We haven’t had a traditional 2D Zelda in quite a while. I think the last one was Minish Cap. The DS Zelda games were fun, though many disagree with me on that, but they didn’t quite capture the same feeling that you got from games like Link’s Awakening and A Link to the Past. It’s actually kind of funny that the return of classic 2D overhead gameplay arrives via the 3DS. Interestingly enough, however, at the same time the series returns to its roots it also makes a rather large change to the whole dynamic of the game.
The shake-up I’m referring to is renting items. From pretty near the beginning of the game you are able to rent out many of the series staples like the bow, boomerang, hookshot, etc. You no longer find these tools in each dungeon. At first I was really unsure how to feel about this; even now I’m going back and forth on the issue. On one hand it lets you utilize a lot of these cool items right from the get-go rather than looking it in dungeon #6 or whatever. The trade-of though is that you lose out on the excitement of finding your next piece of equipment.
Having access to all of the gear so early does let you tackle dungeons in more of a non-linear order. Some dungeons still require certain things before you can access them but other than that the order is largely left up to you. A few items actually need to be found outside dungeons as well, like the power bracelet and zora flippers. I was actually having a really fun time just exploring around and happening upon these things which ended up being required to get into certain dungeons anyway. Inside the dungeons you still get to find some good stuff even though most of it is for rent. It’s pretty much just passive stuff, though, like new tunics or power gloves or pieces of ore for upgrading your sword.
Once you have enough rupees you can actually buy the items, that way you wont lose access to them when you die. Owning an item is also required if you want to get upgraded versions, which is done through a side quest where you need to find 100 little octo dudes scattered around the world(s). For every 10 you find you can trade in an owned item for an upgraded version. The biggest complaint that I have with items in this game is that they all utilize a magic meter of sorts, which basically renders shops pretty much irrelevant. You no longer hold X amount of bombs and arrows, which I find a little annoying. The worst part is that even items which have no ammunition still require energy. Firing the hookshot, for example, drains the meter. Why the heck is this? I have no idea.
The big gimmick of this entry, which I don’t mean to use with a negative connotation, is the ability to turn into a painting and merge with a wall. It seems curious at first but there is actually a lot that can be done with this mechanic. You are forced to look at the gameworld a lot differently and think about all of the new areas you can possible reach now by simply merging into a wall and traversing a large gap or sliding between bars or a thin crevice. There are a lot of really neat puzzles and exploration elements that really take advantage of this new-found ability. Plus, slipping through special cracks is also how you gain access to the alternate kingdom of Lorule.
The game has great style. Link looks more like his classic self rather than the pretty boy we mostly see today. The game’s perspective is the classic overhead view of the past games but everything is rendered in 3D. The 3D depth effect also adds a whole lot to the experience, especially with several parts of the game utilizing elements of ascending and descending. It’s one of only a few games where the 3D effect actually enhances the experience without any noticeable detractors.
The game world is set in the same area as A Link to the Past but I’m not entirely sure about the timeline. At first I assumed it was a direct sequel with the same Link, like OoT -> MM, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Through various conversations you can tell that Link has never met Zelda before, done any heroic stuff, etc. So it’s either some kind of retelling or just a straight up new game in the same game world. The whole Zelda timeline gives me a headache. Still, the overworld should obviously feel very familiar.
The story itself is actually pretty good and deals with an alternate world/kingdom of Lorule and its princess Hilda, who is basically just a dark-haired Zelda, and a bad guy name Yuga, who looks kinda like a female Gannondorf but apparently is a dude. It’s good stuff so I won’t spoil anything.
A Link Between Worlds is a fantasic Zelda game that shakes up the classic formula while at the same time returning to its roots. Easily the best handheld Zelda game.
+ Fantastic visuals and art syle
+ Great 3D depth effect
+ Cool new portrait Link Mechanic
+ Fun Dungeons
+ Good items/equipment and upgrades
+ Cool story and new characters
+ Being able to complete dungeons in a non-linear order
+/- Item renting… I’m still torn. It’s fun but let’s not make it ‘a thing.’
- Non-ammo based items require Magic Meter? Dubya-Tee-Eff?
- Dungeons feel kind of short
- Some troll thought hanging Majora’s Mask in Links’s house would be funny and not infuriating since Nintendo won’t be firm on a 3DS remake happening or not
A Link Between Worlds easily earns a 9.5/10.