It’s no question that The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo’s iconic franchises, and it remains one of the most popular set of games around. However, The Legend of Zelda is known for sticking to some traditional conventions in its structure, and some fans and critics have voiced discontent in how the series has remain largely formulaic throughout its long 26 year history. With this newest entry into the franchise, Nintendo sought to mix things up in attempt to keep things interesting and new. It turns out, A Link Between Worlds is the freshest game in the series in quite some time. But are all the changes made for the better?
Because you obtain your items from the shop, this means you will have the items you need for a dungeon before you even enter it. These areas are usually centered around one item, which is typical of the series still, although occasionally having other equipment in your bag can simplify a puzzle or enemy encounter. The notable thing about dungeons in this newest entry is that they are signfiicantly shorter than previous titles, and as you can approach most of the dungeons in any order you wish to, they are all similar in length and difficulty. At times, the dungeons feel trivial due to their relative brevity.
Where the game really shines is outside of these dungeon areas. The training wheels are removed very early into the game. If you were turned away from how games like Skyward Sword steered players through the tutorials, then you’ll be happy to hear that A Link Between Worlds is almost the antithesis of that. The player is given practically total freedom in exploring the overworld, looking for Heart Pieces and baby Maiamais (think Gold Skulltulas from Ocarina of Time), and easily turns out to be the most enjoyable part of the game. Once you land in the mysterious doppleganger world of Lorule - that's when the game is at its best. Link is allowed to go anywhere and do anything. Since the whole assortment of items is available from early on, you don’t have to wait to explore certain areas of the world map. Being able to travel along walls also allows for some nifty traversal to hidden paths and secrets.
The game is also much better on Hero mode difficulty level. On the normal difficulty, you can often brute force your way past encounters without too much worry about how many hits you are taking or how much health you have left. The increased damage from Hero mode unfortunately is locked to a second playthrough. The game is too easy otherwise, with plenty of fairies or other healing options available even if you do manage to run low of hearts.
A Link Between Worlds is also sure to tickle the nostalgia of fans of A Link to the Past. From the world map, to the familiar characters, and the amazing rearrangements of classic themes, you might find yourself reminiscing on days 20 years now passed. The artstyle takes some getting used to however. Instead of 2D sprites, you'll find 3D models for Link and the monsters he faces which attempt to emulate the classic artwork. The game runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, which helps the presentation immensely.
Despite some growing pains with the changes made to A Link Between Worlds, it’s definitely something fans should appreciate if they wanted a slightly more experimental title in this longstanding series. I hope some of these structure changes and implementation is only the start of a path onto some more neat ideas for the series from Nintendo, rather than just a one-off trial.