The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Review

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?

Ravio takes up residence in Link's home to sell equipment

The key gameplay alteration made for A Link Between Worlds come from how equip-able items are obtained. Rather than finding a weapon in a dungeon to subsequently use to solve the dungeon’s puzzles and defeat the boss, these are found through the enigmatic shopkeeper, Ravio, who dons a purple bunny mask. You simply use your rupees to rent or buy items which you can then use whenever you need. If you are renting, be careful to not lose all your hearts because Ravio will promptly reclaim his items. In addition to the item rentals, Link also gains the ability to transform into a wall hieroglyphic. While this might seem like a silly ability at first, it opens up both some clever exploration on the overworld, and puzzles in the dungeon areas.

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.

Dungeons provide a more compact puzzle experience this time around

Despite this, they still provided a satisfying puzzle element. There are some clever uses of the items as well as the wall traversal. The game doesn't try to assist the player when it omes to solving the riddles of the dungeons, Navi isn't there to point out the solution. Instead, you are left to figure out how to surpass the puzzles yourselves, sometimes with subtle visuals as your only clues. Many of the bosses of these dunggeons are reminiscent of Link to the Past baddies, and some are brand new. However, many of them are easily defeated, which is disappointing, although there are one or two exceptions. In addition I found myself missing the more intricate later dungeons that other handheld Zelda games have had in the past. Although you do gain Heart Containers and other item upgrades for completing them, I would have appreciated a better sense of progression by making enemies, puzzles, and bosses more complex as players venture further into the game.

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.

A Link Between World's overworld may be the best in the series

The paradigm change of having all items available for purchase was a neat idea and a breath of fresh air, but I do not think it should be used again in the next title, not without changes anyway. I missed the progression of having dungeons become more and more intricate, and that is an element that I think needs to be looked at if they want to maintain a formula akin to what this game used with respect to how items are obtained. Additionally, the items were relatively cheap considering how many rupees the player can obtain in the game, so it’s likely not uncommon for players to find themselves with all the items early on in the game. Having most to all the items from near the get-go diminishes the advancement of the game somewhat, although being able to upgrade them at your choosing as you play somewhat makes up for that.

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.