Does the Link to the Past successor live up to the its legacy?
The past few Zelda games, while still very good, have been designed around gimmicks. Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks featured touch controls and Skyward Sword hung its hat on motion controls. The first original 3DS Zelda game, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, bucks that trend, eschewing gimmicks for a rock-solid, streamlined 2D Zelda game that delightfully straddles the line between a faithful recreation of a classic formula and a fresh experience that feels wonderfully new.
Taking place hundreds of years after Link to the Past, the story focuses on an evil wizard named Yuga who wants to revive an ancient power by capturing the seven sages (+ Zelda). Essentially, it’s the same setup for Link to the Past, and there’s a winking nod to the fact that this all happened before. This is par for the course in the Zelda series, but luckily the characters you interact with and the world you explore make the tried-and-true story sing. Both Hyrule and the newly introduced Lorule feature well-written, colorful characters, some of which are inspired by the cast of Link to the Past, including the latest in the line of Sahasrahlas and the new rapping bomb maker.
The major change-up is the usage of items. For the most part, you no longer find items in dungeons. Instead, you rent or buy them from a weird rabbit-ear-wearing human named Ravio. The mechanic opens up much more of the game at an early stage. You can, if you scavenge enough rupees, get almost every item before the second dungeon. That also makes it so you can access dungeons in whatever order you want. When you reach Lorule a few hours into the adventure, A Link Between Worlds becomes the closest the series has gotten to granting the freedom of the original. The world opens up in a marvelous way, and the second half can be played along any path you desire. Because of that, you can explore nearly every area of the world whenever you feel like it.
Aside from the way you use items, the general structure follows the blueprint of Link to the Past closely, even featuring spectacular musical remixes and an interesting art style that harkens back to the original. You go to three dungeons in Hyrule that recall the opening portion of the SNES masterpiece, and then you go to the alternate version of Hyrule called Lorule, where you battle your way through seven more dungeons, all located in roughly the same areas as the seven dungeons in Link to the Past. The dungeons themselves are all completely different, though, and with the need to hide an item completely removed, the dungeons feel faster and less bloated. The “aha!” moment of discovering a new item happens as you enter, not halfway through, making each dungeon a concentrated dose of combat and puzzles that is fantastic, fluid, and fun. Add in the ability to merge with walls to become a movable Link painting and any residual familiarity is washed away entirely.
A variety of side quests and mini-games are nestled throughout, with the best one being the hunt for Maiamais. Hidden throughout Hyrule and Lorule are little octopus-looking creatures that are hidden in trees, walls and more that, when you collect enough, upgrade your weapons. It’s like the seashell quest from Link’s Awakening but more rewarding and more entertaining. The mini-games aren’t as engaging, but they serve as a fun way to earn rupees, which are instrumental in progression since items cost money to rent or buy. There’s even a really fun StreetPass mode where you duel Shadow Links that are created by the people you pass by.
The excellent dungeons and fun distractions are made even better with the spectacular gameplay and controls. Link Between Worlds is fast paced and filled with content. It has an ease of play that no recent Zelda game has even come close to matching, all while lacking a hampering tutorial. The game even makes exploration simple, as you gain the ability to warp to different points on the map quickly. The easy-to-read map itself can be marked with pins to remind yourself to check that area out later.
A lot of folks consider Link to the Past to be the greatest Zelda game, if not the greatest game of all time. A Link Between Worlds matches that masterpiece every step of the way, creating one of the finest Zelda games since Link to the Past. Since it follows the roadmap so closely, it’s not quite as fresh as the SNES classic was in 1992, but that doesn’t make it any less of an amazing experience. A Link Between Worlds is a delightful adventure that hits every high note a 2D Zelda game has ever produced while creating many new hallmarks of its own. In a year filled with quality 3DS games, A Link Between Worlds is another fantastic entry on a system that is quickly becoming home to a number of instant classics.