Games that play on your nostalgia are a funny thing. Usually they end up pissing all over your memories, as was the case with Aliens: Colonial Marines and Duke Nukem forever. Link’s latest adventure, A Link between Worlds for the 3DS does exactly the opposite; it takes all the things that made you fall in love with a Legend of Zelda, and makes them better.
Set after that defining 16-bit SNES classic, A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds is in fact set in the very same universe – and looks for all the world like the same game, with a graphical lick paint afforded by the march of technological evolution. It’s not though, because it makes some worthwhile and interesting changes to the established, dare I say clichéd formula. Those changes don’t come in the narrative though.
Once again, the peaceful kingdom of Hyrule is under threat, some or other big bad guy is after that mystical relic that keeps the Kingdom in check, the Triforce. This time, it’s some nasty by the name of Yuga, who’s transformed the seven sages in to paintings to easier wrest control of the artefact. In an early encounter, he does the same to our green-tunic wearing hero, turning him in to a painting too, stuck against a wall. Our hero is able to escape the spell though, and gains the ability to become a painting against a wall again at will. This new mechanic adds a new dimension (or rather, takes one away) to the game’s puzzles. If there’s a gap that a fully-fleshed Link can’t traverse, merge with the wall as a painting and he’ll be able to shimmy along the wall as a living piece of art. It’s a neat trick that’s used constantly and often cleverly throughout the game.
Later on, the same mechanic is used to allow Link to travel between worlds (so that’s where the title comes from!) by passing through fissures in the landscape that link Hyrule with a darker counterpart, Lorule – which is where Yuga has hidden all the captures sages. And though it features many of the same locales and people, Lorule is not quite a dark mirror world – there are some rather stark and significant geographical changes and you’ll have to use your wits to get about in Lorule.
Aside from the dimension shifting mechanic, A Link between Worlds plays very much like A Link to the Past. You’ll visit many of the same locations, meet some of the same characters and even collect some of the same items – but it’s in no way the same game, or a simple rehash. It is, by far, the most accessible game in the Zelda series – and in this case “accessible” doesn’t mean “dumbed-down” or simplified. There are a number of changes that just make the whole thing less of a chore. For starters, it’s a little more open world, in that after a certain point you’re free to tackle the puzzle-filled dungeons in any order you like.
Early on the game you’re introduced to the merchant Ravio who offers all the necessary dungeon items for rent. Need a fire rod for the ice dungeon? Just rent one; the catch here is that if you die, the item gets returned to Ravio’s store and you’ll have to rent it again. When you have the necessary cash, you can buy the items outright and never have to worry about renting them again. It’s also a little more accessible and far less grindy in that you won’t have to slash away at grass to find bombs or arrows. Every one of the action items uses a recharging energy gauge, essentially mana instead of ammo.
Even the backtracking element, so prevalent in Zelda games is mitigated to a large degree. The overworld is peppered with magical weather vanes that not only allow you to save your game, but also act as a sort of fast-travel system allow you to travel between them with ease. There is a caveat though; some items you can’t get from Ravio and you will need to find them – with no indication of where they might be. Some higher level gear, like robes that make you take less damage for example, are hidden away within specific dungeons, so there is still an optimum order. The dungeons themselves aren’t as taxing as those you’ll find in previous games, but they’re still impeccably designed, and there’s bound to be a puzzle or two that’ll leave you scratching your chin for a moment. Sidequests and collectibles fluff out the experience, but I have to say it’s not particularly long for a Zelda game; you could easily be done adventuring in 20 hours.
If you’ve played A Link to the Past, this sequel is a glorious love letter to fans, taking those fond memories and reshaping them, reminding you why you fell in love with the series in the first place. If you’ve never played the 16-bit gem, A Link between Worlds is simply exceptional; a must own, must play game that one of the best you’ll find on the 3DS, or indeed any system this year.