The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds 3DS Developed by Nintendo Released in 2013
I remember when whispers first made their way unto the internet, claiming that Nintendo was interested in remaking A Link to the Past for the 3DS. A friend of mine who considers it her all-time favorite game was very upset about that, claiming they would force in stupid visual gimmicks that add nothing to the game. What we got instead was A Link Between Worlds, which certainly borrows from the legendary SNES title while still feeling like its own thing.
The monster from DeviantArt
Between Worlds takes us back to the familiar setting of Hyrule, largely as it was in the days of A Link to the Past. In this story, Link is an apprentice at a blacksmith, much like his ancestor from Minish Cap, and is tasked with delivering a sword when strange events begin to unfold. A mysterious and flamboyant man kidnaps people by turning them into paintings and soon after Hyrule Castle comes under assault by monsters born from graffiti on its walls. Link meets Princess Zelda just in time to be sent on a quest to find magical MacGuffins so he can claim the master sword and defeat this artistic nemesis.
Of course this would make the game rather short, so halfway through, much like first discovering the Dark World, Link finds himself in Lorule, an alternate reality version of his country where many things are inverted, and which is all-around more threatening.
Between Worlds works to find a middle ground between the gameplay focused games of old and the more story-driven titles of today. There are large portions of uninterrupted gameplay mixed in with fun encounters with quirky characters. As somebody who prefers the modern style I still found storytelling a bit lacking, but it managed to make me stick with the game well enough and I enjoyed the diametrically opposed stories of Hyrule and Lorule a lot, it’s perhaps Nintendo’s best dual-world setup so far. I do still feel that the dungeons are poorly contextualized though, with an interesting place like the Thieves’ Lair being the same as any other random dungeon, these are not places that feel like they have a purpose in the world beyond providing gameplay challenges to overcome.
Story score: 6.5/10
Innovates by ripping you off
So what do you do in Zelda games? You travel the world, explore dungeons, find items, defeat bosses, and ultimately save the day. Between Worlds ticks off most of those boxes save for one, the finding of items. Instead of exploring dungeons to find an item you must use to complete it, the game now features a store run by the devious merchant Ravio. Instead of finding items, Ravio borrows them to you at a fee, and scavenges your still-warm corpse for them in the event that you die, returning the items to his store.
This means you can pretty much take whatever items you want or expect to need, but if you die you need to spend rupees to borrow them again. It’s an attempt to make the economy of the game more interesting, as rupees are more plentiful but also much more needed. Later down the line you can also choose to buy the items from Ravio permanently (at a high price) and upgrade them with materials you find and through side-quests. It’s a neat system that really changes the flow of a Zelda game. At first I thought it inconsequential because deaths seemed infrequent, but this can be a really spicy game with strong enemies and bosses that are trickier than usual for the franchise.
The core gameplay works really well, with Link handling perfectly with the 3DS’ control stick. You can hotkey two items to use, swing at foes with your sword, or charge it up for a strong attack. The combat is a bit simple, but I found it more enjoyable than other top-down/isometric Zelda games like A Link to the Past and the Oracle titles. Another nice touch is that you no longer have ammunition for bows or a limited quantity of bombs. Instead you have a meter and any item usage depletes a part of it, meaning less inventory management, no more running out of vital resources during a boss-fight, and the game can better balance fights because it knows how often you can use items in quick succession.
That meter also ties in with the game’s new mechanic: merging with walls. Link is briefly turned into a painting and from that moment forth you can press him against a wall to turn Link into a living bit of graffiti that can move along the 2D space. It really makes you reconsider how you interpret each room, as you can get to a high position and then move along the walls to reach an otherwise inaccessible ridge, or disappear into the walls to avoid deadly traps and cross large gaps. Like using items, being inside walls depletes the meter, and once it runs out you will be ejected from the wall, whether there is safe space beneath it or not.
Exploring the dungeons and overworld is made really entertaining too, thanks to a great layout and dungeons that are efficiently designed. A lot of the dungeons feel like a breeze, fitting the new handheld format, and can be completed in about an hour tops. Even when you encounter setbacks they have shortcuts all over the place and the bosses at the end of these dungeons are really fun to fight. Part of the reason for this is because bosses are no longer just a matter of solving the puzzle. Sure, figuring out the mechanic behind them is important, but at the same time you are dodging their attacks and maneuvering around. I can’t actually remember the last time I died on a non-final boss in a Zelda game, but Between Worlds definitely had me retrying some of them and enjoying it.
From a gameplay perspective, A Link Between Worlds is the most entertaining top-down Zelda game out there. While I still prefer titles like Wind Waker and Ocarina of Time in full 3D, everything in this game is skillfully designed and had me entertained throughout, with the bosses being the highlights.
Gameplay score: 9.5/10
The map of A Link to the Past has been faithfully recreated here and that makes it really fun to walk around and see what it looks like in this modern graphic style. Likewise many of the old enemies have received a face-lift and it was fun to see how they had changed and what stayed the same. With that said, I found the art-style here a little too much like a cartoon, with bobble-headed characters and foes that are really tame. I also found that the game often lacked the atmosphere that the Super Nintendo game was so famous for, and as a result it felt kind of bland and forgettable.
The idea of transforming into a 2D figure stuck to the walls is also interesting, but the strange style of the 2D art is a weird choice that doesn’t look particularly appealing and stands in stark contrast to the rest of the art. When slipping between Lorule and Hyrule, I found the transition between the two worlds kind of bothersome, as it’s preceded by a lengthy cutscene of this 2D Link every time. This is especially weird when you consider how cool it was to see the world change so rapidly in A Link to the Past, where the shift between the two realms took mere seconds.
On the plus side, it is still really cool to see the overlap and differences between the two worlds, and on an entirely different note, composer Ryo Nagamatsu did a great job coming up with music for this game. A part of the soundtrack definitely consists of homages to the classic 16-bit tunes and other favorites, but there is plenty of new material mixed in with it. Ravio’s theme in particular is a great tune and a perfect match for one of the series’ most infuriating characters.
Presentation score: 5/10
Much to find
Like always there is a healthy amount of content on the sides for players to discover at their leisure. This includes mini-games like races and a particularly fleshed-out baseball game, as well as entire quests. One that is particularly fun to engage in is the Maiamai hunt. There are 100 baby Maiamais lost in Hyrule and Lorule, and for every set of 10 you return to their mother you can upgrade one of the items you purchased from Ravio, with a special reward awaiting those that got all 100 of them. I found permanent upgrades to the functionality of my items a much better reward for a side-quest than stuff like rupees, which the Zelda series has used as rewards for similar quest-lines in the past.
Extras score: 7/10
I had fun with Between Worlds even though it’s not really my preferred style of Zelda games. While the lack of storytelling and atmosphere in dungeons bothered me, I can’t deny that the gameplay is innovative and rock solid. Long time fans will find many of the new mechanics and ideas that Between Worlds plays around with a breeze of fresh air. Is A Link Between Worlds a worthy sequel to the acclaimed A Link to the Past? Not quite, but I sure hope Nintendo will continue to experiment with the series as much as they did here.