp point unlocks, enabling you to easily save your progress there as well. the main items are mostly familiar, although there are a couple of new ones and the most-familiar (e.g. the bow and boomerang) are given much less screen time than more unique ones. several of the dungeons include items that help you on your quest but are optional, and there are many optional treasure chests that just contain rupees, some of which are fairly tricky to find.
although the map feels a bit overly familiar, even to me, who hasn’t played link to the past for some five years, the dungeons are all new and navigating back and forth between the light and dark worlds works as well as it ever has. in general the dungeons are enjoyable, although in the random ordering i chose i happened to start with some of the best (and most difficult), which made the rest of them feel a little anti-climactic. most all of them have a nice hook or twist which makes them distinct, and they generally make great use of the glasses-free 3-D effects by expanding on the multi-tiered floors of the SNES game, so that despite years of zelda dungeons successfully they feel fresh.
the main problem i had with the dungeons is that overall they’re extremely short, which in turn makes the whole adventure feel less epic than most of the other games in the series. in addition, there are quite a few optional micro-dungeons featuring just a few puzzles and a reward of some rupees. these also feel fairly pointless since rupees are never really in short supply, but they do lengthen the experience. the game also features something new for a 2-D zelda, which is a set of 100 collectibles for you to track down outside of the dungeons. like the golden skulltulas from ocarina, the mai mais are little creatures that make little chirping noises when you’re near them. returning them to their mother nets you minor and inessential upgrades to your equipment, but they’re a nice sidequest with a decent reward.
overall the game stays on the easy side throughout both in terms of puzzles and combat (although i suppose i am a series veteran). there is a “hero” mode that unlocks after beating the game and which offers up tougher enemies, though. the side characters aren’t as well developed as some of the more-recent handheld entries, such as spirit tracks, and the game feels lean in general, which is a very good thing after the padded skyward sword but has the side effect of making the experience as a whole feel brief, despite clocking in at a respectable 18 hours or so (including a lot of the sidequests).
the game is extremely polished overall, though, and although i’m not a huge fan of the link to the past type aesthetics, everything is very fast-paced and runs beautifully smoothly. the cutscenes are a nice addition, although there aren’t very many of them, and although i was a bit conflicted about whether or not to add it to my “greatest games of all time” list, in the end i had to give in. even though i’d put it just behind spirit tracks (which i really enjoyed) and thus not among the absolute best of the series, despite being a riff on a link to the past this is a really excellent game and definitely one of the highlights of the 3DS. in fact, this is the first 3DS game i’ve inaugurated to my hall of fame list (as well as the first game i’ve played this year that has made the cut), and i’m hoping that the changes, successful although relatively small, are the sign of even greater things to come for the series.
enjoy the freedom of these the legend of zelda: a link between worlds links:
– official site, which includes wallpapers
– the official word on where the game falls in the zelda series’ timeline
– review at nintendolife.com
– FAQ at gamefaqs
– the streetpass features seem fairly pointless and unbalanced, but here’s a FAQ if you’re interested