Title: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Platform: Nintendo 3DS/2DS
Release Date: 22/11/2013
Studio/Developers: Nintendo EAD Group No. 3 & Monolith Soft
So, after 27 years & over 17 different titles, what has changed in The Legend of Zelda franchise?
Sadly, not a lot.
A Link Between Worlds is the 17th titles in the series & the first for the Nintendo 3DS (or 2DS if you hate the 3D but more on that later) & a direct sequel to the SNES classic A Link to the Past (1991). Though part of me thinks the terms ‘sequel’ is a bit generous & the term ‘high def copy/paste’ seems more accurate.
But are they the ramblings of a cynical old gamer who has been with the series since the Famicom days (I first played it back on my best friend’s Famicom disc system, in Japanese, & neither of us had any idea what we were doing) or are they true?
Well, in all honesty, a bit of both.
The maps & assets are all almost directly lifted from the SNES game, as is the top down play style. Basically, the game feels like a spit & polish of A Link to the Past but without the depth that made the SNES game so beloved by fans.
One of my biggest bugbears in geek, pop & media cultures is the constant harking back to nostalgia. So many other reviewers of this game (especially ABC2’s Good Game) go all squeeeeeeeee! over many nostalgic properties but I mainly the stance if you want to play a game that is exactly like the one that you love, you should play that game since it is still available to you in one form or another.
Long running franchises, especially with Nintendo’s own properties, need to be able to grow & change without ardent Nostalgists clammering for pitchfolks & torches. Times change, people change & things move on. Grant, not always to better things but oft you have to let go & let a new generation take over. ‘Childish things’ & all that.
OK, with that (soon to be typical) rant out of the way, do I agree that A Link Between Worlds is actually a well done & enjoyable game?
Yes. Of course it is. What kind of idiot says that there is a bad Zelda game out there?
Can the game stand on its own merits & show its own strengths without forever being compared with A Link to the Past?
Well, that’s a resounding “eeeeergh”, complete with waving hand gesture.
Why so flaky on an answer?
Well, that’s because this game is the very incarnation of the old phrase “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. Which translates as “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.
For every innovation that Nintendo has made within the game, there is another idea that is so fixed in the tradition of the series that it’s almost painful. Too many half measures & not enough boldness to break free from convention. But at least there are understandable reasons for this, at least to me.
A Link Between Worlds seems to me to be an attempt to get a whole new generation hooked on the franchise. It’s more open world nature & toned down challenges designed for younger gamers who’s first handheld is the 3DS. That is similar to what Nintendo & Game Freak recently did with the releases of Pokemon X & Y, making improvements for long term fans but toning down some elements for new entrants into the franchises.
This is actually something that I actively applaud because it means that if the games sell well, we can see more changes, improvements & departures to & from the standard formula because younger games will want things they are yet to experience, where as many gamers tend to think that they want what they are more familiar with. This is merely generalisation of course but oft rings true in my observations & experiences.
So, let us begin with what has stayed the same.
For one: the story.
You play as Link (or whatever name you decide to pick), the protagonist/player cypher/non-customisable avatar who is awoken at the start of the game to perform a mundane task but soon finds himself to really be the Legendary Hero, tasked to free Hyrule from the evil that is plaguing it & rescuing the Princess Zelda from whatever master mind (usually Ganon but not in this case surprisingly) has entrapped her. You do this by exploring various dungeons, collecting various items & defeating various bosses of various sizes, until you have a certain amount of magical MacGuffins that will unlock the final dungeon & boss fight. 26 years, very little change in the overarching narrative or the characters involved. It borrows the mirror world motif from A Link to the Past but doesn’t use it to any great effect. Even the big twists in the plot I had guessed even before the game had begun but it doesn’t really matter because the overall plot is merely a cloth horse upon which to hang the gameplay.
Where A Link Between Worlds does change things is in how you now acquire the items & how you explore the dungeons.
After a certain point, items can be “hired” from the rabbit hooded layabout Ravio, that is purchased & used until you die, where upon they are returned to him & you have to hire out again. You can of course purchase the items a bit further into the game, meaning that you keep & upgrade them without fear of losing them. You can also choose which dungeons to tackle first but if you are a canny player, you merely go through each until you find the unique items within & then uber (overpower) your way through them in which ever order you choose.
Because of the open nature of the game, the different areas aren’t that difficult to defeat & the dungeons themselves aren’t overly large or complex. That isn’t to say that there isn’t any challenge within the game but I found that I only died on the overworld from creatures such as the bomb throwing orges or attacks from off screen or, mainly, my own dumb mistakes & confusions over the controls. I managed to beat most of the boss, almost all of whom are lifted straight from A Link to the Past, without a lot of hassle & pretty much no strategy. Just watched the pattern & wailed on them with my weapons, using bottled fairies to revive when needed.
Against everything negative I’ve been saying, I have to wilfully admit that the dungeons are exceptionally clever at times. How you solve puzzles & get about will keep you quiet entertained, even if you don’t feel challenged by them.
This is mainly because of the game’s primary gimmick: turning Link into a painting upon the wall. This makes you flat & able to move across walls & other similar surfaces, letting you slip through gaps & cracks to find hidden little things or avoid traps or falling. You have a limited amount of time that you can do it (with your Magic Metre draining during its activation), so timing becomes everything when getting about in painting mode. It also has other wonderful little touches, such as the music & other noises going tinny & 2 dimensional when you’re a painting, making it feel as though you’re hearing it through Link’s inky ears.
Other great addition to the game is that you no longer have to scavenge for bombs or arrows or risk running out in the middle of a boss battle. All the weapons & magical items that you use drain your Magic Metre (a purple bar on the left side of the screen), which naturally replenishes in a short amount of time. This does take a lot of the frustration out of pot smash/grass cutting to find everything that you need & means that you do need to employ some strategy when dealing with enemies & puzzles.
But my utter, utter favourite addition to the game are the Maimai, which are the new scavenger hunt creatures in the game -akin to the golden spiders in Ocarina of Time or the Good Will glimmers from Skyward Sword- but these are actually important to get. Instead of giving you something useless like Rupees or a larger wallet, you actually get something important for finding them. Return to Mother Maimai with 10 of her lost children & she’ll reward you with an upgrade to any weapon that you’ve brought from Ravio to a more powerful version. Since all the Lorule dungeons are tied to specific weapons, it pays to know what you want to upgrade & when. The Maimai are also cleverly hidden in both Hyrule & the mirroring Lorule overworlds (so you don’t have to go through dungeons to get them) but they are actually fun, as well as vital, to hunt. Most upgrades give you an advantage with whichever item you improved, some being more practical then others. Such as the bow shooting 3 arrows or the Hookshot doing damage as well as stunning. While some items are useless outside of their specific dungeons, they are still handy to have upgraded.
Another improvement in the game is the actual usefulness of the stereoscopic 3D function. You often need it on to negociate dungeons where you have platforms at different heights to you have to drop down a fair way. I hate 3D (despite owning a 3DS) because it hurts my eyes & I have trouble seeing it easily but the function of it within the game is really handy to have switched on from time to time. Such as trying to get through Death Mountain.
Another nice feature in the game is the music, even though it is lifted straight from A Link to the Past with a couple of remixes from The Legend of Zelda II. Music has always been an exceptionally vital component to the Zelda series & A Link Between Worlds doesn’t let you down in that department. The tunes are layed but catchy, electronic but orchestral, nostalgic but fresh. It is nigh impossible to play & not hum (or, in a couple of cases, sing very very loudly) the immortal overworld theme to yourself.
As much as I ragged on this game for pretty much being a short, not very challenging exercise in nostalgia, I still have found it an exceptionally good game.
It’s fun, great to look at & almost hypnotic in how it can suck you into it. You hit a nice rhythm with it but can take things at your own pace. You can pretty much finish your first run in a couple of sittings (battery life not withstanding) but it pays to have fun & explore both the overworlds & all the dungeons. There is some challenge once you’ve done because you unlock the ‘Hero Mode’, which makes enemies tougher, but I haven’t gotten to it yet because ran out to get SquareEnix’s latest Bravely Default (oh, wait for the nostalgia rants that one is sure to generate) as soon as I finished A Link Between Worlds.