Hold on a minute, I’ve been here before!
Veterans of the Zelda games will get a distinct sense of déjà vu when they start playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on the 3DS. Set in the same world as 1991’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, albeit a few years later, and looking very similar to the classic game, there is a lot of familiarity for anyone who was playing videogames back in 91. However, dig deeper and there are a lot of changes that make A Link Between Worlds easily one of the best Zelda titles to date.
Once again, evil threatens Hyrule and it is down to the player to save the day. The bad guy this time around goes by the name of Yuga and he happens to have turned the seven sages into paintings. So there will be dungeons to overcome and puzzles to be solved, all interspersed with side quests, mini games and lots of exploration.
The top down viewpoint and decidedly retro visuals all pay homage to the original 1991 game. But A Link Between Worlds is no remake, introducing a new gimmick and changing up the classic Zelda formula along the way.
Not only does Yuga turn the seven sages into paintings, but he also tries it with our hero, Link. Link manages to escape this trap and the results give the game its biggest new gimmick. Link can now change himself into a painting at will and, while his stamina holds out, move along surfaces such as walls and even slip through cracks or railings, giving access to new areas that could not be reached otherwise.
By painting himself to the wall, Link triggers a change to the camera view, sliding from the usual top down to more of a side-scrolling camera position. Slipping through certain cracks will give the player access to the alternate world of Lorule and the seven dungeons it contains. So this gameplay mechanic allows for progression in the game, but it also plays heavily in the puzzles that the player will encounter in the dungeons, often providing a cleverly imagined solution to an otherwise tricky problem.
But this is not the only new addition to the game. Decisions were obviously made somewhere at Nintendo towers to ensure that A Link Between Worlds is accessible to all gamers. This is a success to a degree due to a number of changes from the classic Zelda formula that are designed to make the game less of a chore – a simple example of which would be the fast-travel system which lessens the need for lengthy wanderings, or the ease with which the player comes across rupees. In fact, the game is easier overall, but that doesn’t mean it is lacking in challenge.
However, some of the changes are perhaps not as successful as others. One big change is with the introduction of Ravio. This shop keeper is able to sell the player whatever items they need to complete a dungeon, with most being available from the very start. The items are expensive to buy, but can also be rented at a much lower price, although they return to Ravio if the player should die.
This new way of dishing out the wands or boomerangs is great and gives players access to almost everything they need before they realise they need it, but it does take away some of the surprise or accomplishment of finding that new, required item. Not everything can be found in the store, there is still plenty of benefit to exploring, but it does take away one of the fundamental appeals of the Zelda series.
There is much more freedom to be had in A Link Between Worlds as well, especially once the player reaches Lorule and can take on the seven dungeons in any order they choose. But this itself raises the problem that, with the player choosing which dungeon to approach first or last, there is no real “final” dungeon and thus no increasing difficulty.
These design changes are not really negative, they are just perhaps different to what gamers have come to expect from a Zelda game. There is so much to do in the game, and so many puzzles to solve in both the main dungeons and the little mini dungeons that the players will discover, that you don’t really think about the changes to the formula as you are too busy enjoying it. A Link Between Worlds is also testament to the fact that a game doesn’t need to have fancy graphics to be excellent, in case you needed that reminder.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is the most “different” of the Zelda games, but one of the best. It is also one of the best games on the 3DS handheld console, and so should be played at the earliest opportunity.