After 13 years, a direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past has been released by Nintendo. Growing up, that was one of my favorite Super Nintendo games, and I played through it several times over. Now its sequel, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, is available on the 3DS. I’ve played it from beginning to end, and now I have just one question. What took them so long? I mean, yes, there have been other notable Zelda titles with a top-down perspective over the years like the Capcom developed Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, and Nintendo’s own Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks, The Minish Cap and Link’s Awakening. But as good as those games were, none of them topped A Link to the Past, at least not in my opinion (though Ages and Seasons came close). And this entire time I couldn’t help but to wonder, why not make a sequel to A Link to the Past? Well, they finally did. I don’t know why it took so long, but I’m happy to say that The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a fantastic entry in the series and a worthy sequel to A Link to the Past.
This looks familiar
To prepare for A Link Between Worlds, I decided to play through A Link to the Past again. That game is still fantastic by any standard, and you should really play it if you have not done so already (it is available on the Virtual Console). After completing the classic game, I jumped head first into the new one. My first impression of A Link Between Worlds was one of almost overwhelming familiarity. See for yourself (right)!
It turns out that A Link Between Worlds takes place in the exact same world (and timeline) as A Link to the Past, only six generations later. Because of this, much of the landscape remains unchanged. Without consulting the map, I immediately knew my way around. And it wasn’t just the landscape that was familiar; the enemies, the sound effects and the music were all wonderfully nostalgic, or perhaps the same old thing if you prefer to look at it that way. In my case, I couldn’t help but to enjoy seeing the modern versions of many of my favorite locations from A Link to the Past. If this were an HD remake instead of an entirely new game, I would have bought it just for the visuals! The music is also a pleasure to listen to, though I might be a bit biased by nostalgia.
The gameplay in A Link Between Worlds is also practically identical to that in A Link to the Past. Link controls the same, has the same charge up attack with his sword, and finds the same running boots for dashing and the same flippers for swimming. He uses bombs to find secrets passages, many of which are in the exact same spots as they were on Super Nintendo. He needs to recover the same 3 pendants, and rescue another 7 sages, all while exploring two connected parallel works and a series of dungeons, just like before.
But if this sounds like a bad thing, it really isn’t. If you have to copy a formula when designing a new video game, you might as well copy from one of the greatest games of all time. Nintendo did an admirable job of designing Hyrule and its counterpart world, Lorule, for A Link Between Worlds. They are just as much fun to explore as The Light World and The Dark World from A Link to the Past. And once you get into the thick of it, you’ll find that this adventure is actually quite different from Link’s adventure 6 generations prior.
That looks completely different
Once I really started to explore, it became apparent that much more had changed than I initially perceived. I mean, yes, Link’s House, Hyrule Castle, The Lost Woods, Death Mountain, Kakariko Village, Lake Hylia and even the Eastern Palace, Desert Palace and Tower of Hera are all in the same places, but actually exploring them leads to brand new dungeons, filled with original puzzles. All of the dungeons in the game are completely new and are incredibly fun to explore, even if they are filled with many of the same enemies and puzzle mechanics from A Link to the Past. And throughout Hyrule are plenty of new secrets to discover, including new minigames and new characters to interact with.
But the most drastic changes are in Lorule. Whereas Hyrule is strikingly similar to The Light World of 6 generations before, Lorule is not the Dark World from that period. It is still based on a distorted mirror of Hyrule, but it’s a completely different reflection. Link’s progress is impeded by gaping bottomless crevices that have torn the landscape apart, and where The Pyramid of Power stood in A Link to the Past is Lorule Castle in A Link Between Worlds.
Slip between the cracks
Connecting Hyrule and Lorule is the most significant new feature of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Link gains the ability to enter walls as a drawing, and can move along them from left to right. This mechanic is used liberally in the puzzles throughout the game in a variety of clever ways. At first I thought it would be too gimmicky, but in practice, this mechanic fits perfectly into the Zelda formula.
Once Lorule becomes accessible, cracks appear throughout both worlds, and Link can move through them as a drawing. Unlike the Magic Mirror from A Link to the Past which could be used anywhere in The Dark World to return to the same place in The Light World, the cracks that appear through Hyrule and Lorule are always in the same place, so Link has fewer options for traveling between the two worlds. In fact, given the torn nature of the landscape, the majority of Lorule is only accessible via specific cracks in Hyrule, which is great because it forces the player to spend more time exploring Hyrule, and while doing so, he or she will inevitably discover a few more secrets. While I normally frown upon backtracking in video games, A Link Between Worlds makes it an absolute pleasure. It feels more like regular exploration than backtracking thanks to the ever plentiful supply of secrets to stumble upon.
A bit of exploration will almost always lead to a hidden stash of rupees or a coveted piece of heart, or even the next major dungeon. It’s worth mentioning that the dungeons can be explored in any order, as essential gear is now rented and eventually purchased from a shop instead of being found in dungeons, so there are no gear checks preventing the player from going literally anywhere once they arrive in Lorule.
There is also a creature hidden someone in the world that has lost one hundred of its babies, and it’s up to Link to rescue them all. For every ten rescued, a piece of his gear can be improved, so it’s definitely a worthwhile endeavor. These lost Maiamais are hidden under rocks, in trees, underwater, buried underground and are even stuck to walls. The problem is no matter what Link is after, be it a treasure chest or a baby Maiamai, in many cases early in the game, they might be just out of reach. In such cases, the map system comes in handy. It allows the player to place pins on the map, which can be red, blue or yellow. I used them to keep track of treasures I couldn’t reach, fairy fountains and baby Maiamais. Without any help from a guide, I managed to collect every single piece of heart and baby Maiamai in the game, and it’s all thanks to the utility of the mapping system.
A little too easy
Then again, perhaps the secrets weren’t hidden quite as deviously as in A Link to the Past. In fact, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a substantially easier game than its predecessor across the board. The main reason for this is that the enemies are much less aggressive. From the basic soldiers around Hyrule to the bosses in the dungeons, every battle is easier than before. Even Moldorm, the huge yellow worm boss of the Tower of Hera that was very difficult in A Link to the Past is barely even a threat in A Link Between Worlds. Though the difficulty picks up a bit in Lorule, it’s nowhere near as difficult as the transition between The Light World and The Dark World of A Link to the Past. The game just feels easier than it should be as a whole.
For those seeking a greater challenge, Nintendo included a Hero mode that is unlocked once players have completed the game. In Hero mode damage dealt by enemies is multiplied by four, so an enemy that would normally drain half a heart per hit will drain two hearts, and an enemy that normally drains three hearts per hit will drain twelve hearts. If this sounds extreme, well, it is and it isn’t. The fact of the matter is, given how passive the enemies act compared to those in A Link to the Past, a skilled player shouldn’t get hit at all in A Link Between Worlds unless they really aren’t paying close enough attention. The lack of challenge is the one glaring weak point in what is otherwise an exceptional Zelda game.
Formulaic in all the right ways
The good news is that the lack of difficulty didn’t stop me from enjoying The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. In fact, I haven’t enjoyed a top-down perspective Zelda game this much since A Link to the Past! There’s something about the way the worlds were designed, about the subtle connections between light and dark, the density of secrets to discover, the masterfully designed dungeons with puzzles that are always challenging but never frustrating, and the undeniable charm of the franchise and its characters that somehow combine to make a game that is quite simply a lot of fun to play.
It doesn’t matter that you are basically retracing your footsteps through A Link to the Past or that you’ve done this all before or that this is the seventeenth original Zelda game. A Link Between Worlds has that special something that appears from time to time in the best of Nintendo games. It’s the embodiment of the joy of gaming and a perfect example of why I play video games to begin with. From beginning to end, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a treasure of a game, and when you get a hold of a copy, I suggest you hold it triumphantly above your head! It won’t make a noise, but you’ll hear that iconic sound effect anyway, echoing through your mind, assuring you that what you hold is something of incredible value, and it really will be! It really is a treasure, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Ari completed The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds in 20 hours, and played 30 hours before writing the review. His copy of the game was purchased at retail.
Available on: 3DS
Version Reviewed: 3DS