The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is widely considered to be one of the mighty Super Nintendo’s greatest games, even thought by some to be the best Zelda game ever made. Yes, surpassing the seemingly god-like Ocarina of Time in popularity and poise. Though it’s been over 20 years since A Link to the Past marveled us, it’s no surprise that Nintendo has decided to revisit that version of Hyrule once again with the 3DS’ Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. With plenty of hype and legacy to live up to, does the Hero of Time stand the test of time yet again with this new adventure?
A Link Between Worlds shares more in common with A Link to the Past than just the name: this is the exact same Hyrule that gamers first explored way back in the early 90’s (or more recently on the Game Boy Advance!). Hyrule Castle, the Zora Domain, Kakariko Village, the Lost Woods, and every other locale from that first game are present albeit with different denizens and item locations. While it might seem like a shortcut on Nintendo’s part reusing a game world it’s actually such a brilliantly detailed, expansive, and wonderful world that you don’t even care you’re going to some of the same places to get the same items.
So let’s assume you haven’t played A Link to the Past or any other Zelda game for that matter. Each game in the series has you going on an epic quest to eventually rescue the endangered Princess Zelda from the clutches of the monstrous Ganon or someone threatening to resurrect him.You’ll explore dungeons, fight bad guys, get new weapons and tools to assist you on your journey, and find plenty of secrets as you traverse each game’s world. Since the series’ inception it’s been common knowledge what you would get and how you would get it in each Zelda game.
But with A Link Between Worlds the formula is shaken up just slightly, but in so doing it makes everything feel fresh, exciting, and new. Usually you are tasked with going to dungeons in a specific order as determined by which items you have/need. If you can’t get to one dungeon because you don’t have the Hookshot then you’ll likely find the Hookshot in a separate dungeon which you can use later to continue your progress. From the beginning of A Link Between Worlds you team up with Ravio, a traveling salesman who crashes in Link’s home and sets up shop. Strange if not convenient, Ravio has just about every item Link will need for his journey, including the Bow & Arrow set, aforementioned Hookshot, and the ever useful Hammer. For a small fee you can rent all of these items at your leisure, but should you fall in battle the rented items must be checked out again. This slight change to the flow of gameplay grants you much more freedom to complete dungeons in any order, making the game feel more like an adventure you’re in control of rather than a game that has you railroading along a preset storyline.
Items in hand, Link is ready to take on Yuga, the evil presence threatening to resurrect the dark lord Ganon and throw the kingdom of Hyrule into chaos. Yuga rises to power by harnessing a magical ability that can turn people into harmless paintings. Before Link can raise a finger Yuga has imprisoned the seven Sages who protect the land and taken them back with him to his home world known as Lorule. Yes, I know: High-rule and Low-rule. Silly names aside, Lorule is no joke: it’s a completely ravished version of Hyrule that knows only sadness and despair. What was familiar in Hyrule is frightening in Lorule: The once lush Lake Hylia is a swampland with devious creatures running amok; The fiery Death Mountain is frozen over, and Hyrule Castle is a dilapidated mess. The two worlds motif plays on the similar plot device seen in A Link to the Past while still manages to feel original and new in concept.
With both Hyrule and Lorule the sense of exploration is surmounting. As with previous Zelda games Link can use his assortment of tools to explore otherwise unreachable locations. At the forefront of these tools is Link’s new ability to turn into a painting and merge into the walls to move. This concept is central to the entire game and is handled so brilliantly you won’t even think twice when jumping in and out of walls. The added plane of gameplay creates dozens of interesting puzzles to solve and new routes to explore. With the openness of the world and Ravio lending Link each item as you see fit, A Link Between Worlds comes off as one of the most engaging and fun worlds to explore.
If you haven’t already noticed by now from reading this, A Link Between Worlds is a wonderful game. Not only that, it’s a fantastic Zelda game because of the way it perfectly balances old with new. There were countless occasions where I found myself smiling because I knew there would be something hidden on that specific part of the map since there was something there in A Link to the Past, but there were just as many instances where I found myself joyfully discovering all of the new secrets the game had to offer. The one major fault the game has is the challenge. Nothing in the game, from the common enemies to the gigantic bosses and puzzling dungeons, is that difficult to overcome. Sometimes the dungeons are so blatant in what you must do to progress you’d find it astounding someone didn’t just wander in from outside and unlock it’s secrets by chance. That being said, the game’s dungeons are well made and feel distinctly Zelda. They just aren’t as memorable as some of the series’ other locales.
The presentation of A Link Between Worlds hits you and never lets go. As the all too familiar notes play from the chorus and send chills down your spine you know you’re in for a good time. Then the game opens up and you’re looking at a beautifully rendered version of A Link to the Past’s art style and the child in you can’t help but burst forth in a fit of nostalgic pleasure. Every note, every character, every enemy, and every screen oozes with creativity and a sense of tact and refinement that hundreds of games hope to achieve but few manage. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is the complete package, giving gamers and Zelda fans alike something to cherish for years to come.
So the inevitable question people are going to start asking is this: Which game is best. There will be many answers to this and I’m sure most of those will be better than this, but to answer that question you have to take what each of these game’s is going for. With A Link to the Past we were given a true sequel to the original Legend of Zelda, which almost inadvertently laid the foundation for what future Zelda games and adventure games in general ought to be. Ocarina of Time managed to take that formula and move everything into three dimensions, a task that many other SNES-era franchises could only dream of doing so effortlessly. And then we have A Link Between Worlds, the newcomer that dared to shake up the tried-and-true formula and create something that blends old and new in exciting ways. So my answer is that each one is excellent for what they represent: A Link to the Past is the best 2D Zelda, Ocarina of Time is the greatest 3D Zelda, and A Link Between Worlds is a hybrid of the two that represents the past, present, and, if we’re lucky, future for the franchise.
If you haven’t read anything and are hoping to see a review score here, then I’ll leave you with this:
If you own a 3DS … you should own a copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Regardless of your affiliation with the series, you owe it to yourself to experience the truly wonderful adventure that awaits.