If your reaction to the announcement of a sequel to A Link to the Past was anything like mine, you probably thought it would be a decent Zelda game. But at the same time, that it would in no way surpass the level of perfection on display in its predecessor. How could it? A Link to the Past is the Zelda game. although more recent entries like Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask are wonderful in their own way, nothing could possibly beat the SNES classic’s incredible dungeon design, nor its masterful pacing. Yet somehow, A Link Between Worlds does just that.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A Wizard has taken Zelda and Hyrule’s Seven Sages to another dimension with the hopes of releasing Ganon. Link is Hyrule’s only hope; he must free the Seven Sages and reunite the Triforce pieces to ultimately save the day. Sounds a lot like A Link to the Past, doesn’t it? Well, there are a great many differences. Particularly in the way of design, the differences between A Link Between Worlds and its predecessor are quite dramatic.
However, like A Link to the Past did before it, A Link Between Worlds kicks-off immediately. No tutorials stand in your way to bog-down the experience. It feels like for the first time in years, Nintendo is actually confident in their audience’s intelligence; and the game is much, much better for it.
As this is a top-down Zelda game, the traversal and combat closely mirrors that of A Link to the Past. But nearly everything else is different, and the changes are universally more appealing. The biggest modification, though, is that pretty much everything in the game is open from the get-go. Rather than gradually obtaining each item linearly as you progress, nearly every item is available for rental – and further down the line, purchase. This is all thanks to the salesman Rovio, who early-on in the game decides to convert your house into his shop. Not only is this convenient, as it (for the most part) removes the need to back-track to cracks in the walls of old dungeons once bombs are obtained and the like, but it also affords you the luxury of trekking through most any of the game’s many dungeons in whichever order you fancy.
Don’t be too upset by the ease at which you obtain items, though, as there are several that you can only find in the traditional manner: by happening upon them in dungeons. None of them are required for you to progress, but discovering them is as satisfying as ever.
The way items work is far from the only thing that sets A Link Between Worlds, though. This incarnation of our green-draped hero has the ability to merge into walls as a painting. While Link is in this state, he can move about freely, and the mechanic allows for some absolutely brilliant puzzle design.
As with every Zelda game, you wont exactly be able to breeze through most dungeons in A Link Between Worlds. It certainly isn’t the most demanding entry in the series; but it’s far from the most simple. Each magnificently designed dungeon is sure to have you scratching your head; whether you’re stuck fighting a boss, or trying to figure out a puzzle. Once you figure out what you need to be doing, though, the feeling of satisfaction is hard to beat. A Link Between Worlds makes you feel like an absolute genius.
The game doesn’t tell a bad story, either. Similar to other Zelda games, it’s not an awfully deep tale, and dialog remains restricted to text rather than anything spoken. But there are quite honestly a fair number of neat twists that I didn’t see coming. It also doesn’t hurt that the game is gorgeous. Flowers subtly shudder in the wind, tall grass rustles as you move through it. These things don’t make a Zelda game, but the detail, and beauty of it all definitely enhances the experience. To tie it all off, the game features some fantastic orchestrations of the series’ classic ditties.
Despite being a very, very different game, A Link Between Worlds emulates a lot of small things found in A Link to the Past. The subtle rattle heard when a guard spots you, along with a many other sounds feel directly ripped from the SNES classic. And the while the content within it is mostly different, the world is laid-out almost identically to how it is in A Link to the Past.
It’s no subtle rehash, though. A Link Between Worlds is a game that stands firmly on its own; no nostalgia for A Link to the Past required. And I should know. I wasn’t a Super Nintendo kid, so I didn’t play the game until just a few years ago. As A Link to the Past is a fantastic, and incredibly charming game, seeing nods to it in here is sort of heartwarming. That said, with the nostalgia-factor removed, A Link Between Worlds is a similarly innocent, and charming experience that emits a feeling of warmth on its own. It’s a game unlike many, it’s good, innocent fun from beginning to end. And as an added bonus, there’s no slow start that makes it unappealing for replay. I’m half-way through my second play-through on the difficulty that unlocks upon beating the game, “Hero”, and I’m still loving it to death. Its dungeons are laid-out with such care, and ingenuity; and its full of side-activities discover. But more important than anything, the game is just really, really fun. Much like A Link to the Past, I cannot even muster a single negative comment related to A Link Between Worlds. It’s a traditional top-down Zelda game full of twists, innovation, charm, and razor-sharp level-design. It’s hard to not see it as the very best entry in the series.