The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds Review; A Worthy Return to the Zelda’s Franchise Golden Age

With the Legend of Zelda series finally getting a new game on 3DS after the console’s two years on the market, expectations were running high. A sequel to A Link to the Past in a familiar style? A proper overworld to explore with a ton of interesting content and connected locations? Difficult arcade based gameplay? That all sounded a tad ambitious back when the game was first shown. Heck, some people were even worried this title was going to hurt the legacy of the SNES classic with its association alone.

Thankfully though, everything has turne d out fine. And based on my recent full playthrough of The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds, I can hence say that the game is one of the best, most well designed and thoroughly enjoyable titles in recent Nintendo history. Here’s my review of this modern day classic…

Graphics

Graphics wise, the game is more ‘average’ than amazing.

Why? Because to put it as simply as possible, the game’s graphics are basically the Link to the Past sprites as remade as 3D models.

NewZelda3DS4

That’s not a bad thing (this is by far the closest we’ve ever had to a classic 16 bit Zelda game style with ‘modern’ graphics technology) and everything does look rather nice regardless (especially the teleport scenes played when you go between Hyrule and Lorule and the snow effects on Death Mountain), but it’s not going to absolutely blow you away like Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon or Kid Icarus Uprising.

But that’s not really the point. It’s not supposed to be some super fancy 3D tech demo title like our favourite cartoon survival horror parody (Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon) or some top of line quest with 50+ hours of gameplay (like Kid Icarus Uprising). The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds is simply meant to be a worthy sequel to a SNES title famed for its open ended gameplay structure and world map, a game which both revisits Zelda’s roots and revises them at the same time. And for that purpose, the graphics in the game are absolutely perfect.

Music

Musically on the other hand, A Link Between Worlds is absolutely amazing. Indeed, to put it simply, The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds has one of the best soundtracks of any 3DS game, easily living up to the already lofty standards set by its predecessors.

So what kinds of music are there? Well for starters, quite a few classic tunes from A Link to the Past return here too, except redone by a professional orchestra. Like the epic Hyrule theme:

Or the equally impressive Dark World remix used for Lorule’s theme tune:

But even the new tunes are just as good. The Desert Palace has an absolutely chilling Egyptian song that sounds like it’s from a console title:

The new villain Yuga has both an amazing normal theme and an even better boss theme, complete with ominous chanting and a general melody that competes with Antasma’s Dream Team boss theme for sheer awesomeness:

And heck, even the Lorule Castle music is an absolute menacing remix of both the themes from Hyrule Castle and Ganon’s Leitmotif. It even comes with creepy evildoers chanting in the distance, almost as if you’ve got the evil army overlooking your every move. Very menacing, while still retaining the general feel of the original Hyrule Castle tune too…

So as far as music goes, nothing more needs to be said, A Link Between Worlds most definitely lives up to the high standards set by the rest of its series and hence has one of the best soundtracks on 3DS.

Gameplay

As far as this goes, A Link Between Worlds is an interesting blend of the modern and the traditional.

On the one hand, you’ve got the classic arcade style gameplay of A Link to the Past and the earlier Zelda games, a blend of dungeon exploration, combat and puzzle solving which makes you feel like a true hero out to save the world (minus all the quicktime event and half hour cutscene stuff that plagues too many modern games). So on that front, it’s a nice step back to the Zelda series as we all loved it during the 8 and 16 bit era.

But then it manages to do interesting new things as well. The item rental system, while very different to past Zelda games, actually manages to fix the biggest issue with too many recent titles in the series. How? It takes the items out the dungeons, and so it stops them becoming exercises of ‘solve the soup cans’ (aka rooms filled with random item puzzles that have absolutely nothing to do with the level theme other than to show off the dungeon’s main item). This is especially noticeable in Lorule and the Thieves Hideout area, since there’s no specific item you’re required to have in the entire dungeon. Makes it feel like you’re exploring an actual location people have used rather than just a bunch of fancy setpieces built around conveniently located equipment.

Additionally, the fact the game can’t be too sure of what items you have in any dungeon (at least for the most part) means that each and every puzzle has multiple different solutions you can use to solve it. See a switch across a gap? You could theoretically use the bow… or alternatively the bombs, fire/ice rod, boomerang or hookshot could work just as well.

Need an example? Well, here’s a puzzle from the Dark Palace. Hit that blue orb, and the walls to the left/right spin around once. You hence need to hit the orb and then somehow merge into the wall before or as it spins to be carried to the other side.

Dark Palace Puzzle

Yet while the dungeon’s design suggests the bombs, there’s nothing here that can’t be done with near enough every other rentable/buyable item in the game. You can shoot it with arrows from the bow or throw the boomerang and merge into the spinning wall in the space of a second, getting past the obstacle with ease. Heck, you could even just use the ice or fire rod, since their ranged capabilities give you just enough time to merge into the wall before or as the projectile hits the switch. And all the other dungeons are the same way, with plenty of different solutions available for the more inventive players out there. It’s much better than the overly linear puzzle system in Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword, and it adds significant replay value to the game to boot.

There’s also that interesting ‘becoming a drawing’ system, where Link can merge into walls to become a 2D picture. It sounds gimmicky and weird, but guess what? It actually enhances the gameplay of the series in a clever way. Really, the amount of ways in which turning 2D lets you solve puzzles and take down bosses is fantastic, and unlike say, the boat or the wolf transformation from other games, it merely adds to, not replaces the core gameplay. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that after experiencing the drawing thing in this game, you will desperately want to see it in more Zelda titles. It’s that well integrated into the gameplay structure.

Triforce saves him

Above: The ability Link gains from this cutscene significantly improves the gameplay in Link Between Worlds.

But the interesting blend of old and new isn’t the only great thing in this game. Indeed, far from it! You’ve also got one of the best overworlds in the entire Zelda franchise too!

That’s no exaggeration either. Not only do you have the same amazing game world/setting as in the first Link to the Past game on the SNES, but Nintendo has somehow gone even further and added yet more to the world, managing to make it feel even more jam packed with content than it already was!

No, I’m not kidding. You now have all kinds of neat things here, such as a whole bunch of new heart piece locations, mini dungeons and secret caves/grottos to find. There are new mini games that could keep you playing for hours more (like the baseball in Lorule, the rupee hunting and cucco dodging), a 50 floor Cave of Ordeals/Savage Labyrinth gauntlet (in the form of Lorule’s Treacherous Tower), there’s even such amusing extras as a bonus boss and a strange Hinox creature that attacks you after you make it beg for mercy too much! So there’s an awful lot to discover here, and all of it is well integrated into the familiar landscape we know from A Link to the Past.

And let’s not forget the dungeons and bosses either! Oh no, they are interesting as all hell, and made even better by the fact that you don’t have similar setpieces and gimmicks to contend with! Yes, it’s just arcade style combat and interesting 2D Zelda style puzzles, without any awkward stuff like ‘rearrange the whole dungeon with a bunch of switches’ or ‘lead a bunch of statues around in an awkward way’. And the bosses? Those are pretty cool too, even if most are from A Link to the Past (Blind, Moldorm, Kholdstare, Trinexx and the Helmasaur King all return for instance). They’re made even better by the fact they all have multiple possible ways you can defeat them, one of which is simply ‘go in with the sword and do a bunch of daring strikes when they leave themselves open to attack for a split second’ (making them more Zelda 1 style arcade bosses than Wind Waker style puzzle bosses). Did I mention that they hit extremely hard and are actually kind of hard to dodge too? Yeah, this game doesn’t have the ridiculously easy bosses of the home console games or DS titles, and I’m extremely grateful for that.

Big Deku Baba Sand Dungeon

Above: This boss is weak to literally every weapon you have. So you can just as easily snipe it from afar as even bother with the Sand Rod.

Stalblind

Above: Blind’s Lorule reincarnation can be battled with projectiles if you have no interest in the shield + wall merge strategy. Or by brute force in theory.

So that’s the gameplay here, and why it’s so brilliant.

But hang on you might be wondering! What about the negatives? This game isn’t perfect, right?

Well no it isn’t. Indeed, in the entire game, there is just two (extremely minor) snags.

1. The focus on ‘platforming’ mechanics in certain areas doesn’t work well. This is only an issue in the short cave before the Ice Ruins and a few sidequests, but it has to be brought up regardless. ‘Platforming’ style mechanics involving moving platforms don’t work well from an overhead perspective.

Vertical Falling Section

Above: This part looks very cool in 3D, but is a tad annoying to play.

2. The sound test sucks. Five songs? Paying 20 rupees a time to listen? Only having somewhat worse remixes of the tunes? Yeah, they should have included a more conventional sound test like the one in Mario & Luigi Dream Team.

But as you can see, those are ridiculously minor issues, at least for the most part. The reason the review is so positive and why the gameplay part of things talks about how everything works is simply because A Link Between Worlds is an amazing game that doesn’t really screw up anything. There’s just nothing to really criticise.

It truly is amazingly fun game, and well worth every second of time put into it. A true return to form for handheld Zelda games.

Length/Replay Value

There is tons of this. How much? Well, here’s a short list of all the things you need to do to complete this game:

* Finish the main story
* Find all heart pieces across Hyrule
* Get all items
* Find 100 of those tiny creatures and use them to upgrade all your items
* Beat Treacherous Tower’s 50 floors twice.
* Find the absolutely ridiculous amount of caves, secrets, easter eggs and cameos hidden away.
* Last over 100 seconds in the Cucco mini game (easier said than done)
* Complete Hero Mode, which literally quadruples the damage done by enemies and turns nearly everything into a one or two hit kill.
* Beat StreetPass battles. As in, get all 50 medals from them.

It’s quite the list. Even more so when you consider that this is actually a longer and potentially more challenging experience than the original Link to the Past, depending on how you approach it.

Now admittedly, I did beat the game fairly quickly (about 20 hours to get 100%), but while some people claim that’s proof the game is too easy or short… I honestly disagree. Instead, I see it as more proof of how too many ‘modern’ games pad out the game length with pointless filler, cutscenes or tutorials. Sure, Skyward Sword is a long game, but how much of that is spent backtracking or listening to ‘hints’ from Fi or watching anime style cutscenes? Answer; an awful lot of it. And even many recent good games aren’t exempt from this. How much of The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time 3D’s length would have been cut if that damn owl shut up and didn’t go into a long speech at random points in the game? How much less time would Mario & Luigi Dream Team take if the game had less tutorials before every single new area and game mechanic? Probably a lot less, to the point the 35 hour game would be closer to 30 hours.

The Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past has plenty of replay value, and is mostly made up of actual interesting content instead of movie style story or blatant filler to boot. So as far as replay value and game length goes, it’s fine.

Overall

The Legend of Zelda A Link Betwen Worlds is an amazing game. It delivers a fresh and unique art style that maintains the old school feel of the 16 bit games, a soundtrack that actually puts even the other Zelda games to shame and gameplay so well designed and fun that it should definitely be a fixture in every 3DS owners game library.

Regardless of whether you’re a current Zelda fan, old school fan or non fan, buy it now. You most definitely won’t regret it.