Zelda, as a whole, is a series I never seem to tire of. As noticeable, distinctive and overtly recognisable the games are, hearing the sprightly trills of The Lost Woods or the assertive jingle of a solved puzzle – no matter how many times I might’ve heard it – gets me as worked up as a caffeinated cucco. So much so, indeed, that I spent two years of my youth sipping beverages almost exclusively from a jar. But although my days of milk-sipping have passed, I look back on the Zelda franchise with an excitement that never appears to waver. Consequently, it’s games like A Link Between Worlds that reassure me that Nintendo are determined to keep the series fresh, and despite its ultimately nostalgic tone, this portable release trumped Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks for flair, character and novelty.
It Knows How to Laugh
From the very beginning, it’s clear to see where Link Between Worlds’ allegiances lie. Overlooking a vibrant 3D rendition of Hyrule’s original design, visuals are the very first to surprise, with wry little nods to previous games surging beneath its newfangled surface. From the original Zelda soundtrack thundering along to your adventures to the unassuming Majora’s Mask hanging in your room, A Link Between Worlds is as just as in love with the series as its fans, whilst distancing itself enough to keep gameplay fresh and innovative.
The story revolves around the main antagonist Yuga, a warlock of amusing evil with a discernible penchant for classic art. After having transformed Link to the Past’s Seven Sages into Romanesque paintings, the revered Hero of Time is called upon once again to free them to defeat Yuga, and thwart his intent to reanimate the unmistakable Beast King, Ganon.
Despite his mostly top-down portrayal, Yuga maintains a scrumptiously wicked facade, and over my time with A Link Between Worlds, I found myself laughing aloud whenever the. It’s plain to see that Nintendo had had a more jovial tone in mind than to say, Majora’s Mask or Twilight Princess, and with campy humour on full-throttle, I found coming to Link Between Worlds from some of the darker or tenser games a positive breath of fresh air.
It Tickles Your Nostalgia
The art style offers a refreshing contemporary spin on the original, top down Hyrule; something that roots A Link Between Worlds more with the original series than its Wind Waker-esque counterparts of Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. As a result, Link Between Worlds felt more like a Zelda game than previous handheld titles – and it’s noticeably more memorable because of it.
Troutish Zora and galumphing moblins all make their reprise in Link Between Worlds, and in fully polygonal form. It’s a joy to watch the foes of my original conquests sprawling about in glorious 3D; even if lock-on and aiming issues still persist, and Link’s elegant, portrait form conjures warm memories of the sprite that housed his original Hylian spirit.
Even if you’re not into the series, it’s a game that represents a variety and ingenuity that first appealed in the Zelda games, allowing it to stand perfectly accessible to series newcomers. From generous pepperings of recognisable Teklites and Sandcrabs, to Hyrule castle’s portraits peering upon the origins of Link himself, A Link Between Worlds respectfully homages its own history, whilst proffering to newcomers a stylish looking-glass into the nostalgic history its ancestors created.
It’s as Freeing as a Nude Summer Walk
Amidst non-portable ravings over The Witcher 3’s rollicking exploration and Far Cry Primal’s paleolithic expanses, A Link Between Worlds evokes a similar freedom that’s rarely done so well in a handheld title. With no official markers or routes pointing the way, you’re left free to explore the luxurious stretches of Hyrule, adopting ample amounts of Link to the Past’s inquisitive charm.
This being said, this certainly isn’t a mere respectful reboot; the introduction of new systems and strategies invoke a remarkable freshness to A Link Between Worlds’ gameplay. You’re flippantly badgered by Ravio, a bunny-hooded salesman who offers a range of secondary weapons to use at your discretion. You can opt, fo 50 rupees, to rent an item, which must be re-rented once Link dies, or purchase it for upwards of 800. Whilst occasionally you might need to postpone your pursuit of illustrious potions to fund your rented inventory, rupees are abundant enough in Link Between Worlds to ensure the practice doesn’t become grindsome, and the eventual chance to buy a selection of weapons makes level traversal more varied, interesting and ultimately liberating than perhaps it ever has.
A Link Between Worlds’ main gimmick is the Merge mechanic. In this installment, Link can spiritually fuse with numerous walls in the game, allowing the player to edge fluidly . The ease with which merging is made possible opens up new ways to confront discovered territories and across the course of the game, merging becomes less optional accessory, more second-nature. This is made especially admirable by the game’s complimentary level design. Worlds are constructed to conceal hidden treasure, items or realms; so much so that melting into walls becomes as reflexive and as engaging as simply using one’s average, Hylian legs.
There’s no clear-cut way to clear a palace or wander a dungeon (a notion merging seems to cement), and although puzzles have defined solutions, you’re more than welcome to find other ways to nab keys and unlock chests. For example, a cavern that has you using cuccos to glide safely onto platforms is just as easily navigable – if not more so – by breaking out the Tornado Rod to use instead. Instead of taking intricate tours of mountain surfaces in painting form, you can Hookshot your way unto glory. And treasure.
Another prime difference between A Link Between Worlds and its referenced grandfathers is that secondary weapons can be used infinitely. Whilst prior games had the player scouring the land for ammo or rupees once supplies began to run dry, your only restriction here is the ‘energy bar’, which is depleted each time a weapon is used and takes only a brief time to regenerate. It cut out what often drew me away from past games; I sighed at the notion of annoying fetch quests, and the prospect of scrounging with all my might to gather oh-so-precious bombs began to make me feel ever so slightly woozy. There’s a lot more time to explore in Link Between Worlds because of this, and ultimately it’s the least compromised fun I’ve had with a portable Zelda title.
It’s Still Zelda, Just Fluffier
I suppose the risk with such a game as A Link Between Worlds is its comparison to the titles it homages. And when doing so, you’re inevitably going to find a few snags. Despite the undeniable beauty of A Link Between Worlds’ vibrant, polygonal world, the sense of majesty I felt trudging the realms of A Link to the Past was noticeably blunted. Of course, the previous angularities of the S/NES sprite are considered obsolete in terms of new Zelda games, but their efficacy at creating a foreboding atmosphere was something that greatly intensified the grace and mystery of the originals, in addition to their innovative features. Whilst there’s certainly no shortage of clever mechanics, intricate design and challenging boss battles in A Link Between Worlds, it’s all decidedly cute, and the softened world somewhat undermined the primitive danger Hyrule possessed prior.
Commendably Caught Between Worlds
Luckily, rarely is Zelda a game enjoyed for visuals alone, and the game’s merits lie far beyond its superficial design. A reverent hark back to its admired predecessors, it’s a game that flaunts its roots whilst striving to build upon the open, freeing conventions the Zelda series forged for itself. Proffering a storyline with uncompromising humour, A Link Between Worlds bursts with the same hallmark sense of character that rendered me incalculably enchanted by Zelda in the first place, albeit with a lighter heart and a sharper grin.
Edit from many, many years in the future: I played Link’s Awakening. Yeah. We need to talk.