Game Review

by Dave Riley,

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds


The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
A Link Between Worlds is a direct sequel to A Link To The Past, and takes place in the same world, but in a different age than the original Super Nintendo game.

It's been more than two decades, so it might be hard to remember how Zelda games used to throw you into a nearly open world. Link to the Past -- like the original Legend of Zelda and its contemporary, Metroid -- was about a sprawling map waiting to be explored, where the pegs that needed hammering and the rivers that needed fording cut off single screens, not entire areas. Console-released Zeldas, on the other hand, have been refining a different script for the past fifteen years. From Ocarina of Time onward the dialogue has become more verbose, the tutorials more endless, and the structure more rigid: get this thing, go to the Fire Dungeon, get this next thing, proceed immediately to the Water Dungeon.

This game cleaves far more to the older style of Zelda than the new. The design derives almost entirely from the adventure games of the NES and SNES, only barely informed by Ocarina and beyond. But the similarities go beyond mechanics, Link Between Worlds is a direct sequel to Link to the Past, set in the same world, with the same map. If you know where Death Mountain is in Link to the Past, you know where it is in Link Between Worlds. If you remember where they put the bottles in that game, you have a good headstart on where they put the bottles in this one. The barriers to progression are often in the same places, the heart containers usually are too.

Link Between Worlds also shares the early Zeldas' lack of handholding, not only with the brevity of its dialogue and its almost non-existent tutorials, but also in its sequencing, which is to say: there's barely any sequence at all. Puzzle-solving items, like the Hookshot and Bow, are available to rent at any time. After a tutorial dungeon immediately hands you a sword (like Link to the Past) and doesn't bother spending twenty minutes teaching you how to swing it (unlike Skyward Sword and its ilk), the game doesn't much care when you pick up a Fire Rod, or a Boomerang, or when you approach the obstacles that require them. With nearly every item on-hand from the start, the map is more open, and the game more conducive to exploration, than just about any Zelda ever. Peppered in are a handful of obstacles that require plot-related powers (those heavy rocks, that strength glove), just enough to keep you wondering what's on the other side of that mountain, or what you could find if you only had a set of flippers.

The beats are the same, but the melody has changed. Many of the puzzles revolve around Link's new ability to turn himself into a cartoon sketch and sidle along dungeon walls. You might remember where the flippers or the strength glove are, but the ways you go about acquiring them are entirely different. There is a forest dungeon with multiple entrances carved out of giant skulls, but once inside it bears only superficial similarities to the forest dungeon you remember from 1991. There is a beast boss with a familiar mask, but the hammer is not his weakness.

This game loves its history, but is not a slave to it. Recent Zeldas have been content to copy-paste the successes of older titles, and their designers have clearly decided that quantity of content equates to quality of game. Is there another way to explain the ceaseless tedium of Skyward Sword's bug-hunting, or the thirty second-long diatribe that preceded each and every potion purchase? Miyamoto said Skyward Sword could last upwards of a hundred hours. Did anyone ask for that? Did anyone ask for sky-racing minigames, fetch quests, and exhausting, eternal tutorials? If you took the run-times of the first three Legend of Zeldas you probably wouldn't hit fifty hours, let alone a hundred. When did "more" become a synonym for "good?"

Link Between Worlds is fast. Link swings his sword lightning-quick and his spin attack clears whole rooms; he doesn't need to wait and parry, and his fighting style doesn't require the player Z-Target until their finger hurts. In fact, there is no lock-on at all; the fighting is fluid and precise, it doesn't need that crutch. There's no mostly-empty terrain bogging you down between areas. The game doesn't snatch camera-control away from you to show you a heart container waiting on a distant cliff, it doesn't partner you with a screeching sidekick who reminds you what a heart container does every time you see one; it leaves a heart container, in plain sight, on that distant cliff and it lets you decide whether you care about it or whether you don't.

Its speed can cause it to feel a little lightweight, at times. Few dungeons have secrets more substantial than rupees until you reach the Dark World. Its sidequests are brief, but not all of them are hits. Many are pretty boring reflex tests whose top scores dole out a piece of heart, that mote of Link to the Past-popularized deferred gratification that we've inexplicably tolerated for twenty two years. Most of the hidden caves reward fifteen minutes of puzzle solving with a crummy hundred-rupee gem. Money is about as worthless in this Zelda as in any other. Even with the exorbitant price of buying items rather than renting them, it's pretty likely you'll hit the 9999 rupee cap without a thing to spend them on. However some sidequests, like a pan-world baby hermit crab hunt, offer supercharged item upgrades (8x more powerful Bug Net!), and they dole out their rewards at a pace measured in minutes not hours, as we've come to expect ever since Ocarina of Time first forced us to slog for Skulltullas.

Link Between Worlds perfectly recalls the thrill and wonder of Link to the Past, evades the pitfalls of post-Ocarina Zelda, and brings enough new twists to make it satisfying in its own right. This is not just a game mimicking the past successes of other, better games, though, perhaps, it is cleverly disguised as one. Link Between Worlds is the best Zelda in recent memory, and the only caveat that springs to mind when discussing it is "how long will it be until we get another one this good?"

Overall : A
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : A-
Gameplay : A
Presentation : A

+ Fast and fluid Zelda that recalls the quick-paced exploration of earlier games
Most of the optional quests have little impact, renting items isn't quite as fun as discovering them through exploration

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