The first Zelda game I played was A Link to the Past on the SNES. It absolutely captivated young me. I must have spent weeks on it back then, exploring every corner of Hyrule and the Dark World to try and find every single item and heart piece. I’ve been back to it many times since, on the SNES and GameBoy Advance port and Wii Virtual Console as well (another game I’m a sucker for compulsively rebuying I guess) and still think it holds up fantastically well and to me is the best game in the series (yes I know, Ocarina fans. Don’t worry, I love that too!)
After a couple of years with nothing that really made me think that I had to have one, the announcement that a sequel to Link to the Past was being released on the Nintendo 3DS made me instantly want to have one, even before it was out. When I got to play it at Play Expo late last year it grabbed me immediately, and the ten minutes that I got to play it were not enough.
Captain Lost His Sword
As with Link to the Past, Link Between Worlds starts with Link (or whatever you decide to rename him, if you’re crazy like that) being woken up in his house. As is traditional in Zelda games, you begin to explore without any weapons or items, with this Link soon being in possession of a sword that he needs to deliver to the captain of the Hyrule Castle guard. Suffice to say this delivery doesn’t go as planned, and Link is soon the only hope of Hyrule against new villain Yuga, who is capturing the descendants of the Seven Sages and imprisoning them inside magical paintings with the intention of using their power to resurrect recurring series villain Ganon.
A lot about the game echoes its predecessor, and that goes beyond the obvious. As it is a sequel, the overworld map of the game is very similar, with some slight adjustments here and there. Anyone who has played Link to the Past will recognise the map instantly and have a good idea of where most things are straight away. Most areas have a re-orchestrated version of the original music, with Lorule having similar music, looks and enemies to the Dark World. The initial three temples to gain the pendants that allow you to claim the Master Sword are presented in a similar manner, many of the locations of temples in Lorule are also similar with you having to rescue the Seven Sages again. This is of course intentional, with the whole point of the game being an homage, but I couldn’t help but think a few times that I wish I didn’t know what this place was going to look like before I got there and so on.
This is, to some, a common complaint of the Zelda series. Each game will tend to have a large number of the same items, weapons, areas and so on meaning that even a new game in the series can sometimes feel a little too familiar.
That’s not to say that there isn’t anything new, of course. Link’s new ability to turn into a painting and travel around the walls adds a new dimension to the gameplay. As well as navigating around areas otherwise impassable the painting mode also allows you to emerge behind items on the wall and dislodge them, which comes in useful in a few places. It would have been nice for this to be featured more often however, as there are several dungeons where it isn’t used at all and you can at points use it so infrequently as to almost forget about it.
The other major change is that the items in the game are no longer found in the dungeons that an item that is then used to finish the dungeon and defeat its boss. Instead of this, a rental shop is set up in your house by the mysterious Ravio where you can rent (and eventually buy) items. This means you can tackle the dungeons in the game in any order you wish, as you’re not having to find an item in the previous dungeon that allows you to get through an obstacle to reach the next one and so on.
The dungeons thankfully are also almost all new. While some areas are reminiscent of the original, such as the Tower of Hera, others are completely different and these are the ones that stood out. The Ice Ruins in Lorule in particular is one that did quite a lot new, with lots of moving platforms and areas that rearrange themselves as you progress through.
Visually, it is fantastic. While sticking more or less to the design style of Link to the Past, the bright and colourful 3D models and landscape look great, with the characters having similar levels of expression to the characters in Wind Waker. Almost all of the enemies are returning monsters from previous games (mostly from a Link to the Past, of course) and these too are all well designed.
Zelda games typically have a great score, and this is no exception. The majority of the music tracks in the game are re-orchestrated songs from Link to the Past. Some, such as the overworld theme, are almost exactly the same with minor tweaks while others are almost completely new.
Unlike Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, the two previous Nintendo DS games in the series, the 3DS touchscreen is hardly used, with the exception of the inventory screen. Those games both used a touchscreen navigation control scheme, while a more traditional control layout is used here. The controls are accurate, and I never found myself getting annoyed that the game hadn’t done what I’d told it to unlike its touchscreen driven predecessors. I would have liked a bit more use of the 3DS hardware though, as apart from the 3D graphics it didn’t really do anything that couldn’t have been done on a SNES.
I did find that it was perhaps a bit easier than I would have liked, as I didn’t have any real difficulty getting through any part of the game. This is somewhat remedied by having Hero Mode unlock after you complete the game the first time, an extra high difficulty setting where enemies cause significantly more damage.
In some ways I think that A Link Between Worlds may have been better off as a straight up remake – the unavoidable comparisons between the games would then have been a moot point, but there is just enough new about it that it manages to be distinct and separate. I feel I might sound like I’m being overly critical about it, and that is a bit unfair in many ways. After all, its similarities are to what is widely regarded as one of the best games ever made, so that’s hardly a bad thing to emulate. I thoroughly enjoyed my play through of the game, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone and consider it to be a must have for any 3DS gamer.
The Legend of Zelda – A Link Between Worlds is out now on the Nintendo 3DS.