Nintendo has always been accused of using nostalgia to sell games. Although that may be true, Zelda games have always somehow managed to keep the series feeling fresh and new with changes along the way. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is no different. It is a love child of the old school with the new school. The game was a delightful surprise.
A Link Between Worlds is a sequel to one of the most loved games in the franchise, A Link to the Past. It shares the same Hyrule overworld and it surprisingly still feels as huge as it did in the original game. In this game, instead of the dark world we get an alternate Hyrule named Lorule. One of my biggest complaints about some of the more recent Zelda games has been how small and linear they feel. I did not expect to go back to a world originally seen 21 years ago and have it feel so fresh and so open! Hyrule is split into several regions, each having its own feel depending on the elements in that region. You will visit each region when you are in Hyrule and then again when you are in Lorule. The two worlds are so different that when you go back to the same area in Lorule it does not feel like you are revisiting the same place. It also helps that you can go into dungeons in any order you desire. This has unfortunately been missing from recent Zelda games. The coolest thing about this is that if you go through dungeons in a certain order, you may make the other dungeons easier, which adds a whole other level of exploration. Heck, you can even do half of one dungeon and leave to go start another one if you please. Also, you gain the ability to fast travel early in the game, which enables you to reach the other side of the map without having to spend five minutes getting there by other means. It makes traversing this beautiful world much less of a hassle.
If you played A Link to the Past, the beginning of this game does end up feeling a bit familiar. Luckily, all of that changes when you gain the ability to become a piece of wall art. With this new ability at the touch of a button you can traverse the walls and reach areas that no other item would ever allow you. I must say, this is one of the best power ups in any Zelda game! It allowed Nintendo to create some pretty creative puzzles. With this new power up you are now able to go through bars, around walls and even from one platform to the next. The further you advance in the game, the more creative you must be with this new ability. To counteract how useful this ability is, Nintendo added a magic bar that depletes whenever you use the power. Once you stop using it, however, the magic bar replenishes. This bar is also used for your items. Managing how to use both your items and your new ability adds an extra layer of difficulty. This is not the first time the magic bar is used in a Zelda game, but it is very well implemented in this game.
If you have ever played a Zelda game you know you must find a map, some keys, and a special item (ie. hookshot), which all help you reach areas you could not reach before all the while pushing you to the boss at the end of the dungeon. What would you say if I told you two of those three dungeon staples are missing from the game? You would probably call me crazy and would immediately dislike the game. Well, let me tell you how Nintendo got rid of the chore of finding the map and special item but did not ruin the game. It actually became one of my favorite parts of the game! When you enter a dungeon, you have the map of the whole dungeon but it does not include the locations of the treasure chests or doors. Once you find the compass, all of this is shown. The dungeons focus more on puzzle solving rather than them feeling like fetch quest for an item.
The most controversial aspect of the game is the new borrowing system. As I mentioned before, you no longer need to go find the hookshot or the bombs. Now, all you need to do is borrow them. Yes, borrow. At the beginning of each dungeon there is an indicator of which item you will need to get past the different puzzles. This may seem like a lame excuse for making dungeons shorter and easier but it actually has the opposite effect. Once you go into the dungeon, you already have all the items you needed, so you go right into trying to figure out how to move along the dungeons. It also means that there are no cheap puzzles in which you can see where to go but you know you can’t reach it unless you find the item. The borrowing system may seem a bit odd and it does take some time to get used to, but the way it works is you can borrow any item from a new character named Ruvio for a measly fifty rupees. The catch is that if you die the items you borrowed are returned to him. At some point during the game, you can also choose to just purchase the items and keep them forever. They are not cheap so collecting rupees becomes a lot more important than ever before.
All of the changes are good and all, but if the dungeons are no good, then all of it goes to waste. Luckily for us this game includes some of the best dungeons in the series! The dungeons have a much better flow to them. Most of them consist of three large rooms with their own rooms and so you need to figure out how to open each door in order to reach the boss door. You will travel from level to level in the process. One of the most memorable dungeons is a lava dungeon in which you use an ice staff to freeze lava that shoots up from the ground and then use your new power to merge to the lava you just froze! Needless to say, the dungeons in this game can definitely hold with some of the best in the series. The bosses are also really cool! You go from fighting giant turtles to giant hands and everything in between. They are no cakewalk either as their patterns aren’t always easy to figure out.
All of this is tied up together with an incredible soundtrack. There are some songs remixed from A Link to the Past along with some new songs. They are epic and fit every situation they are played in.
The only real negative that this game has is the visuals. Everything looks great when you are playing it but once it hits a cut scene involving close ups of the characters, you can see a lot of jagged edges. Link looks fine when you are viewing him top down but there sure is no real definition when it comes to his face. This really is no problem though when you consider how great the rest of the game is.
I was definitely not expecting to enjoy this game as much as I did. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is another great addition to this legendary series. It has some of the best dungeons to ever grace the series, one of the most memorable soundtracks, and to top it all off it feels like one of the most open Zelda games.